The Pulitzer prize was established in 1917 according to a will by Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York.
Thanks to the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer,awards are handed out to people who have achieved stalwart progress in literature. Pulitzer was born in Mako, Hungary on April 10, 1847. He had a rich Jewish grain merchant for a father, ofJewish origin and a German Roman Catholic mother. His younger sibling, Albert, wanted to become a priest but never quite made it. His father eventually retired in Budapest, where Joseph grew up going to private schools and being tutored privately.
The American Dream achieved
According to Seymour Topping, a former Administrator of the Pulitzer and current emeritus at Columbia University, Pulitzer started his brilliant literary career by simply commenting on a chess game, while he was enlisted in the Lincoln Calvaryin Boston. It so happened that the chess players with whom he engaged in conversation,in the Mercantile Library were none other than the editors of the leading German language daily, the Westliche Post, which probably had a column dedicated to German poker news too. Shortly after that conversation, he was offered a job.
Pulitzer quickly became the symbol of the famed ‘American Dream’ as he rose from vagrancy in the slums of St. Louis to an American citizen, who could speak, write, and edit and who otherwise mastered the English language, a language he was so once afraid to speak when he first enlisted in the US Civil War from over in Germany.
Shortly after marrying to Kate Davis, a socially prominent lady from Washington, Pulitzer became the proud and extremely busy owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.Pulitzer’s investigative articles caused the newspaper to prosper as it addressed uncomfortable topics such as government corruption, wealthy tax-dodgers, and gamblers in US Poker rooms, which drew him away from prominent social circles he so much frequented until then.
How Pulitzer conquered The World
It was Pulitzer himself who introduced the Pulitzer Prize system, through a stipulation made in his will, which would later,after his passing, award prizes to many, including journalists who exposed corruption more than to any other subject. Later, while on a sea voyage to mend his ailing health due to over-work, he signed a deal on board,to purchase The New York World,which was going through a financial crisis. He single-handedly turned around the paper, renamed The World, with as much fervor as he had put out for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
However in 1890, at the age of 43, due to failing health, poor eye sight, and depression due largely in part from attacks from the rival newspaper Sun who accused him of being ‘the Jew who had denied his race and religion’, he withdrew from the editorship of The World, never to return to its newsroom. However, Pulitzer managed to direct his editorial and business management of his newspapers, even as he lived as a near-recluse on his yacht, and in his homes in Maine and in New York, due to an illness linked to noise sensitivity.
Then came the war.Between 1896 and 1898 Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearstrivaled sensationalism in the written form. They both expressed outrage against the Spanish who they blamed for blowing up the U.S. battleship Maine mysteriously in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898.Pulitzer waged a courageous and successful movement against corruption in the US government as well.
Congress took heed to the outcry with a war resolution. After the four-month war, Pulitzer retreated from what had become known as “yellow journalism”. Thanks to his relentless efforts to rid his adopted country of corruption, by exposing all illicit practices in his papers, an antitrust bill and regulation of the insurance industry were passed.
Then in May 1904, Pulitzer wrote in The North American Review that “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
In 1911, Pulitzer died on his yacht. To honor his lifelong achievements the Columbia School of Journalism was founded a year later, and the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded in 1917, under the supervision of the advisory board composed mainly of newspaper publishers.
The iconic gold medal
Today, the 19-member board consists of leading editors or news executives, the president of Columbia University and the dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and two other academics. The dean and the administrator of the prizes are non-voting members. The chair rotates yearly to the most senior member. Members who vote can serve up to three terms of three years.
Twenty-one prizes are given to organizations and individuals based on professional excellence and affiliation, as well as diversity in terms of gender, ethnic background, geographical distribution and size of newspaper.Among the awards is the classical Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal which has come to symbolize the entire Pulitzer program.The winner of the public service category of the journalism competition is always an American news organization.
In 1918, a year after the Pulitzer Prizes began, the medal was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and his associate Henry Augustus Lukeman. One side of the medal depicts the profile of Benjamin Franklin. While, the other side portrays a “husky, bare-chested printer at work, his shirt draped across the end of a press”.
The words “For disinterested and meritorious public service rendered by an American newspaper during the year….” are also written on it. Also included is the name of the winning news organization written on the Franklin side of the medal and the year of the award inscribed on the other side. It is presented to the winning newspaper in an elegant cherry-wood box with brass hardware.
Coming up soon will be the Pulitzer award 2015 at which time the independent board will make all the decisions concerning the prizes. Bettors can decide, under US gambling laws, who they think should get such a medal or any of the other prizes awarded according to categories such as Journalism, Arts and Letters, Individuals and Newspapers.