- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

Details on the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism:

PUBLIC SERVICE: Alexandra Berzon and the staff of The Las Vegas Sun

Berzon was cited for “courageous reporting” that exposed a high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas strip and how lax safety rules and the rush to build quickly contributed to the injury and death rate.

The newspaper reported that 12 workers had died within 18 months on the Strip in the middle of a $32 billion building boom, including the largest private commercial development in U.S. history.

Ten weeks after the first stories appeared in March 2008, the newspaper wrote in its entry letter, workers walked out at MGM Mirage’s $9.2 billion CityCenter project. The paper said that no workers died after the industry made safety improvements three months after the stories were published.

“To see things change as a result, that is really a satisfying thing as a reporter,” said Berzon, a 29-year-old writer who joined the paper 18 months ago.

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BREAKING NEWS REPORTING: The New York Times staff

The New York Times was honored for “swift and sweeping coverage” of the sex scandal that ruined Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s political career.

The newspaper’s metropolitan staff broke the story on its Web site that Spitzer had been snared in a federal investigation as a customer of a high-priced prostitution ring. Just over an hour later, Spitzer issued a public apology. He resigned two days later.

The newspaper was also first to identify the prostitute that Spitzer met with in a Washington, D.C., hotel in February, recounted in an indictment listing the governor as “Client 9.”

The newspaper wrote in its entry letter that it began pursuing a tip three days before its first story that a public official had been implicated in the indictment.

Over the weekend, the newspaper wrote in its entry letter, reporters began visiting Washington hotels, went to the homes of people charged with leading the prostitution ring and tracked down Spitzer’s regular driver in Washington.

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INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: David Barstow of The New York Times

Barstow won his second Pulitzer for reporting on military analysts who acted as television war commentators and their conflicts with the Pentagon and their own businesses, which benefited form U.S. military policy.

Barstow’s piece, “Message Machine,” showed how the Pentagon recruited the analysts to make the case for the war in Iraq, sometimes rewarding favorable commentary with access to U.S. contracting officials. The Pentagon suspended its program, which offered trips and briefing for favored analysts after Barstow’s piece appeared in April 2008.

“David Barstow’s work is inspired by a keen sense of impropriety among the highest and mightiest, and by the courage and persistence to expose it,” the newspaper wrote in its entry letter.

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EXPLANATORY REPORTING: Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times

Boxall and Cart were honored for a four-part series exploring that wildfire seasons last longer and are three times as expensive to fight in the U.S. West than elsewhere. The reporters pored through cartons of U.S. Forest Service records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and traveled to Australia to compare firefighting efforts there.

The Pulitzer board called the series a “fresh and painstaking exploration into the cost and effectiveness of attempts to combat the growing menace of wildfires.”

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LOCAL REPORTING: Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick and the staff of the Detroit Free Press, and Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz.

The Detroit newspaper helped expose a steamy extramarital affair between Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff by obtaining a trove of sexually explicit text messages sent by the mayor. Kilpatrick pleaded guilty, lost his office and served 99 days in jail for lying under oath about the affair during a whistle-blower lawsuit.

Gabrielson and Giblin were honored for “their adroit use of limited resources” for a five-part series on a county sheriff’s efforts to arrest and deport illegal immigrants, and how the focus affected the cash-strapped county’s crimefighting efforts. The suburban Phoenix newspaper has a circulation of 100,000 but publishes in print only four days a week, and will go to three days next month.

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NATIONAL REPORTING: St. Petersburg Times staff

The staff won in national reporting and was also named a finalist in the public service category for “PolitiFact,” an online database that fact-checked political claims of the 2008 presidential candidates.

The Pulitzer board praised the initiative for “using probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters.”

The newspaper used a “Truth-O-Meter” graphic that was carried by other national newspapers and on cable networks CNN and MSNBC.

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INTERNATIONAL REPORTING: The New York Times staff

The newspaper won for its “masterful, groundbreaking coverage” of America’s military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, citing work often done under dangerous conditions. It was the fourth win by the Times in the international reporting category over the past decade.

