NEW YORK (Reuters) - A central Pennsylvania newspaper, The Patriot-News, took home a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting on Monday for its coverage of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, while another of the state’s papers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, won the coveted public service award.
The Philadelphia newspaper won for what for the board described as “its exploration of pervasive violence in the city’s schools,” beating out nominees The New York Times and the Miami Herald.
Sara Ganim and members of The Patriot-News Staff won the paper’s first Pulitzer for stories which helped uncover the sex abuse scandal at Penn State involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Ganim is twenty-four years old.
The reporting helped put pressure on the investigation and cast a spotlight on what prosecutors say was a long pattern of child molestation by Sandusky. He faces 52 counts of abuse stemming from accusations he molested 10 boys between 1994 and 2008. The former coach has maintained his innocence.
The New York Times was the only multiple winner, picking up prizes for international reporting and explanatory reporting in a year with a number of first time winners, including The Huffington Post.
And for the only time in more than three decades, the board declined to award winners in two categories, editorial writing and fiction. Finalists in fiction included Denis Johnson, Karen Russell and the late David Foster Wallace.
Among the notable winners, Alabama’s The Tuscaloosa News was awarded the prize for breaking news in its reporting around the devastating April tornado that struck its hometown.
“There’s a sense of accomplishment but with the recognition of the difficulties that continue for a lot of the community,” said Doug Ray, who was executive editor of the paper during the coverage. He recently became executive editor of the Gainesville Sun and Ocala Star-Banner in Florida.
“We came through with what we were supposed to do in those first hours,” Ray said.
In announcing the award, the Pulitzer Prize board cited The Tuscaloosa News for “using social media as well as traditional reporting to provide real-time updates, help locate missing people and produce in-depth print accounts even after power disruption forced the paper to publish at another plant 50 miles away.”
Administered by Columbia University, the prizes were dispersed among various papers for stories that ranged from a series on wounded American soldiers to the investigation of the New York Police Department spying within the Muslim community.
Chosen by juries in categories across journalism, books, drama and poetry, each winner receives $10,000 (6,290 pounds). Among first time winners were two online news organizations, Huffington Post, for national reporting and Politico, for editorial cartooning.
The most prestigious prize in American journalism, the awards can bring badly needed attention to newspapers and websites competing for readers in a fragmented media industry, where many are suffering from budget constraints.
“The commitment to watchdog reporting when resources are stretched ... is quite a tribute to American journalism,” said Sig Gissler, who has been administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes since 2002.
Splitting the award for investigative reporting were The Associated Press, for its probe of the New York Police Department’s monitoring of activities in Muslim communities, which prompted a public outcry, and The Seattle Times for its look at the state government was moving patients from safer pain-control medication to cheaper but more dangerous methadone.
Reporter Eli Sanders, 34, won the feature writing award, bringing home the first Pulitzer for The Stranger, the Seattle weekly with a circulation of 87,000.
His piece “The Bravest Woman in Seattle,” was based on a rape victim’s testimony about the rape and murder of her partner. The reporting prompted the woman to write her own account, revealing herself as Jennifer Hopper, 38.
Stunned to learn he had beat out heavyweights including The New York Times, Sanders said, “I didn’t expect this. I grabbed onto this story and it grabbed onto me.”
Immediately after learning the story won a Pulitzer, he spoke with Hopper.
“She’s thrilled,” he said.
Sanders, who has worked for The Stranger for six years, said, “It’s great to know in these tough times for journalism that a little old weekly in Seattle can publish something that can resonate so much.”
Quiara Alegría Hudes won the award for drama for “Water by the Spoonful.” The history prize went to the late Manning Marable for “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” John Lewis Gaddis took the prize for biography and Kevin Puts won for music.
This year marked the first time since 1977 that the panel has not awarded a prize in the fiction category.
Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jackie Frank