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Nonprofit newsroom wins Pulitzer Prize

ProPublica shares an investigative reporting prize for its look at the actions of a New Orleans hospital staff in Hurricane Katrina. Other honorees reported on Iraq, rogue police and child-care abuse.

April 13, 2010|By Tina Susman
  • At the Philadelphia Daily News, Wendy Ruderman, center, and Barbara Laker celebrate their investigative reporting Pulitzer with Managing Editor Pat McCloone, left, and Executive Editor Michael Days.
At the Philadelphia Daily News, Wendy Ruderman, center, and Barbara Laker… (Sarah J. Glover / Philadelphia…)

Reporting from New York — The nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica won a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for its detailed look at the actions of an overwhelmed staff at a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina, underscoring the growing impact of nontraditional business models in the struggling newspaper industry.

The majority of Pulitzers went to mainstream newspapers -- the Washington Post won four and the New York Times won three.

ProPublica's investigative reporting win for a story by Sheri Fink was co-published by the New York Times Magazine. ProPublica, which began publishing in June 2008, produces material free of charge to news organizations, many that have slashed their own investigative staff in the face of declining ad revenue and newsroom cuts.

ProPublica also was a finalist for a project done with the Los Angeles Times that exposed gaps in California's oversight of dangerous and incompetent nurses.

The Los Angeles Times was also a finalist in the international reporting category for Borzou Daragahi's coverage of Iran's disputed election and bloody aftermath; and in national reporting for "tenacious reporting" by Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian on potentially lethal problems involving Toyota vehicles.

Anthony Shadid won his second Pulitzer in international reporting for his work with the Washington Post for coverage of the Iraq war. Shadid now works for the New York Times. Gene Weingarten of the Post won the feature-writing award for his story of parents who have accidentally killed their children by leaving them in cars. The Post's Kathleen Parker won for commentary and Sarah Kaufman won for criticism. The newspaper won more than any other publication this year.

The coveted award for public service reporting went to a small Virginia daily, the Bristol Herald Courier, for a series of stories by Daniel Gilbert that exposed a system that worked to deny royalties to landowners whose property sits on natural gas pools.

The judges said Gilbert's work illuminated "the murky mismanagement of natural-gas royalties" owed to thousands of landowners in southwestern Virginia. Gilbert called the award "a hell of an honor" and said it underscored the importance of public service reporting in rural areas, the Associated Press reported.

The Herald Courier has a circulation of about 33,000, and Gilbert is one of its seven reporters. Editor J. Todd Foster said Gilbert's reports involved "a lot of shoe leather" and showed that newspapers would survive in some form. "Nobody else is going to do this sort of reporting," he said.

Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, announced the awards at a news conference in New York and acknowledged the shift in how American journalism is presented, from the days when type was set by hand to its current electronic offspring. There were about 100 online entries from 50 websites this year, up from 65 entries in 2009, the first year the Pulitzers were opened to online publications.

"You could see they're really doing serious journalism," Gissler said of the nontraditional media entries. "I think over time they're going to get stronger."

Last year there were no winners among nontraditional media. This year, in addition to ProPublica, an online editorial cartoonist, Mark Fiore of SFGate.com, won for animated work that judges said "set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary."

Stephen Engelberg, the managing editor of ProPublica, said the Pulitzer and other awards won recently by the organization proved the success of the fledgling outlet.

"We've had five or six stories that have been honored in different places. I think taken together, this plus other things is a moment that says that model . . . works. It is a validation," he told the Associated Press.

ProPublica last month also was honored for its work with the Los Angeles Times on stories looking at the plight of civilian contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Investigative Reporters and Editors gave ProPublica reporter T. Christian Miller -- formerly of the Los Angeles Times -- and Times reporter Doug Smith and photographer Francine Orr its online reporting award for the project. In February, the same work was honored with the $35,000 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting.

Sharing the Pulitzer this year for investigative reporting with the ProPublica piece were Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News for their "resourceful reporting" that exposed a rogue police narcotics squad.

The New York Times was cited for explanatory and national reporting, in addition to its magazine collaboration with ProPublica.

tina.susman@latimes.com

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