Earlier today the finalists for the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced. Over the years, the awards have resisted change, despite the web, social media, and other cultural and technological movements having led to new, innovative, and often suspect storytelling forms and practices.
But change is inevitable, even for the most traditional institutions. We can only imagine what the Pulitzer categories might look like ten years from now, after big brands and big social media firms have all but overtaken the old models and distribution channels of journalism.
For a distinguished example of branded content that poses an incendiary and argumentative response to a breaking story that a different news organization had reported less than two hours prior. The story may constitute sound analysis based on facts and the writers’ expertise, but that is not a requirement for consideration. Moreover, applicants should be aware that judges are told to prioritize the speed with which the take was written and the number of emotionally-driven tweets and Facebook comments related to the piece — or as the Pulitzer board refers to it, the piece’s “hotness.”
2025 winner: Vox’s “Did Kim Jong-Un Dismantle His Nuclear Program After Watching An Episode of ‘Modern Family’? [SPONSORED BY MODERN FAMILY]”
For a distinguished example of bigotry that is published for the sole purpose of attracting as many outraged readers as possible who, by consuming and sharing the piece on social media, are granted a fleeting moment of catharsis and self-righteousness that lends the illusion of meaning to their innumerable wasted hours on the Internet. The award is split into three sub-categories which honor notable efforts in racism, sexism, and homophobia. Submissions may be considered for one category or all three, constituting what is known as the “Shamefecta.”
2025 winner: Slate’s “It’s Bad To Be Racist, Sexist, and Homophobic. Or Is It?”
For a distinguished example of a media organization embedding a YouTube clip from the episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that aired the previous evening Submissions should include no more than 100 words of original commentary (For John Oliver embeds that include more than 100 words, please use the application for “Best Quote-Heavy Summary of a John Oliver Video.” Winners in this category will have differentiated their John Oliver embeds from their competitors’ through the clever use of tagging, back-links, and other search engine optimization tricks, thus ensuring that their posts appear at the top of Google results. Submissions should also exhibit evidence that a Facebook ad campaign was run in conjunction with the post that utilized custom Audience Targeting. The board has no patience for posts that rely on Facebook’s default settings for Audience Targeting.
2025 Winner: Huffington Post’s “Watch John Oliver Tear The Westminster Dog Show a New Asshole”
The most interesting content is not created by journalists. That’s because journalists lack beauty or wealth and are therefore not important to readers. Celebrities on the other hand are very beautiful and rich, and thus the best way journalists can serve readers is to embed tweets that these celebrities have been generous enough to share with the world. Winners in this category will have leveraged those perfect moments when an extremely famous and attractive celebrity posts a controversial or offensive “tweetstorm” about a trending news topic. Note that special consideration is given to slideshows that separate each tweet into a unique URL and pageview.
2025 Winner: Mashable’s “Iggy Azalea Blows Up Twitter By Saying She Invented Hip-Hop and That Nas Is ‘Retarded’ and ‘Gay’”
For the Snowfall that Snowfalls harder than any other Snowfall. Special consideration will be given to submissions with extremely slow load times, an “interactive” layout that causes text and images to disappear and reappear for no discernible reason, and a structure that is impossible to navigate. Moreover, each submission — and the board cannot stress this enough — must be completely unreadable on mobile devices.
2025 Winner: Techcrunch’s “Y Combinator-Backed InstaSnap Raises $ 3M To Become the Instagram of Snapchat [INTERACTIVE PRESS RELEASE]”
Now that Facebook hosts the majority of news content, the Pulitzer board has created a category honoring a distinguished piece of content that perfectly illustrates how “journalism” published directly to Facebook can service brands by eliciting specific buying outcomes from the social network’s users. Submissions should fulfill key strategic ambitions for both Facebook and its advertising partners by speaking to users’ insecurities, addictions to technology, and overall emotional instability while positioning consumer products and social networking in general as the answers to these real or perceived psychological and spiritual shortcomings. Videos possess an inherent advantage in this category because they have higher CPMs than other types of content. These posts may or may not be explicit examples of sponsored content — because hey, it’s 2025 and who can tell the difference?
2025 Winner: Upworthy’s “Watch this Woman Turn Her Life Around After ‘Liking’ M.A.C. Cosmetics’ Facebook Page”
Awarded annually to an editor-in-chief who courageously ignores calls from the high-minded and pretentious journalism elite to keep advertising and editorial interests separate. Honorees will have distinguished themselves by bravely removing posts that are critical of brands that have entered into financial agreements with their news organization.
2025 Winner: Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith for removing the post, “Taco Bell Recalls Everything On the Menu After Thousands Get Dysentery” because Taco Bell is a paid advertiser on Buzzfeed.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]