Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal Denied Reporting Pulitzer For Seventh Straight Year

Has The Mogul Damaged The Paper's News Image?

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Today marked the seventh straight year that The Wall Street Journal has not won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting. It also marks the seventh straight year the newspaper has been owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Does one have anything to do with the other? Perhaps.

During my time at Editor & Publisher magazine from 1999 to 2010, I covered the Pulitzer Prizes each year, corresponding with members of the juries to determine who would win the awards and why.  

Anyone who knows the Pulitzers can tell you it is a fierce competition. Failing to take home the prize in no way suggests one's reporting was unworthy.

But for the Journal, which has garnered dozens of the awards during its celebrated history, that stretch of failure cannot go unnoticed. In the history of the Pulitzers, only The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesThe Washington Post and Associated Press have won more.

And during the past seven years as the Journal has remained winless, those four news outlets have won a combined 33 reporting Pulitzers.

While the newspaper has won two Pulitzers since Murdoch took over, they were for editorial writing and commentary. The heart and soul of any news operation, its reporters and photographers, have been repeatedly denied in the competition that remains the most prestigious award in journalism.

With today's winners ranging from The Tampa Bay Times to Reuters, the Journal's name is sorely missed by many, its staff likely as much as anyone.

A look at the Journal's history finds the paper's great journalism winning acclaim and top awards, all pre-Murdoch.

From its first reporting award in 1961 for uncovering problems in the timber industry to its last two in 2007 for digging into the scams of backdated stock options and the negative impact of China's growing capitalism the Journal had never gone more than five years without a win, with that stretch in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the five years before Murdoch's purchase, the paper won Pulitzers for public service and international reporting and two each for beat reporting and explanatory journalism.

The Pulitzer Prize is not the ultimate judgment of a newspaper. And many in the industry often criticize editors who appear to assign stories specifically with the goal winning a Pulitzer in mind.

But for a newspaper of the Journal's size and stature, such a long stretch may be a sign of its goals. Murdoch has reportedly made clear that he does not prioritize the kind of in-depth, long form journalism that often wins these awards.

Such an approach sparked an exodus of some of the Journal's best news people almost immediately after Murdoch took over, including some who had won Pulitzers and others who went on to win elsewhere.

Over the years, many media observers have even speculated to me (often absent any particular evidence) that the 19-person Pulitzer Board -- whose members included Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot -- is against Murdoch. 

It is odd, however, that in the National Reporting category, won by The Gazette of Colorado Springs, the Journal took two of the three finalist nods. That makes ten Journal finalists who were not awarded Pulitzers under Murdoch's ownership. This could say something about how the full board views the paper -- but whether it's a criticism of the paper's leadership or a judgment that the paper's best reporting no longer measures up is impossible to say.

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