Get Your Pulitzer Entry ready

you, the columnist

By Dave Lieber
Dallas Morning News columnist

Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

Are you getting your Pulitzer contest entry ready for 2014?
I’m not kidding. I just looked at the winners for commentary going back to 1970. No active NSNC member has ever won.

Sure, plenty of Pulitzer winners have attended our conferences as special guests when they were awarded our Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. They include David Broder, Clarence Page, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Mary McGrory, Herb Caen and Ellen Goodman.

Pulitzer Prizes logoOther Pulitzer winners who have spoken at our conference are Mary Schmich, Connie Schultz, Leonard Pitts Jr. and Eileen McNamara.

But what about you? Here’s a prep sheet on how to win. Let’s get an NSNC’er into the mix!

Fortunately, 10 years ago, one of the Pulitzer judges for commentary spoke at our 2004 New Orleans conference and laid out the requirements. I recently found those notes to share with you, the columnist.

Keith Wood, at the time, was dean of the Poynter Institute. He’s a former reporter and editor at the Times-Picayune. Now he’s NPR’s vice president for diversity in news and operations.

Keith told us that the Pulitzer judges are looking for 10 strong columns in the previous calendar year that fit 11 criteria that he listed:

  • Strong research
  • Writing from the heart
  • Be accurate
  • Show a strong voice
  • Show a distinct point of view
  • Be clear
  • Be informative
  • Tell a story well
  • Periodically surprise readers
  • Quote from people who don’t usually get quoted
  • Be fair even when critical

And he told us to avoid the following negatives:

  • Don’t be smug
  • Avoid being boring
  • Don’t be corny
  • Avoid clichés
  • Don’t be wishy washy
  • Don’t take too much of an inside approach

The entry deadline will come in late January for the 2014 contest. Check for the precise date.

In the commentary category, up to 10 columns may be entered. All entries must be submitted electronically, not with paper copies.

“These items can be in any format that most clearly and powerfully tells the story, whether in text, video, multimedia, interactive, or any combination of those formats,” the guidelines state.

Don’t have your 10 entries yet? There’s still two months to go!
There’s a lot of talent in the NSNC. I hope you enter. Even better, I hope you win.

P.S. The winner receives $10,000.

• • •

Dave Lieber is The Watchdog investigative columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Check out his latest stuff at

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  1 comment for “Get Your Pulitzer Entry ready

  1. December 8, 2014 at 10:53 am reported Monday, Dec. 8, that the Pulitzer Prizes are announcing two major updates: Magazines may enter in investigative and features, and that journalists of media partnering with qualified publications may be nominated.

    If you’re not fluent in Pulitzer rules, go to Poynter’s article, and its links, “Pulitzers Open Up to Magazines.”

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