EVERYONE’S A CRITIC: The Pulitzer Prize, in theory at least, is supposed to be a pure expression of journalistic merit. But each year, as publications single out writers for consideration, tales of lobbying and political intrigue emerge.
The New York Times, for instance, seems to have caused a slight fuss this year by nominating co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis for criticism. As a rule, the paper does not discuss the Pulitzer process, but several Times sources confirmed that Dargis was nominated by management for the category, along with art critic Michael Kimmelman and architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff. (The Pulitzer Board advises publications to nominate three or fewer candidates per category. Joseph Legaspi, who works with the board, said, “We put it in good faith that this is the best work from all over the country. That’s why we ask editors to limit their selection.”)
While Dargis has many fans at the Times, the nod surprised some colleagues there, particularly since respected critics with longer histories at the paper have yet to win the award — or even been named as Pulitzer finalists. (Chief theater critic Ben Brantley and Dargis’ fellow chief film critic A.O. Scott were most often mentioned by sources. Scott was nominated by the Times at least twice, in 2000 and 2004; it is unclear how many times Brantley has been up for the award.)
“By no means do you ever hear that [Dargis] is the best critic [the Times] has,” said one person who’s worked with her there. “She’s known for synopsizing and giving stuff away. You’re not supposed to read her if you don’t want to know what’s going to happen.”
“It’s all political anyway,” said another Times insider, “the politics being the lobbying that goes on by the papers behind the scenes.” Legaspi countered, “That’s one of the reasons we keep the names confidential until the awards are announced, so that there won’t be any lobbying.”
Kimmelman was a finalist for the Times in 2000. Ouroussoff reached that status twice while at The Los Angeles Times, in 2003 and in 2004 — the year he and Dargis jumped from the LAT to the NYT. One colleague likened the Times’ nominations of Dargis and Ouroussoff this year to backrubs for joining the team. “It’s like the Yankees,” he said, implying the Times was celebrating its gets.
The Times last won the Pulitzer for criticism in 1998, when Michiko Kakutani was given the award “for her passionate, intelligent writing on books and contemporary literature.” Since 1970, a film critic has won it only twice — Roger Ebert (the Chicago Sun-Times) in 1975 and Joe Morgenstern (the Wall Street Journal) last year. Dargis will find out if she’ll make it three on April 17 at 3 p.m. EST, when the finalists and winners will be announced.
— Sara James
LOOK ALIVE: New York magazine thinks its weirdly compelling “Look Book” may have a long shelf life. The weekly recently hired literary agent David McCormick, of McCormick & Williams, to pitch publishers on the idea of a photo book based on the regular feature by writer Amy Larocca and photographer Jake Chessum, who take to the streets periodically to find, shoot and interview New Yorkers with distinctive personal style. “From even before the first Look Book ran in October 2004, we knew that the weekly centerfold had huge potential to become its own book,” said a New York spokeswoman. (Clearly Gawker.com sees some possibilities there; the gossip site publishes a regular deconstruction of the feature, whose subjects are as apt to be glorious freaks as actual trendsetters.)
Assuming it finds a willing publisher, The Look Book Book — or whatever it ends up being called — will be New York’s first stab at book publishing under owner Bruce Wasserstein and editor in chief Adam Moss. Other features rumored to be under consideration for brand extensions are the “In Season” recipe page and “The Approval Matrix,” a handy visual reference to all that is admirable and loathsome in high and low culture — at least in the minds of New York’s editors.
— Jeff Bercovici