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2 Gulf Coast Papers Share Top Pulitzer

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the Biloxi, Miss., Sun Herald win for their coverage of Katrina. Washington Post claims four prizes.

April 18, 2006|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

The New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Biloxi, Miss., Sun Herald shared the Pulitzer Prize for public service Monday for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina, as journalism's top awards focused on the cataclysmic storm, ethics scandals in Washington and controversial Bush administration tactics in the war on terrorism.

The Washington Post received four Pulitzers, the most in its history, including one for stories about secret CIA prisons overseas; and the New York Times received three, sharing the national reporting prize for disclosing the government's warrantless wiretapping of terrorism suspects calling the United States.

Following those traditional journalistic powerhouses, the Times-Picayune and the Rocky Mountain News of Denver took two each. The only win by a California newspaper went to the San Diego Union-Tribune and its Copley News Service in Washington for disclosing the bribe-taking that sent former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) to prison.

Around the nation, reporters and editors at dozens of newspapers hovered over their computer screens at 3 p.m. Eastern time, awaiting news about the awards, administered by the Columbia University School of Journalism.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 19, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 82 words Type of Material: Correction
Pulitzer Prizes: An article in Tuesday's Section A on the Pulitzer Prizes said that New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau shared the $10,000 prize for national reporting with Copley News Service reporters Marcus Stern and Jerry Kammer. In fact, Risen and Lichtblau shared the reporting prize with the staffs of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley News Service, with notable work by Stern and Kammer. Risen and Lichtblau will receive $10,000. Copley, which owns the Union-Tribune, will receive $10,000.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Pulitzers: A correction in Wednesday's Section A clarifying who received $10,000 in Pulitzer Prize money for national reporting implied that Copley News Service owned the San Diego Union-Tribune. Both organizations are owned by Copley Press Inc.

The newsrooms in New Orleans and Biloxi broke into applause, and some tears, when wire service alerts flashed that the two papers would share the award for public service -- each receiving the gold medal that goes to winners of what is considered the competition's top honor.

The journalists' joyous but muted response was in recognition that they and many of their readers continued to struggle to obtain insurance payments, rebuild their homes and return to normality after the costliest natural disaster in modern American history.

In place of the traditional champagne, Sun Herald staffers sipped sweetened tea and ate chocolate chip cookies. The Times-Picayune scratched the brass band that greeted its last Pulitzer victory, also for two prizes, in 1997.

"There was a lot of joy in our newsroom, but it was all in the context of the horrific tragedy that has happened to our community and in our lives," said Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss. "I think that made us sober.... It's not a champagne-and-confetti moment."

The Pulitzer board honored the paper -- which has recouped about two-thirds of its previous weekday circulation of about 269,000 -- "for its heroic, multi-faceted coverage of Hurricane Katrina ... even after evacuation of the newspaper plant."

Rising floodwaters forced the newspaper's staff to abandon the Times-Picayune headquarters off Interstate 10 on Aug. 30. David Meeks, who would later become city editor, led a skeleton staff back to cover the city from makeshift newsrooms and with little power. For three days, the paper published only online until it could contract with other publications to get its stories and pictures back in print.

The smaller Sun Herald in Biloxi, with a weekday circulation of about 45,000, managed to remain in print every day and to continually post Internet bulletins to help residents of Mississippi's Gulf Coast find loved ones and locate emergency aid.

"It turned into a real community bulletin board and a real voice of unity and a lifeline," said Janet Weaver, executive editor of the Tampa Tribune and chair of the jury that judged the public service entries.

Residents of the region have said they have felt overshadowed by media attention on the destruction of New Orleans. Sun Herald Executive Editor Stan Tiner said he hoped Monday's award would help focus attention on Mississippi's suffering.

"I think this affirms the value of their story," Tiner said. "We have spoken to that before, feeling like a footnote to the bigger Katrina story. I believe this will resonate with our readers to some degree -- that their story was an important story and is an important story."

A third prize related to the hurricane disaster went to the Dallas Morning News for breaking news photography of the "chaos and pain" wrought by Katrina.

The bulk of the other journalism awards went to hard-hitting watchdog journalism that focused on the Washington power structure.

Two of the winners scrutinized President Bush's war on terrorism, including the stories by New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau that showed how the administration did not use an existing system to obtain warrants to wiretap suspected terrorists calling the United States.

The duo shared the national reporting prize -- and the $10,000 that goes to winners, except those in the public service category -- with Copley News Service reporters Marcus Stern and Jerry Kammer, who disclosed Cunningham's receipt of $2 million in bribes from defense contractors.

Dana Priest of the Washington Post won the beat reporting award for exposing the "black site" prisons where the U.S. held terrorism suspects -- a practice that led at least one commentator to accuse the administration of "outsourcing torture."

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