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Pyle: No one has won, and none shall have prizes

Published April 20, 2012 4:50 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I'm too old to get anxious about what might be under the tree on Christmas morning.

But Monday afternoon, in spite of myself, I was all anxious about how Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and a leprechaun with a pot of gold might have something for me.

Monday was when Columbia University was to announce who had won the Pulitzer Prize for work done in the preceding year. And I, a grizzled newspaper hack of more than 30 years standing, still care waaaaay too much about all the awards, citations, trinkets, plaques and trivets that journalists annually bestow on one another.

I was even allowing myself to think I had a chance.

It wasn't — only — a matter of me being full of myself. It was the fact that my entry in this yearly quest for print (and now online) journalism's greatest honor just happened to be a big tray of Pulitzer bait.

It was a collection of the editorials The Salt Lake Tribune published in March of last year berating the Utah Legislature for its surprise adoption of HB477, the law that kneecapped the state's Government Records Access and Management Act. This is the stuff that Pulitzer juries live for.

Besides, the editorials worked. Or, at least, the actions we called for came to pass. We said the law should be repealed, and it was, in very short order.

But, when 1 p.m. Monday rolled around, and I managed to wait a whole four minutes before hitting http://www.pulitzer.org, I was disappointed. And stunned.

It said, "Editorial writing: No award."

No award? Come on, guys. Tell me I lost out to a big-time editorial page and its successful crusade to end slavery in the Third World or to save an endangered species. But to come in behind nobody?

Well, not exactly. There were, as is Pulitzer's habit, three named finalists. Two ­— The Burlington Free Press in Vermont and The Tampa Bay Times in Florida — were acknowledged for crusades that were similar to ours: good government campaigns that didn't just natter in a vacuum but brought results.

The great irony here is that the Pulitzer Board operates in total secrecy and there has been, and will be, no explanation for the decision to leave this year's award at the trophy shop, other than to say that the board couldn't come to an agreement.

I was also prepared to bask in the reflected glory of any further honors that might be deservedly won by The Tribune as an institution, for its all-hands-on-deck coverage of the HB477 issue, perhaps even the coveted gold medal for public service. That didn't happen, either, but at least someone did win that award. (It was The Philadelphia Inquirer for its deep and deeply troubling investigation of the level of violence in Philly's public schools.)

This has left editorial writers all over the county feeling dissed, wondering if the ultimate arbiters of journalistic excellence don't like us or don't value what we do. But, then, they didn't give an award for fiction writing this year, either, and nobody thinks they don't like a good novel.

The best news out of the Pulitzer Board this year, though, is the commentary award for Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich. She's a great writer whose best-known work — a 1997 ersatz commencement speech best known as the "Wear sunscreen" piece — was circulated high and low, made into a record, and mistakenly attributed to writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, all with precious little credit to its real creator. This honor should help make up for that slight.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. And he's been bitter about it ever since.

gpyle@sltrib.com