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Online Pulitzer considered

The 19-member Pulitzer Prize Committee has appointed a committee to study the possibility of starting a category for online journalism.

As they continue to challenge "old media" paradigms, online publications are now focusing on the pinnacle of established journalism: the Pulitzer Prize.

The Pulitzer Prize is to print media what the Oscar is to Hollywood. Although it does not bear as much celebrity, a Pulitzer is the most distinguished award a newspaper journalist can receive.

Now some editors and reporters in the online world want their work to be considered for the coveted recognition, and the 19-member Pulitzer Prize Committee has appointed a committee to study the possibility of starting a category for online journalism, according to the Associated Press.

The committee will consist of five members of the Pulitzer board: John L. Dotson Jr., president and publisher, Akron Beacon Journal; Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive officer, The Associated Press; Rena Pederson, vice president/editorial page editor, the Dallas Morning News; William Safire, columnist, the New York Times; and Marilyn Yarborough, professor of law at the University of North Carolina.

Columbia University hands out the awards annually for print journalism, letters, drama, and music. The prizes in the letters category are for fiction, history, poetry, biography or autobiography, and general nonfiction.

A gold medal is awarded for distinguished public service in journalism, while the other category winners get a $3,000 award from Pulitzer endowments. Entries for journalism must have appeared in a U.S. daily or at least weekly publication.

"The quality of online journalism is such that it deserves Pulitzer consideration," said Joe Shea, who produces the online and print news publication American Reporter. "The rules don't prohibit online newspapers; it appears the committee prohibits them. They told me that they would not accept submissions from online newspapers, period, whether they have a print counterpart or not."

Shea tried to enter international correspondent Andrea Harsono's political coverage from Jakarta for a Pulitzer this year. Harsono broke a story last May that members of the Indonesian army were planning to oust the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party.

Megawati Sukarnoputri was removed from her post a few weeks later. Shea said this is an example of how online reporting, like print journalism, can have significant impact on important national and global political actions.

"There are more than a 1,000 daily newspapers online now," Shea said. "I think Joseph Pulitzer would have been delighted to the see the explosion of newspapering on the Internet all over the world. His deepest interest was in promoting a free press."

But traditional newspapers may not be so quick to share the glory of their most coveted awards, which will be announced Monday.

Sacramento Bee editorial page editor Howard Weaver, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting at the Anchorage Daily News, says newspapers and online publications are not synonymous. He does, however, say the Pulitzer committee should explore the awards issue.

"It's a matter of evolution," said Weaver, who won Pulitzer Prizes for investigations of the Teamsters Union's involvement in building the Alaska pipeline and alcoholism among Alaskan natives. "However, newspapers have a certain jealous attachment to the Pulitzers and are going to be reluctant about changing anything that would dilute the prize."

Others say the debate may lead to the creation of new awards.

"We've done some original stories. I don't know that we've had anything I would nominate for a Pulitzer Prize," said Neil Budde, editor of the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. "The Pulitzers are designed to recognize good newspaper journalism. I think the answer is to come up with a new set of awards."

"A lot of people in online journalism are fighting to say they are something different than newspapers, but this effort is saying that in order to get recognition they are willing be considered as the same as a newspaper. If you're practicing good journalism there is no need for prizes, period," Budde said.