Remember this beautiful long-form piece from the NY Times that came out last fall? It was met with a wide array of reactions, some very appreciative, some very unhappy. Over the last few months, Columbia J-School’s Bill Grueskin set out to gather perspectives on why:
I don’t know why Dasani was shut out of not just a Pulitzer, but a nomination from jurors. It did, after all, win a coveted Polk award earlier this year. And though I work just down the hall from the office of Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler, I know less about the internal machinations of jurors and board members now than I did when I was a city editor at the Miami Herald in the 1990s. But I do know that many readers found the Dasani story, for all its soaring prose and worthy ambitions, a difficult piece of work.
To understand more about why the piece elicited such strong reactions on both sides, I reached out to about 50 people shortly after the series ended last December. I blind copied them on an email in which I invited them to take part in a private, online discussion about the series. They emailed their thoughts, and I compiled and shared them. We abided by “Chatham House Rules,” which allow quotes to be used—but not the names or affiliations of the people who said them.
The group included journalists, scientists, lawyers, faculty members and a few former and current Columbia students. It also included alumni of the Times, but not current staff, nor any Pulitzer board members.
Why did I pick this story to examine? In part because the Times thought it to be so significant. Its public editor, Margaret Sullivan, called the series “the largest investigation The Times has published all at once in its history.” Moreover, it was stirring up a tremendous reaction, not just among journalists but all around New York City. Indeed, two of Michael Bloomberg’s deputy mayors took to the edit page of the Wall Street Journal to defend their boss’ record on homelessness.
FJP: He compiles the reactions here, a predominant one being that it shouldn’t have been produced as a single story. They are worth looking through because they touch on some ethical and a lot of design issues that are relevant across the industry. These considerations shouldn’t be the absolute measure on what makes a story prize-worthy because Dasani certainly is a compelling and generally well-executed narrative. But they are still worth thinking about. —Jihii