Surprises in Pulitzer prize winners

2012-04-17 12:20

New York - The Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism on Monday for revealing the New York Police Department's widespread spying on Muslims, while The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania and a 24-year-old reporter captured the local reporting award for breaking the sexual abuse scandal that brought down a renowned university football coach.

Prestigious awards

The Pulitzers are among the most prestigious awards in US journalism.

In a reflection of the forces reshaping the media world, the turmoil-ridden Philadelphia Inquirer won in the public service category for exposing pervasive violence in the city's schools, while David Wood earned a Pulitzer in national reporting for a relative newcomer, The Huffington Post, for stories about the suffering endured by American troops severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was only the second Pulitzer ever awarded for reporting that appeared online only.

Another Pulitzer for investigative reporting was awarded to The Seattle Times for a series about accidental methadone overdoses among patients with chronic pain.

The New York Times won two prizes. David Kocieniewski was honoured in the explanatory reporting category for a series on how wealthy people and corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes.

Jeffrey Gettleman received the award for international reporting for his coverage of famine and conflict in East Africa.

Journalism still a 'vibrant force'

Sig Gissler, administrator of the prizes, said the winners in this year's 96th annual competition show that journalism is still a "vibrant force" as a watchdog for the public.

The AP's series of stories — available online — showed how New York police, with the help of a CIA official, created an aggressive surveillance program to gather intelligence on Muslim neighbourhoods, businesses and houses of worship.

It was the 50th Pulitzer won by the news organisation.

The articles showed that police systematically listened in on sermons, hung out at cafes and other public places, infiltrated colleges and photographed people as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks.

Individuals and groups were monitored even when there was no evidence they were linked to terrorism.

"We kept reporting things that no one in the city of New York knew about," said AP's executive editor, Kathleen Carroll. "That's what I'm most proud of."

The AP reporters praised their editors for sticking by them and pushing to extend the investigation, even in the face of some high-level criticism in New York City.

"We came under relentless attack," Goldman said. "Some people thought they could intimidate us and the AP - and they were wrong."

Social media

A year after the Pulitzer judges found no entry worthy of the prize for breaking news, The Tuscaloosa News of Alabama won the award for coverage of a deadly tornado.

By blending traditional reporting with the use of social media, the newspaper provided real-time updates and helped locate missing people, while producing in-depth print coverage despite a power outage that forced the paper to publish at a plant 80km away.

The twister hit just after the news staff had had a session on how to use social media to cover the news, city editor Katherine Lee recalled.

"I think we won because the tornado hit where we live, and we all felt a responsibility to do this well, to tell our story well - about how people came together to help total strangers," Lee said.

The judges declined to award a prize for editorial writing.

One of youngest ever to win

At The Patriot-News, Sara Ganim, a police and courts reporter, won for "courageously revealing and adeptly covering the explosive Penn State sex scandal," the Pulitzer judges wrote.

At 24, she is one of the youngest journalists ever to win a Pulitzer; at least one prior winner, Jackie Crosby of the Macon Telegraph and News of Georgia, was 23.

Ganim broke the news of the grand jury investigation into allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

She was also the first to report his indictment on charges of molesting several boys involved in a charity he ran. Sandusky has denied the allegations.

The scandal ended head coach Joe Paterno's lustrous career, prompted the ouster of Penn State President Graham Spanier and led to a nationwide discussion over the place of big-time sports on college campuses.

"Better than any award, the most rewarding thing through this whole process has been people telling me that this story and our coverage has changed their minds about local reporting, and we all know that there are a lot of minds yet to change," Ganim said.

Continuing with great journalism

The Philadelphia Inquirer - which has recently gone through bankruptcy and repeated rounds of cutbacks and has changed hands five times in the past six years - showed how school violence went underreported.

In response, the school system established a new way of keeping track of serious incidents.

One of the winning reporters, John Sullivan, who has since left the paper for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, was back on Monday to celebrate with colleagues.

"This just gives us so much joy ... because we've seen what you guys have gone through the past 10 years, all that we've endured and seeing our friends walk out of the building," he told the newsroom, yet "everybody here just continues to do great journalism."

Michael J Berens and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times looked at the consequences when patients with state-subsidised health care were moved from safer pain-control drugs to methadone, which is cheaper but carries more risks.

"Not only is this wrong, but this is incredibly tragic," Berens said.

At The Huffington Post, Wood, a veteran military correspondent, looked at catastrophically wounded soldiers' physical and emotional struggles, as well as how their families, communities, comrades and doctors responded.

The Stranger
, a Seattle alternative weekly, won the feature writing award for a story about a woman who survived an attack that killed her partner.

Traditional Pulitzer powerhouses

Some newspapers that have traditionally been Pulitzer powerhouses, including The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, came up empty-handed this year.

Tim McGuire, a professor at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the variety among this year's winners is noteworthy: "The entire news ecosystem is being fragmented, and great journalism is being done by all parts of that ecosystem."

Mary Schmich, a longtime Chicago Tribune columnist, was recognized with the commentary award for pieces that "reflect the character and capture the culture of her famed city," the judges said.

Film critic Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe won the criticism award, for work the judges called "distinguished by pinpoint prose and an easy traverse between the art house and the big-screen box office."

Photography and cartooning

In photography, Massoud Hossaini of Agence France-Presse won the breaking news award for his picture of a girl weeping after a suicide bomber attacked a crowded shrine in Afghanistan.

Craig F Walker of The Denver Post won the feature photography award - his second - for his work on an Iraq war veteran's struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Politico's Matt Wuerker won the editorial cartooning prize for work that poked fun at partisan fighting in Washington.

The Pulitzer Prizes are given out annually by Columbia University on the recommendation of a board of journalists and others. Each award carries a $10 000 prize except for the public service award, which is a gold medal.