Quick Tip: When Prizes Come with a Downside

Posted by on Wednesday April 11, 2018 | Awards/Contests/Grants

From @deannefitzmaurice's Pultizer-winning photo essay about the treatment at a California hospital of an Iraqi boy nearly killed by an explosion. ©Deanne Fitzmaurice/San Francisco Chronicle

The World Press Photo awards will be announced Thursday, April 12, followed by the Pulitzer Prizes on Monday, April 16. Major prizes like those can transform a winner’s career. But the big prizes can also carry liabilities. In 2016, we asked two past Pulitzer winners—Deanne Fitzmaurice and William Snyder—about how their careers changed after they won, and what advice they had for future winners. Fitzmaurice won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography while she was a staff photographer at the San Francisco Chronicle. Snyder won three Pulitzer Prizes while at the Dallas Morning News: the 1989 prize for Explanatory Journalism, which he shared with two colleagues; the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, and the 1993 prize for Spot News, which he shared with photographer Ken Geiger. Here’s some of the perspective and advice they shared:

Deanne Fitzmaurice: [Winning the Pulitzer] gave me independence to work on stories I really cared about. But in some ways, life was back to normal two weeks later….I didn’t want the other staff photographers to think I was a prima donna, so I wanted to do those ordinary, everyday assignments. Of course, I wanted to do some high level, in-depth projects as well.

After I won, I was putting pressure on myself, saying, “You need to continue working at this level.” I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder. The feeling that I could produce that kind of work, I wanted to keep doing that.

When you win, your phone is going to start ringing like crazy, your inbox is going to fill up and there are going to be lots of opportunities to to go out and talk about your work and your process. It’s easy for it to become a distraction. After I won, I spent the following year doing speaking engagements and other things related to that project. It was a great honor and privilege, but then I felt like: enough talking, just start producing some work.

William Snyder: On the eve of winning the first one, the executive editor said to me, “Grace and humility William, after this happens.”

We all know stories that have been great, and photographs that have been fantastic that haven’t won. Is there luck involved? Are there things that are out of your control that are involved? Absolutely.

I’ve heard of people who win once and they’re frozen, because they’re so afraid that everyone’s going to be looking at them to produce something of Pulitzer quality every time they walk out the gate. There’s only a burden if you let there be a burden.

What I learned was: You don’t rest on your laurels. My advice is enjoy it, and then go back to work. If you watch the end of [the 1970 biopic] Patton, he’s talking about how in the old days, there’d be this great parade, and the triumphant warrior would come in with the adjutant standing behind [him], holding the golden crown over his head, and whispering in his ear, “All glory is fleeting.” And that’s it. Enjoy it, and then you gotta go back to work.

See more at “How Winning a Pulitzer Changed Deanne Fitzmaurice’s Career” and “How Winning Three Pulitzers Changed William Snyder’s Career


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