- Associated Press - Monday, April 18, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Details and reaction on the winners of the 2011 Pulitzer Prizes:

PUBLIC SERVICE: The Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper was honored for its stories exposing the lavish salaries and benefits being paid to officials in Bell, a small working-class city that is among the poorest in Los Angeles County.

The series, written by Jeff Gottlieb, Ruben Vives and other Times reporters, led to criminal charges against the city administrator, Robert Rizzo, and seven other current and former officials.

The series began after Gottlieb and Vives, while reporting a story in a neighboring community, learned that Bell’s part-time city council members were being paid about $100,000 a year.

Through further reporting and examination of public records, the paper disclosed the hefty salaries and benefits being paid to several officials including Rizzo, whose annual compensation totaled $1.5 million.

The series prompted legislative action in California and calls for greater transparency in the salaries and benefits being paid to public workers.

“The real victors in this are the people of Bell, who were able to get rid of, there’s no other way to say it, an oppressive regime,” Gottlieb said.

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BREAKING NEWS REPORTING: No award.

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INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: Paige St. John of the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune.

St. John was honored for her yearlong examination of Florida’s property insurance system in the hurricane-prone state.

St. John did something no one had done before _ followed the Florida insurance dollar, as it was paid out by consumers, shipped offshore to reinsurers, or turned into secret profits with accounting risks,” Herald-Tribune Executive Editor Mike Connelly said in his nominating letter.

St. John helped design Web and mobile applications that readers could use to analyze insurers and calculate the hurricane threat to their own homes.

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EXPLANATORY REPORTING: Mark Johnson, Kathleen Gallagher, Gary Porter, Lou Saldivar and Alison Sherwood of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The team’s three-part series, “One in a Billion: A boy’s life, a medical mystery,” told the story of Nicholas Volker, then 4, who suffered from a mysterious disease and researchers who sequenced the boy’s DNA in an effort to find an answer.

To win a Pulitzer, “you don’t have to be in New York or Washington, and what that really means is what it means to our community,” Journal Sentinel editor Martin Kaiser said.

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LOCAL REPORTING: Frank Main, Mark Konkol and John J. Kim of the Chicago Sun-Times.

The team won for articles documenting violence in Chicago neighborhoods and the culture of silence that allows it to continue.

The entry included two series that examined the same issue: how many assault and murder cases in Chicago go unsolved because victims, witnesses and neighbors refuse to cooperate with police.

Main spent four months shadowing homicide detectives as they tried to solve the gang-related murder of a teenager only to be stymied by a “no-snitch” culture.

The series showed “originality and community expertise,” the judges said.

Winning is “euphoric beyond belief,” said the newspaper’s metro editor, Paul Saltzman. A few years ago, “we didn’t know if the paper would continue to exist, and now this is just the most amazing feeling in the world.”

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NATIONAL REPORTING: Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein of ProPublica.

Eisinger and Bernstein were honored for a series on how some Wall Street bankers, seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of their clients and sometimes even their own firms, at first delayed but then worsened the financial crisis.

Several stories described how a little-known hedge fund called Magnetar earned outsized returns by betting against its own deals. The series used graphics and cartoons to render complex financial dealings more accessible to the lay reader.

New York-based ProPublica is a non-profit news venture dedicated to investigative journalism. Eisinger said the prize is a vindication of ProPublica’s mission.

“This is the kind of thing that the mainstream media’s doing less and less of,” he said. “We’re deeply grateful that it’s being recognized.”

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INTERNATIONAL REPORTING: Clifford J. Levy and Ellen Barry of The New York Times.

Levy, the Times‘ Moscow bureau chief, and Barry, a correspondent, won for “their dogged reporting that put a human face on the faltering justice system in Russia, remarkably influencing the discussion inside the country,” the judges said.

Their series examines corruption and abuse of power in Russia two decades after the end of communism.

“Ellen and I just flew in so we’re a little jet-lagged,” Levy said. “It’s like 1 a.m. Moscow time. We’re caffeinating and trying to stay up.”

Levy said he and Barry flew to New York because they “had an inkling” about the prize and were returning to Moscow on Tuesday.