The entries included disclosures from Pakistani officials that the nation had lost control of some militant groups they had nurtured since Sept. 11, 2001, and that the Bush administration had been late to realize the growing influence of al-Qaeda in both countries.

The newspaper praised reporters Carlotta Gall, David Rohde and C.J. Chivers for working “at great risk” to cover a story in regions where many newspapers had closed bureaus years before.

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FEATURE WRITING: Lane DeGregory of the St. Petersburg Times

DeGregory was honored for what the Pulitzer board called her “moving, richly detailed story” about a neglected young girl, discovered in a roach-infested room, unable to talk or feed herself, who was adopted by a new family.

DeGregory spent six months watching the girl and her new family. She tracked down the girl’s birth mother, the officer who rescued the girl, the doctors who examined her, the foster care worked who found her a home. Additional information came from hundreds of pages of police reports, medical records and court documents.

The St. Petersburg Times said more than 1 million people read “The Girl in the Window” online. It generated e-mails from 1,200 people worldwide.

“The story touched people,” Executive Editor Neil Brown wrote in the newspaper’s nominating letter. “It made them angry and hopeful, grateful and more aware.”

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COMMENTARY: Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post

Robinson won for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign focusing on the election of the first black president, which the judges said displayed “graceful writing and grasp of the larger historic picture.”

The Post, in its nominating letter, noted that Robinson chronicled, analyzed and at times anticipated the story of the election like no one else. It cited his trip to Iowa, where Sen. Barack Obama stunned the political world by winning the Iowa caucuses, and Robinson’s column that predicted Obama might just win.

Later columns placed Obama’s campaign in the larger context of the black struggle for freedom, just and equal opportunity. And on the morning after Obama’s win, Robinson tried to explain how a man who grew up in the segregated South felt at seeing a black man elected president.

“In retrospect, it seems as though Gene Robinson the columnist was made for this moment,” Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wrote in his nominating letter. “He is at the top of his game: a vivid, funny, moving writer with an understanding of the big picture and a knack for the telling detail. He was an amazing chronicler of an amazing year.”

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CRITICISM: Holland Cotter of The New York Times

Cotter was honored for his art reviews spanning from Manhattan to China, marked by “acute observation, luminous writing and dramatic storytelling,” the Pulitzer board said.

He traveled to China in summer 2008 to explore art museums, galleries and archaeological sites. His criticisms also explored the bust of the art-market boom.

“As memorable as it was, Holland Cotter’s fresh take on China was simply the pinnacle of another year of acute observation and instructive writing. The entire body of work, extraordinary in its range, affirmed his place among the finest art critics working in America today,” The Times said in its entry form. “He can be funny, ethereal or brisk _ he mixes it up, which is part of the fun _ but the journey is always a trip.”

Cotter has been a staff art critic at The Times since 1998. Between 1992 and 1997, he was a regular freelance writer for the paper.

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EDITORIAL WRITING: Mark Mahoney of The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.

Mahoney won for what the judges said were his “relentless, down-to-earth editorials on the perils of local government secrecy, effectively admonishing citizens to uphold their right to know.”

Mahoney’s editorials urge residents of this largely rural area on the southern edge of the Adirondack Mountains to demand accountability from government. One editorial ran beside a sample Freedom of Information Law request, while another compared a closed-door meeting of representatives of a local town board and the state comptroller’s office to a “clandestine affair at a sleazy roadside motel.”

Mahoney said he was especially happy to win for his writing about open government.

“If I’m going to win, I’m glad it’s for that,” he said. “I think this indicates that we really are making a difference.”

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EDITORIAL CARTOONING: Steve Breen of The San Diego Union-Tribune

Breen was awarded the Pulitzer for his “agile use of a classic style to produce wide-ranging cartoons that engage readers with power, clarity and humor,” the Pulitzer board said.

Breen’s editorial cartoons are nationally syndicated by Copley News Service and regularly appear in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek and US News & World Report. His comic strip “Grand Avenue” appears in more than 150 newspapers nationwide.

Breen was about to become a high school history teacher when the Asbury Park Press offered him a job in the art department in July 1994. He became the full-time editorial cartoonist there in 1996. In April 1998, Breen won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.

