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Pulitzers awarded: Washington Post gets six

The Washington Post won six 2008 Pulitzer Prizes on Monday, while the New York Times took home two.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Washington Post won six Pulitzer Prizes on Monday — the most in its history — including awards for its coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre and a series exposing shoddy treatment of America's war wounded at Walter Reed hospital.

The New York Times received two Pulitzers: one for investigative reporting, for stories on toxic ingredients in medicine and other products from China, and one for explanatory reporting, for examining the ethical issues surrounding DNA testing.

Previously, the Post won as many as four Pulitzers in a single year, in 2006. The record is seven, won by the Times in 2002, mostly for its coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheers erupted in the Post newsroom when the prizes were announced. Like many newspapers, the Post is struggling mightily with falling circulation and advertising revenue. It is going through its third round of employee buyouts since 2003.

"This is actually a boost to remind people that we can produce this kind of journalism at any time," said Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. "We're going to have a large enough newsroom to continue to produce this kind of quality journalism."

In addition to the public service medal for the Walter Reed expose and the breaking-news award for Virginia Tech, the Post also won for:

  • National reporting, for its exploration of Vice President Cheney's backstage influence;
  • International reporting, for a series on how private security contractors in Iraq operate outside the laws governing U.S. forces;
  • Feature writing, for Gene Weingarten's story on a world-class violinist who, in an experiment, played in a subway station to gauge commuters' reaction;
  • Commentary, for Steven Pearlstein's columns on the nation's economic problems.

Other winners
The Chicago Tribune also won in the investigative reporting category, for stories exposing faulty government regulation that resulted in recalls of car seats, toys and cribs.

The Pulitzer for local reporting went to David Umhoefer of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for stories on how county employees' pensions were padded.

Michael Ramirez of Investor's Business Daily won in the editorial cartooning category.

Mark Feeney of The Boston Globe was honored in the criticism category for his observations on movies, photography and painting.

The prize for breaking news photography went to Adrees Latif of Reuters for his photograph of a Japanese videographer who was fatally wounded in a street protest in Myanmar.

Preston Gannaway of the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire was honored in the feature photography category for a series of pictures chronicling a family coping with a parent's terminal illness.

No prize was awarded this year in editorial writing.

The awards were announced at a time of great distress in the industry, with many newspapers laying off employees and cutting back on coverage as readers and advertisers forsake their daily paper for the Internet.

"Amid all the gloomy talk about journalism today, these are fine examples of high-quality journalism in all parts of the nation," said Sig Gissler, administrator for the Pulitzers.

Series led to national outcry
The Post series on Walter Reed Army Medical Center was done by reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille. It documented in sickening detail the shoddy treatment and poor living conditions for wounded soldiers.

The series caused a national outcry and led to the firing of the Army secretary. A presidential commission recommended many changes.

The first article reported "signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses" as well as "disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers."

The Post was honored also for its first three days of coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting rampage, in which a mentally ill student killed 32 people and committed suicide. A team of 11 reporters worked on the story.

The newspaper wrote about the failure of the university's mental health system to help gunman Seung-Hui Cho, despite many warning signs. The paper also gave readers profiles of both Cho and each of his victims.

Barton Gellman and Jo Becker won the national reporting award for a four-part series that examined how Cheney "has shaped his times as no vice president has before." The stories detailed his influence on the war against terror, tax and spending policies and environmental regulations.

Times reporters Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker were honored for investigative reporting. It was Bogdanich's third Pulitzer, and it's "every bit as exciting," he said.

"It's why I got into journalism — to make a difference," Bogdanich said.

The Pulitzers are journalism's highest honor, and the public service award is the most distinguished of all.

The awards are given by Columbia University on the recommendation of the 18-member Pulitzer board. The Pulitzers were created under the terms of the will of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who died in 1911. The first awards were handed out in 1917.

Each of the Pulitzers carries a prize of $10,000, except for the public service award, which is a gold medal bestowed on the newspaper.