5/11/2006

Incoming Pulitzer Chair Steiger Wants More Web In Awards

Incoming Pulitzer Chair Steiger Wants More Web In Awards

By Joe Strupp

Published: May 11, 2006 11:15 AM ET
NEW YORK Paul Steiger, the incoming chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, wants the prestigious awards to delve even more in to Web-based journalism, calling it "the biggest priority for us."

But when asked about the leaking of Pulitzer finalists, which has become a growing problem for the secretive awards, Steiger, who is managing editor for The Wall Street Journal, said it was not a major concern. He even said he could not remember if he had ever leaked the name of a finalist during his time as a juror in the mid-1990s. "I honestly do not remember," he said. "It is a long time ago."

He also said he will step down from his Journal post at the end of 2007, citing mandatory retirement age restrictions.

Stating what he considers priorities for the Pulitzer board, which will meet again next in the fall, Steiger was clear that rewarding Web journalism was a key to keeping the awards relevant. "So much of our work continues to be online," said Steiger, who was appointed chair earlier this week. "So much exciting stuff is being done online, and by essentially print newsrooms, that have made it a bigger and bigger adjunct of the newsroom."

His comments followed the rule change in late 2005 that allowed Web elements to be included for the first time in submissions for all 14 journalism categories. Previously, since 1999, only the Public Service prize could include such submissions.

"I think the biggest priority for us is to continue to find ways to move forward," said Steiger, 63. "Last fall, we opened up the use of online material. We will probably look at ways to do more of that." He declined to cite specifics, but noted that the online entries are still limited to the written word and still photos. Podcasts, audio, video and a number of interactive Web elements remain restricted from Pulitzer submissions.

When asked if such audio and video Web items could be included in Pulitzer submissions, Steiger said "sure." He also cited Web services such as 'newstrackers,' which provide interactive updates and links for ongoing stories, and online data bases such as those that follow presidential polling in each state, the past rulings of judges, and congressional votes.

"That requires the board to meet and decide," Steiger stressed about any changes. "I've got an open mind. We are more focused on how we can embrace the kinds of innovative things that people are doing now."

Steiger noted that online entries were a key element of the papers that won Pulitzers for Hurricane Katrina coverage, The Sun Herald of Bilxoi, Miss. and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. "It was less than the majority of submissions," he said about the overall percentage of Web entries among finalists. "But more than in the past."

Turning to the problem of Pulitzer finalist leaks, Steiger said it was not a priority for him, although he understood why Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler makes it a major issue. "Sig worries about it a lot and he is the administrator and that is part of his job," Steiger said. "It is not one of the things I spend a lot of time worrying about."

Pointing out that journalists are trained to get information out that they know, he even showed some sympathy for the leakers. "I think when there is information that is of interest to a significant number of people, intrepid reporters will try to get it," he said. "That is fair. For people to try to get it. It is also fair for the Pulitzer Board to have rules to try to limit that."

As a two-time juror in the mid-1990s who chose finalists, Steiger said he could not recall if he had ever leaked any names. But when asked if he had ever leaked the names of winners during his eight years on the board, he said "to the best of my knowledge I have contributed nothing to those receiving leaks from the board."

Noting he will turn 65 in August 2007, Steiger said that will require him to step down as Journal managing editor at the end of 2007. "They could kick me out sooner, but under the company rules, I have mandatory retirement," said Steiger, who has held the post since 1991. "I love the job, but I have done it 50% longer than anyone else. It will definitely be time for someone else to try their hand at it."

5/08/2006

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