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FEATURE WRITING: Amy Ellis Nutt of The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.

Nutt won for her feature story “The Wreck of the Lady Mary” on the March 2009 sinking of a fishing boat off the New Jersey coast. Six of seven crew members died.

The story ran as a 20-page special section last November, along with a 24-minute documentary.

“It was an exhausting, grueling effort of research, and an absolutely spectacular writing effort by her,” said Managing Editor David Tucker.

The newspaper said on its website that Nutt and videographer Andre Malok spent seven months reporting and researching the mysterious sinking.

The Coast Guard has not announced the results of its investigation, but some experts believe the boat was struck by another vessel that then left the area.

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COMMENTARY: David Leonhardt of The New York Times.

Leonhardt was honored for what the judges called “his graceful penetration of America’s complicated economic questions, from the federal budget deficit to health care reform.”

An economic journalist with the Times, Leonhardt writes the weekly column “Economic Scene” in the business section. Many of his recent columns have focused on effects of the economic downturn.

“I feel like we have a very well-informed, very intelligent audience, but many of our readers feel flummoxed by the economy,” Leonhardt said. “It’s mainly because too many of the descriptions of it are filled with jargon.”

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CRITICISM: Sebastian Smee, The Boston Globe.

The committee honored Smee, the Globe’s visual arts critic, for his “vivid and exuberant writing … often bringing great works to life with love and appreciation.”

In 2010, Smee critiqued a range of works including individual paintings by Dutch painter Willem de Kooning and Boston artist Polly Thayer; an exhibit of the works of Spanish painter Luis Melendez; and a show exploring the influence of French impressionist painter Edgar Degas on Pablo Picasso.

Smee, a native of Australia who came to the Globe in 2008, was a Pulitzer finalist in 2009.

“In writing about art, Smee creates verbal art. Readers really see what he sees, feel what he feels,” Globe editor Martin Baron said in his nominating letter.

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EDITORIAL WRITING: Joseph Rago of The Wall Street Journal.

Rago was honored for his editorials challenging the health care changes advocated by President Barack Obama.

In his “Review & Outlook” columns for the Journal, he deconstructed the results of similar policy in Massachusetts and its implications for Washington, warning that the changes would fail and do Democrats great political harm.

With a degree in American history from Dartmouth, Rago joined the Journal editorial page in 2005 as an intern.

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EDITORIAL CARTOONING: Mike Keefe of The Denver Post.

The judges cited Keefe for the range of his work and a cartooning style that employs a “loose, expressive style to send strong, witty messages.”

“This is fabulous for Mike Keefe,” said Post editor Gregory L. Moore. “He’s been working at his craft for 30-some years.”

Keefe is a former math instructor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He joined the newspaper in 1975.

“I am gobsmacked,” Keefe said. “In recent years, the Pulitzer has gone to much younger folks, who are newer in the business. I thought my day had passed.”

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BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY: Carol Guzy, Nikki Kahn and Ricky Carioti of The Washington Post.

The judges said photos by Guzy, Kahn and Carioti were an “up-close portrait of grief and desperation” following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in January 2010.

“They are three exemplary photojournalists whose compassion comes through in their work,” Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said.

It was the fourth Pulitzer for Guzy, who has been covering Haiti since long before the earthquake.

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FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY: Barbara Davidson of the Los Angeles Times.

The committee recognized Davidson for a series of black and white photographs depicting “the intimate story of innocent victims trapped in the city’s crossfire of gang violence.”

Davidson, a staff photographer at the Times since 2007, spent two years attending funerals and visiting victims in their hospital beds to document the ways in which victims of violence and their families coped with the experience.

Davidson, formerly of the Dallas Morning News, won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography with seven colleagues from that paper for photos of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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FICTION: “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan (Alfred A. Knopf).

A native of Chicago with novels including “The Invisible Circus,” “Look at Me” and “The Keep,” the 48-year-old Egan has been highly praised for her searching and unconventional narratives about modern angst and identity.

