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From AJR,   April/May 2012  issue

Feel-Good Pulitzer Storylines   

This year’s awards aren’t dominated by the usual suspects. Mon., April 16, 2012,

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Thanks. They needed that.

If ever a paper was in desperate need of some good news – like that it had just won a Pulitzer Prize – it was the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A once dominant daily (and Pulitzer factory) decimated by staff cuts and tossed along from new owner to new owner at dizzying speed (for a constantly plummeting price), about to move from its longtime home to a former department store, reeling from management intervention that affected coverage of the latest sale, the beleaguered staff sure needed a break.

And it got one today, big time, as it won the Pulitzer of all Pulitzers, the one for public service, for a seven-part series on rampant violence in the Philadelphia public schools.

It's a tribute to the Inquirer that despite its well-chronicled tribulations, it has managed to continue to do very high-caliber enterprise reporting. Let's hope that continues under the new ownership, despite the worrisome entanglements some members of the new owning group bring to the table. The return of Bill Marimow to the editor's office is certainly an encouraging sign.

The Inquirer was not the only feel-good winner on the latest list of Pulitzers. The famously 24-year-old Sara Ganim and her colleagues at Harrisburg's Patriot-News brought home the prize for local reporting for its work on the Penn State sexual abuse scandal.

Of course, Ganim has already been so widely honored for her impressive reporting on the saga that the Pulitzer was almost an anticlimax. But it's nevertheless an easy award to love. So many good storylines: relentless pursuit by a committed reporter, young journalist plays very big indeed, small paper leads the way on a major scandal.

The win in national reporting by The Huffington Post is also noteworthy. For years Arianna Huffington has been the bęte noir of the traditionalists for building an astonishingly successful news outlet largely through aggregation (i.e., other people's work). But give Arianna her due. She said she cared about original journalism, and she went out and hired top-flight journalists, and she gave them running room.

One of them, veteran military correspondent David Wood, won the Pulitzer for a 10-part series on the plight of wounded veterans. That's right, a 10-part series. That's a lot of commitment, and something made a lot easier by the Internet's unlimited newshole.

Wood is an old-media veteran well regarded for his work at, among other stops, Newhouse, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun. As traditional news outlets face severe economic challenges, often cutting back sharply on ambitious projects, it's great to see new venues rise to foster and showcase great work.

Let's face it, there's nothing more boring than those years when the Pulitzers are monopolized by one or two behemoths. The big boys weren't entirely shut out, as the New York Times won two, but such big hitters as the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal went 0 for Pulitzer.

Meanwhile, prizes went to another new-media force (Matt Wuerker of Politico for political cartooning) and to a weekly (Eli Sanders of the Stranger in Seattle). And another small paper, the Tuscaloosa News, won in the breaking news category.