Good news: That podcast your friend started but you haven’t listened to yet can now win a Pulitzer. Well, not really, but theoretically.
Today, the board of the much-esteemed Pulitzer Prize announced that it’s adding Audio Reporting as a new category for its journalism prizes in the next cycle. The award will be given to a podcast or radio show that serves as a “distinguished example of audio journalism that serves the public interest, characterized by revelatory reporting and illuminating storytelling.” As Politico’s Michael Calderone points out, this is the first new Pulitzer category since 2007.
“The renaissance of audio journalism in recent years has given rise to an extraordinary array of non-fiction storytelling,” said Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy in the circulated press release. “To recognize the best of that work, the Pulitzer Board is launching an experimental category to honor it.”
It’s a somewhat timely addition, given the wealth of excellent audio journalism that’s appeared over the past couple of years — much of which can be tied to the increasing popularity podcasting. There have been more than a few podcast projects that could have been worthy of bagging the prize, or at least making the short-list, if the Audio Reporting category had been around earlier. Among the ones I’m thinking about: APM’s In the Dark, the New York Times’ Caliphate, several episodes from This American Life, NPR’s Embedded, WNYC’s reliably dogged Trump Inc, and Slate’s Slow Burn. Hell, I’d throw in any of the three seasons of Serial, controversies be damned.
But as much as the addition may seem like a sign of the times, there are peculiarities. To begin with, you have the fact that the public radio system as a whole has been producing strong audio journalism in the public interest for decades now. Kai Ryssdal, host of APM’s Marketplace and one-time Portlandia star, groaned on Twitter: “Puh. Leeze. We’ve been here the whole damn time.”
Furthermore, there are some questions about the territorial boundaries of these awards. Columbia University, which administers the historcially newspaper-focused Pulitzers, also manages another journalism award, the duPont-Columbia Award, which recognizes broadcast and digital work. That prize has often given radio and audio journalism its day in the spotlight (NPR and This American Life are both regular winners).
So, while the Pulitzer board’s move to add an audio journalism category seems like a long overdue step, it might also be something else. To some extent, the development feels less like a statement about the audio boom, and more about how all media is being squished together into one big bucket.