The Globe’s recent Pulitzers and the city’s cultural life

Wesley Morris

Boston is a city where culture matters. So Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris’ Pulitzer Prize for criticism makes an important statement about the paper’s place in the cultural life of the city.

Morris’ Pulitzer comes just a year after Sebastian Smee won for his visual-arts criticism. Three years before that, Mark Feeney was honored for his criticism of photography, art and film. That is an impressive record. It also marks the Globe’s sixth Pulitzer since Marty Baron became editor in the summer of 2001.

I will confess that I do not usually read film criticism. But after Morris won, I went back and re-read the appreciation he wrote of Steve Jobs’ legacy shortly after the Apple chief executive died. It was smart in all the right ways, expressing the mixed feelings we all have about the overarching place in our lives that we have devoted to our digital devices.

Though I haven’t seen “The Help,” I was interested to see what Morris, an African-American, would make of a film that seems to have sparked ambivalence, especially among black movie-goers. Morris’ review is a meditation on well-meaning whites and the sting of liberal condescension. And the last sentence is a killer.

Boston, fortunately, is still a place where intelligent, literate criticism is read and appreciated. My former professional home, the Boston Phoenix, has long thrived on the strength of its outstanding arts commentary. It matters here, which is one of the reasons that this is such a great place to live and work.

As we all know, professional, informed criticism has ceded substantial ground to bloggers, commenters on Amazon and Yelp, and other unpaid reviewers. There’s a place for such amateur voices, and some of them are quite good. But gifted, deeply informed critics like Morris, Smee and Feeney show why crowdsourced reviews are a valuable supplement — not a substitute.

The Globe, the Phoenix and the pedophile-priest story

Jim Romenesko has posted a letter from my friend Susan Ryan-Vollmar on the Boston Phoenix’s groundbreaking work in exposing the pedophile-priest story, and on the Boston Globe’s ongoing silence about the Phoenix’s coverage, which predated the Globe’s by nearly a year.

I think Susan, a former Phoenix news editor, gets it fundamentally right. The Globe got the documents that led to Cardinal Bernard Law’s departure. The Globe richly deserved the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service that it won in 2003. But I agree with Susan that Kristen Lombardi’s reporting for the Phoenix warrants more public recogntion than it has received.

Susan, Kristen (currently a Nieman Fellow) and I all worked at the Phoenix together and remain friends. I consider Kristen to be the finest reporter I ever worked with. Susan is a first-rate editor who did much to shape and focus Kristen’s stories. Walter Robinson, who was the Globe Spotlight team editor that covered the priest scandal, is now a valued colleague at Northeastern.

But Susan has laid down the gauntlet, and Romenesko has asked Globe editor Marty Baron to respond. This bears watching.

Pulitzer winner Barry’s 1996 report from Russia

Ellen Barry

While the Boston Globe’s visual-arts critic, Sebastian Smee, continues to receive well-deserved accolades for his Pulitzer Prize, it is less well-known that another of yesterday’s Pulitzer winners has strong Boston ties, too.

Ellen Barry of the New York Times, who shared the award for international reporting with her Times colleague Clifford Levy, is a former reporter for the Globe and the Boston Phoenix. Ellen and I worked together at the Phoenix in the mid-1990s.

In 1996, she reported from Russia for the Phoenix on Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign — and wrote a classic story headlined “Generation Nyet.” The folks at the Phoenix have dug the story of their archives and linked to it anew. It is well worth your time, as is Phoenix editor Carly Carioli’s tribute.

Boston Globe returns to Pulitzer circle

Sebastian Smee

The Boston Globe has won its first Pulitzer in three years. Sebastian Smee, the paper’s visual-arts critic, takes home the prize for criticism. Here is the story the Globe ran when Smee was hired in 2008. Here are links to his reviews.

Another winner with local ties is Ellen Barry of the New York Times, who shares the award for international reporting with her colleague Clifford Levy. Barry worked at both the Boston Phoenix and the Globe before moving to the Times.

The big surprise: no winner in breaking-news reporting.

The complete list of Pulitzer winners is here.

ProPublica and non-profit journalism

In my latest for the Guardian, I write that ProPublica’s Pulitzer haul is evidence that the era of non-profit journalism has arrived.

Walter Robinson on the latest church scandal

Here’s an inspired idea: ProPublica called up my Northeastern colleague Walter Robinson and asked him about the burgeoning pedophile-priest scandal in Europe, which is starting to rattle the papacy itself. Robinson, as I’m sure you know, headed the Boston Globe’s investigative team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for exposing Cardinal Bernard Law’s complicity in a similar scandal.

Of particular interest are Robinson’s comments about claims that Pope Benedict did not know about what was going on in Germany when he, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the archbishop. Robinson says:

I don’t know of any archdiocese where the archbishop or the cardinal archbishop was not kept fully informed and in most cases was not heavily involved in decision-making involving any priest who was accused of abusing minors. In every diocese in the U.S.,  including those headed by cardinals, there was personal knowledge by the cardinal archbishop when news of abuse surfaced. It was true in Boston, it was true in L.A., it was true in Chicago.

The fact we have one archbishop in Munich that claims not to know anything is enough to make one suspicious.

And not just Europe. Today the New York Times reports that the future pope had a hand in enabling and covering up for an American priest “who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.”

To paraphrase a famous question from a different time and place: What did the pope know, and when did he know it?

Pulitzer notes

A few observations on this year’s Pulitzer Prizes.

1. Mark Feeney’s victory in criticism is one of those developments that’s surprising but deserved. Feeney stands for low-key substance, and it’s nice to see that the Pulitzer judges recognized that. It’s also encouraging that the Globe has kept its Pulitzer string alive while it goes through another wave of downsizing. Editor Marty Baron is groping toward how to define excellence in a very different era. Greats arts coverage is one answer to that challenge.

The Globe’s Beth Daley, who was a finalist, also deserves credit for explaining the effects of global warming in human terms.

2. It’s too bad that Concord Monitor photographer Preston Gannaway won the Pulitzer for feature photography just as she’s leaving for the Rocky Mountain News. Nevertheless, the prize helps enhance the Monitor’s reputation as among the best papers of its size in the country.

Gannaway documented the death of a young mother with cancer, presented in a multimedia production here.

3. Congratulations to my Northeastern colleage Bill Kirtz and his wife, Carol. Their son, Jake Hooker, won the Pulitzer for investigative reporting along with his New York Times colleague Walter Bogdanich for their exposés of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry. Kirtz and I go way, way back — he was my instructor in the 1970s. I wish as much had rubbed off on me as it did on Jake.

4. It’s hard to think of anyone more deserving of a Pulitzer than Bob Dylan, one of the great artists of the past half-century. But I always worry when I hear an announcement like that. Is he sick? Do the Pulitzer judges know something we don’t? Nah. He’s just looking for Alicia Keys.