Why the Pulitzers Didn’t Name a Winner in Editorial Cartooning

From a story on poynter.org by Angela Fu headlined “The Pulitzers didn’t name a winner in editorial cartooning. That’s unusual but not unprecedented.”:

For the first time in 48 years, the Pulitzer Prize Board chose not to name a winner in Editorial Cartooning — a decision some are calling an insult to all cartoonists.

The Pulitzer Prizes announced Friday that Ken Fisher, drawing as Ruben Bolling; Lalo Alcaraz; and Marty Two Bulls Sr. were finalists in Editorial Cartooning. Winners were named in all 14 other journalism categories.

Alcaraz, who was also a Pulitzer finalist last year, was preparing for a work Zoom call when he got a text that read, “You got robbed.” Other messages poured in as he tried to figure out what had happened.

“I had to tell the folks on the Zoom, ‘You know, I’m trying to confirm if I am a finalist on the Pulitzer, but I think there’s no award. So I don’t know what to say right now, so excuse me if I’m a little out of sorts here,’” Alcaraz said….

It is fairly unusual — but not unprecedented — for the Pulitzer Board to decide not to name a winner in one of its journalism categories. Since 2000, the board has chosen not to give an award five times. No awards were given in Feature Writing in 2014, Editorial Writing in 2012, Breaking News Reporting in 2011, Editorial Writing in 2008 and Feature Writing in 2004.

These scenarios happen if a finalist doesn’t receive a majority vote among the 18 board members. For each Pulitzer category, a group of judges sift through all the submissions and pick three unranked finalists as well as three alternates. Those six pieces then go to the Pulitzer Prize Board, which discusses the entries. At least 10 board members must vote for a finalist for it to be named as a winner.

Immediately after the announcement, cartoonists criticized the board’s decision. Two Bulls drew his response in a cartoon for The Washington Post. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists released a statement calling the decision a “pointed rejection.”

“We are mystified by the pointed rejection of talented Finalists as well as the many other artists who have been creating powerful work in these most eventful and challenging of times,” the statement reads. “The medium of editorial cartooning has been evolving for many years now, yet the Pulitzer Board remains extremely traditional and narrow-minded in its tastes, apparently uncomfortable with contemporary trends in opinion cartooning and comic art.”…

Bolling learned that he was a finalist while attending his daughter’s high school graduation ceremony. He was already emotional from the day’s events, and the Pulitzer news left him stunned and moved….

Bolling said he is ambivalent towards awards in general — though he is honored to have been named a Pulitzer finalist. He has won some awards and lost many more, and he has never felt that he deserved anything.

“I feel like judges make a subjective determination, and everyone moves on. So I’ve never once complained about any award or even felt the impulse to,” Bolling said. “But this feels different. This feels like it’s an insult to the entire profession.”

Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for work done in the previous calendar year. Alcaraz pointed out that 2020 was a particularly newsworthy year, each day bringing new stories about politics, upheaval and the pandemic. The decision not to award a winner gave the impression that the board didn’t think the profession’s commentary last year was “valid,” Alcaraz said.

In his work last year, Alcaraz tried to cover the concerns of the Latino community, touching on everything from culture to immigration to economics. He wanted to bring a front-line perspective to a larger mainstream audience. But he felt that the Pulitzer Board had just disregarded his work.

“The three finalists this year were a Jewish man; me, a Chicano artist, a Mexican American cartoonist; and a Native American cartoonist,” Alcaraz said. “Pick any of us, and it would have made a statement against the tide of hate and racism … in this country. But nah. They tossed it.”…

Both Alcaraz and Bolling hope the board addresses the issue before next year. Though Alcaraz said he plans on submitting his work for consideration again in the future, Bolling said he is unsure.

“I think that if I could ever get a statement that the Pulitzer Board will never give me the prize, I think that was made clear this year,” said Bolling, who was also a finalist in 2019. “They would rather throw it in the garbage … than give me the award or any of my colleagues.”

Angela Fu is a freelance reporter based in Birmingham, Ala. and a contributor to Poynter.org.

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