Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Good article at Forbes:

Pulitzer Board Has Its Head In The Sand

by Arik Hesseldahl

When Nigel Jaquiss, a reporter for the alternative weekly newspaper Willamette Week in Portland, Ore., won the most prestigious award in journalism--the Pulitzer Prize--this week, the biggest surprise seemed at first that the award was given to an alternative news weekly.

But I was more impressed by another small fact about Jaquiss' big win (Full disclosure: Jaquiss was a classmate of mine at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism). His story was a bombshell about a former Oregon Governor who was accused of years earlier having sex with a minor, while sitting as mayor of Portland, and later covering it up.

It might sound like your garden variety political sex scandal, but this one was notable because it appeared first online on Willamette Week's Web site, and didn't hit the print edition until a week later.

Willamette Week might never have won its Pulitzer without the Web, which raises the question of whether the Pulitzer Committee should acknowledge the undeniable importance of online journalism and embrace the Web with its own category that recognizes the industry's highest achievements.

Since it's a weekly, Willamette Week has an inherent disadvantage in breaking news against its daily rival The Oregonian. When Jaquiss was getting ready to publish his barn-burner on May 5, 2004 after two months of investigation, he sent the former Oregon Governor, Neil Goldschmidt, a letter outlining what he had found and asking for a comment.

Goldschmidt asked for a meeting the following morning, during which he asked Jaquiss not to publish the story. Fifteen minutes after the meeting ended, Goldschmidt issued a statement saying he would resign his seat on a state board, and would take a leave of absence from his consulting firm, citing health reasons.. He then had his public relations firm arrange a confessional meeting with reporters and editors at The Oregonian.

This touched off a furious race between the two papers to be first with the story. Willamette Week posted a summary of its findings at 1:47 pm on May 6, 2004, and its full story at 5 p.m. The Oregonian published its first story on its Web site at 8 p.m. that day. Had Willamette Week waited until its next press run a week later, the iron would have gone cold. Local TV and radio news reports all cited Willamette Week as the source of the story that day

The race to be first with information is a reflex for journalists, and the Web is the best tool print reporters have to compete with never-ending cable TV news cycles and other print media. Indeed it was another political sex scandal that first really crystallized how print media could leverage the Web with coverage of fast-moving, competitive stories. (full article)

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