Pulitzer Prize Committee Names No Editorial Cartooning Winner This Year
This is historical. Most years, there is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. This year, for the first time in 48 years, the Board refused to select one, ignoring the three finalists and selecting “No Award”.
This Poynter article explains how the process is supposed to work:
[No winner is awarded] 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.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists put out a statement in which they implied the Board was racist and overly conservative:
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 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. Last year the board discarded the jurors’ choices and selected its own winner; this year represents a new low in this trend of insularity and institutional hubris.
It is notable that the three Finalists chosen for 2021 were of Jewish, Latinx, and Native American backgrounds, yet this is the first time in 48 years that the board has chosen not to issue an award. No woman has won in twenty years, and there has been only one female Finalist during those two decades.
As this has been a tremendously difficult time economically for our profession, the AAEC would like to request a return of the entry fees for those who submitted. We would also urge radical structural reform of the award to evaluate modern opinion cartoons by 21st century standards.
Much of the stunned reaction has been along similar lines, with many noting that the year 2020 was particularly newsworthy and noteworthy and to not recognize a winner feels like a ducking of responsibility. Three of the biggest cartoon syndicates, Andrews McMeel Syndication, King Features and Creators Syndicate, also released a statement along similar lines:
In choosing to name no winner, the Committee fails to acknowledge the hard work of so many editorial cartoonists, particularly the work of cartoonists from underrepresented backgrounds, in a year of tremendous social and political change.
Tom Tomorrow, who has served as a Pulitzer juror, had thoughts to share.
[I]n rejecting all three and declining to nominate an alternate, the Pulitzer Board has effectively announced that in 2020, the year of covid and George Floyd and Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn an election, not a single American political cartoonist produced work that was worthy of recognition. I just don’t believe that’s true.
I would agree, as would many others. It remains to be seen if any change will come.