Critics were especially taken with “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” with its leaps across time and its experiments with format, notably a long section structured like a PowerPoint presentation. Earlier this year, she won the National Book Critics Circle prize and was a runner-up for the PEN/Faulkner award.

The book was partly inspired by Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” and deals largely with time and the constant onslaught of change, specifically with characters from across the music industry as it moves from analog to digital.

“The book is so much about how change is unexpected and always kind of shocking,” Egan said. “So there’s no question that winning a prize like this feels unpredictable and unfathomable.”

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DRAMA: “Clybourne Park,” by Bruce Norris.

Norris’ work imagines what might have happened to the family that moved out of the house in the fictitious Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park, which is where Lorraine Hansberry’s Younger clan is headed by the end of her 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Norris’ play was cited as “a powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America’s sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness.”

Norris, a longtime collaborator with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, said he was “deeply honored and totally flabbergasted” by the award.

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HISTORY: “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” by Eric Foner (W.W. Norton & Co.).

The 68-year-old Foner called the award a capstone for his career. He has won multiple honors for work focused on the Lincoln era and Reconstruction.

“The Pulitzer has a kind of broader importance and stature suggesting that your book is appreciated by a wider audience, a non-scholarly audience,” Foner said.

He said it can be intimidating approaching a book on Lincoln, who has been written about so much before.

But he said that many Lincoln books either try to put the Civil War president on a pedestal or tear him down, and that he was trying to get a balanced view on a specific topic seen through the lens of that period in history.

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BIOGRAPHY: “Washington: A Life,” by Ron Chernow (The Penguin Press).

Chernow, 62, called the nation’s first president “the most famously elusive figure in American history.”

The Pulitzer committee called his book “a sweeping, authoritative portrait of an iconic leader learning to master his private feelings in order to fulfill his public duties.”

He said he sought to bring that figure to life, so people today could understand what made Washington such a popular figure in his time.

A frequent lecturer who has made several television appearances on historical topics, Chernow has also written biographies of Alexander Hamilton and John D. Rockefeller. He won the National Book Award in 1990 for “The House of Morgan.”

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POETRY: “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems,” by Kay Ryan (Grove Press).

Born in San Jose, Calif., in 1945, Ryan has remained in California’s Marin County, where she lives with her longtime partner, Carol Adair.

Ryan taught remedial English part-time at the College of Marin, but over time she would establish herself as one of the country’s most original poets.

“I suppose it sounds like a cliche, but poetry came and got me,” Ryan said. “I came to it very reluctantly, but it insisted. It just was going to have me, that’s all there is to it. Therefore, I was going to have to find out how to do it. I didn’t seem to have any aptitude for doing it the popular ways at the time.”

Instead, Ryan forged a witty, profound and compressed style that often using a “recombinant” rhyming style. She was the U.S. poet laureate from 2008 to 2010.

“The Best of It” collects poems from 45 years of her career.

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GENERAL NONFICTION: “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner).

Mukherjee’s first book chronicles a 4,000-year history of cancer, charting its treatment and misunderstandings, while also telling the stories of many patients.

An oncologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, Mukherjee was moved to write it when a patient asked him to describe just what it was he was fighting. The Pulitzer board called it “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal.”

Mukherjee said he wanted to “demystify” cancer “so that people don’t feel as if they’re victimized by stigma and mystery.”

The Indian-born Mukherjee is married to the MacArthur award-winning artist Sarah Sze, with whom he has two daughters.

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MUSIC: Zhou Long, “Madame White Snake.”

“Madame White Snake” made its debut on Feb. 26, 2010, in a performance by the Boston Opera. The opera is based on a Chinese fable about a demon snake that turns itself into a beautiful woman to experience love, only to see an idyllic life with the man of her dreams collapse after her true identity is revealed.

Zhou was chosen to write the music by Cerise Lim Jacobs, who wrote the opera’s libretto.

The 57-year-old Zhou was born in Beijing but has been an American citizen for years. He is known for melding Eastern and Western traditions in music and is a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Conservatory Dean Peter Witte said it’s the school’s first Pulitzer in music.

“We lift our arms in celebration, and we celebrate what we already knew which is that we have one of the great composition programs in the world,” he said.