The most satisfying thing about this year's Pulitzer Prizes, at least for some of us contrary types, is that one wasn't awarded for editorial writing.
Again. This makes the eighth time in the Pulitzers' history that no prize was presented for editorial writing. And it probably doesn't happen nearly often enough. Because these prestigious awards need to be reserved for extraordinary achievement, not handed out as a matter of annual course. By finding no editorials worthy of the prize, the committee has upheld the standards of American opinion writing, even raised them.
Far from being thanked for its service to the craft, the Pulitzer committee's decision attracted a chorus of criticism from editorial writers around the country who've been spoiled by our awards-happy culture. We don't seem to realize that, like grade inflation, handing out prizes for less than truly outstanding performance doesn't so much honor the recipient as devalue the prize.
Michael Ramirez, just about the best editorial cartoonist in the country, won his second well-deserved Pulitzer this year. He'd been let go some time back by the Los Angeles Times, which doesn't even have its own cartoonist any more - another sign of the sad decline of the American editorial page.
When the board of the National Conference of Editorial Writers last met, the dispiriting talk over dinner was all about tighter budgets, smaller staffs and less room for opinion in American newspapers. All I could do was talk about the difference a dedicated publisher makes, namely Walter Hussman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the paper I work for.
To quote an e-mail one of our editorial writers sent me after that dinner: "Listening to those folks last night talk about their papers I kept thinking, 'Thank God for Walter. Thank God for Walter. Thank God for Walter.' We must be the envy of the industry."
The Democrat-Gazette is a happy exception to the dismaying national rule. Our circulation is up at a time when newspaper readership is falling; our publisher refuses to reduce the news hole (the percentage of the paper reserved for news and opinion rather than advertising); and we remain a statewide paper despite the temptation to cut back on the cost of distributing copies all over Arkansas.
Other once-statewide newspapers threw in the towel long ago and retreated to the bigger cities. But we added a separate Northwest Arkansas edition complete with its own publishing plant, news bureau and opinion editor - rather than hunker down in Little Rock. Meanwhile, we're reaching a phenomenal 85 percent of adults in Central Arkansas.