In July 2001, he returned to his home state to join the staff of the Union-Tribune.

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BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY: Patrick Farrell of The Miami Herald

Farrell was honored for what the judges called “provocative, impeccably composed images of despair” after Hurricane Ike and other storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.

His entries included powerful images of a father cradling the body of his 5-year-old son killed by floodwaters.

Farrell said he was “humbled” by the award. Of Haiti, he said, “That’s a country that everywhere you turn there’s just an image that needs to be seen.”

Farrell was part of the Miami Herald staff that won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the coverage of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in South Florida.

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FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY: Damon Winter of The New York Times

Winter won for his “memorable array of pictures deftly capturing multiple facets” of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, according to the Pulitzer board.

Winter also has worked for the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, Newsweek, Magnum Photos, The Ventura County Star and The Indianapolis Star.

His photo essay on sexual abuse victims in western Alaska was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography and was part of a portfolio that earned the National Journalism Award for Photojournalism that year.

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The 2007 Pulitzer Prizes for Letters, Drama and Music:

FICTION: “Olive Kitteridge,” by Elizabeth Strout.

Strout won for her collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine. The Pulitzer judges commended her for work that “packs a cumulative emotional wallop” held together by the “blunt, flawed and fascinating” character of title character Olive.

Strout’s book was a finalist for this year’s National Book Critics Circle award for fiction.

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DRAMA: “Ruined,” by Lynn Nottage.

The setting for “Ruined” is a bar and brothel in war-torn Congo run by a shrewd businesswoman whose stable of prostitutes include many already “ruined” by rape and torture.

Inspired by interviews she conducted in Africa with Congo refugees, Nottage crafted a drama that confronts audiences with the horrors of war but manages, according to the judges, to find “affirmation of life and hope amid hopelessness.”

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HISTORY: “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” by Annette Gordon-Reed.

Gordon-Reed, a professor of law at New York Law School, published her first book, “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” in 1997. That book focused on how Jefferson’s numerous biographers dealt with the issue of Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings and whether she bore him children.

Her latest book explores several generations of the Hemings clan and, according to the judges, “casts provocative new light” on the relationship between the nation’s third president and his slave.

The Pulitzer board said she was the first African-American to win the history prize.

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BIOGRAPHY: “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” by Jon Meacham.

Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, is the best-selling author of “Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship” and “American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.”

His latest work looks at how Jackson’s pivotal years in the White House as the nation’s seventh chief executive helped shape the modern presidency. The book was described by the judges as an “unflinching portrait” of Jackson, written in “agile” prose that brings Jackson’s story to life.

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POETRY: “The Shadow of Sirius,” by W. S. Merwin.

This is the second Pulitzer for Merwin, whose writing career can be traced to the hymns he wrote as a child and who won in 1971 for “The Carrier of Ladders.” The Princeton-educated son of a Presbyterian minister, Merwin has published more than 20 books of poetry and nearly as many works in translation from Latin, Spanish and French.

In 1976 he moved to Hawaii to study with a Zen Buddhist master. Since then, his work has been marked by his passionate commitment to Buddhism and environmentalism. The judges described the book as “a collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory.”

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GENERAL NONFICTION: “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II,” by Douglas A. Blackmon.

Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, has written extensively about the use of African-Americans as forced laborers in the nation’s coal mines, lumber camps, railroads and plantations in the early 20th century.

“Slavery by Another Name,” his first book, grew out of an article in the Journal about U.S. Steel Corp.’s use of forced black labor in the Alabama coal mines. The judges called the book a “precise and elegant” work that “rescues a multitude of atrocities from virtual obscurity.”

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MUSIC: “Double Sextet,” by Steve Reich.

Reich’s work received its premiere on a U.S. tour that kicked off in March 2008 in Richmond, Va., with concerts in San Francisco, New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington and Chicago.

The 22-minute work can be performed as a live sextet of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano playing against a pre-recorded sextet on tape, or as an ensemble of 12 instrumentalists. The Pulitzer board called it a “major” work “consistently intriguing to the ear.”

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