7-reporter paper wins public-service Pulitzer

NEW YORK - The Bristol Herald Courier, a small paper in the coalfields of Appalachia, beat out journalism's powerhouses to win the Pulitzer Prize for public service Monday for uncovering a scandal in which Virginia landowners were deprived of millions in natural gas royalties.

The seven-reporter daily was honored for what many regard as an imperiled form of journalism in an age of newspaper cutbacks – aggressive reporting on local issues.

The Seattle Times staff was honored in the breaking news category for its coverage of the shooting deaths of four Lakewood police officers in a coffee shop.

The prize recognizes the Times for its coverage of the slayings, the subsequent manhunt for killer Maurice Clemmons and the controversy surrounding his release from an Arkansas prison and the Pierce County Jail.

“This is hugely gratifying for us, but our joy for this honor is tempered by the sorrow of the slain officers’ families and by the tragic nature of this story,” said Executive Editor Dave Boardman.

The prize for drama, “Next to Normal,” a musical about the complexity and heartbreak of a woman’s mental illness and its effect on her family, has connections to the Puget Sound area.

Louis Hobson, a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and Puyallup’s Rogers High School, stars in the production on Broadway in New York.

Its original workshop phase took place at Issaquah’s Village Theatre more than a decade ago.

The Washington Post received four Pulitzers – for international reporting on Iraq, feature writing, commentary and criticism.

The New York Times won three – for national reporting, for explanatory reporting, and for investigative reporting for collaborating with the fledgling nonprofit news service ProPublica for a story on the life-and-death decisions made by New Orleans doctors during Hurricane Katrina.

The ProPublica prize – and an editorial cartooning award for Mark Fiore, whose work appears on San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site SFGate.com   – represented a victory for new media .

ProPublica, a two-year-old organization based in New York with around 30 employees, is bankrolled by charitable foundations, staffed by distinguished veteran journalists, and devoted to doing the kind of investigative journalism projects many newspapers have found too costly. It offers many of its stories to traditional news organizations, free of charge.

The Pulitzer Board also recognized the way newspapers are employing new media. The Seattle Times used Twitter and e-mail alerts to help inform readers about the police shooting, and used the social media tool Google Wave to encourage reader participation.

The News Tribune contributed to this report.