AP wins Pulitzer for stories on NYPD spying

A group of Muslim students gather outside Rutgers' Paul Robeson Campus Center in Newark, N.J., Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, after the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), along with the Rutgers University Muslim Alumni Association and other groups held a news conference to address concerns about the spying conducted by the New York City Police Department on the Muslim community in New Jersey.
AP Photo/Mel Evans

(AP) NEW YORK - The Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting Monday for documenting the New York Police Department's widespread spying on Muslims, while The Philadelphia Inquirer overcame extreme financial turmoil at the newspaper to win in the public service category for its examination of violence in the city's schools.

The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. — and in particular, 24-year-old reporter Sara Ganim — were honored for local reporting for breaking the Penn State sexual abuse scandal that ultimately brought down football coach Joe Paterno.

A second Pulitzer for investigative reporting was awarded to The Seattle Times for a series about accidental methadone overdoses among patients with chronic pain.

The Huffington Post, the Website that had long been disdained by its newspaper competitors as just a glorified "aggregator" of other news organizations' work, received its first Pulitzer, in national reporting, for its look at American veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is only the second time an entry that was published online only won a Pulitzer.

The New York Times won two prizes, for explanatory and international reporting.

Sig Gissler, administrator of the prizes, said this year's winners show that journalism is still a "vibrant force" as a watchdog for the public.

The AP's series of stories showed how New York police, with the help of a CIA official, created an aggressive surveillance program to gather intelligence on Muslim neighborhoods, businesses and houses of worship. The series can be read here.

N.J. gov.: NYPD spying ignored 9/11 lessons
Justice Dept. to review NYPD over Muslim spying
WH money helps pay for NYPD Muslim surveillance
NYPD surveillance of students called "disgusting"

The articles showed that police systemically listened in on sermons, hung out at cafes and other public places, infiltrated colleges and photographed people as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks. Individuals and groups were monitored even when there was no evidence they were linked to terrorism.

The series, which began in August, was by Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan and Chris Hawley. The stories prompted protests, a demand from 34 members of Congress for a federal investigation, and an internal inquiry by the CIA's inspector general. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have defended the program as a thoroughly legal tool for keeping the city safe.

The four reporters were toasted by scores of colleagues gathered in the newsroom of AP world headquarters in New York.

"We kept reporting things that no one in the city of New York knew about," said AP's executive editor, Kathleen Carroll. "That's what I'm most proud of."

The AP reporters praised their editors for sticking by them and pushing to extend the investigation, even in the face of some high-level criticism in New York City.

"We came under relentless attack," Goldman said. "Some people thought they could intimidate us and the AP — and they were wrong."

A year after the Pulitzer judges found no entry worthy of the prize for breaking news, The Tuscaloosa News of Alabama won the award for coverage of a deadly tornado. By blending traditional reporting with the use of social media, the newspaper provided real-time updates and helped locate missing people, while producing in-depth print coverage despite a power outage that forced the paper to publish at a plant 50 miles away.

In fact, the twister hit just after the news staff had had a session on how to use social media for news coverage, City Editor Katherine Lee recalled.

"I think we won because the tornado hit where we live, and we all felt a responsibility to do this well, to tell our story well — about how people came together to help total strangers," Lee said.

The judges declined to award a prize for editorial writing.

The Philadelphia Inquirer — which has recently gone through bankruptcy and repeated rounds of cutbacks and has changed hands five times in the past six years — showed how school violence went underreported and shed light on the school system's lackluster response to the problem. In response to the Inquirer's reporting, the school system established a new way of reporting serious incidents.

"This gives us so much joy, because we've seen what you guys have gone through the past 10 years," one of the winning reporters, John Sullivan, said in the newsroom. Yet, "everybody here continues to do great journalism."

At The Patriot-News, Ganim, a young police and courts reporter, won for "courageously revealing and adeptly covering the explosive Penn State sex scandal," the Pulitzer judges wrote.

Ganim broke the news of the grand jury investigation into allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and she also was first to report his indictment on charges of molesting several boys involved in a charity he ran. Sandusky has denied the allegations.

The scandal ended the career of Paterno, one of college football's most revered football coaches, prompted the ouster of Penn State President Graham Spanier, and led to a nationwide discussion over the place and power of big-time sports operations on college campuses.

Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times looked at the consequences when patients in Washington state were moved from safer pain-control drugs to methadone, which is cheaper but carries more risks. Berens said that going through the numbers and data for the methadone story, he was struck by the "sheer number of impoverished people who were falling victim."

"Not only is this wrong, but this is incredibly tragic," he said.

The New York Times' David Kocieniewski won the explanatory reporting award for a series that described how wealthy people and corporations used loopholes to avoid taxes. The Times' Jeffrey Gettleman, meanwhile, was honored for his reporting on famine and conflict in East Africa. He frequently braved personal danger to shed light on "a neglected but increasingly strategic part of the world," the judges wrote.

At the Huffington Post, veteran military correspondent David Wood wrote a series on the experiences of catastrophically wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. While medical advances are saving some soldiers' lives, the number of those suffering severe wounds is rising. Wood looked at the soldiers' physical and emotional struggles, as well as how their families, communities, comrades and doctors responded.

The Stranger, a Seattle weekly, was given the feature writing award for a story about a woman who survived an attack that killed her partner.

Mary Schmich, a longtime Chicago Tribune columnist, was recognized with the commentary award for pieces that "reflect the character and capture the culture of her famed city," the judges said. Film critic Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe won the criticism award, for work the judges called "distinguished by pinpoint prose and an easy traverse between the art house and the big-screen box office."

This photo by Massoud Hossaini of Agence France-Presse and provided by the Pulitzer Prize Board was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, announced in New York, Monday, April 16, 2012.
Massoud Hossaini,AP Photo/AFP via the Pulitzer Prize Board

In photography, Massoud Hossaini of Agence France-Presse won the breaking news award for his picture (at left) of a girl weeping after a suicide bomber attacked a crowded shrine in Afghanistan. Craig F. Walker of The Denver Post won the feature photography award for his work on an Iraq war veteran's struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Politico's Matt Wuerker won the editorial cartooning prize for work that poked fun at partisan fighting in Washington.

The Pulitzers are given out annually by Columbia University on the recommendation of a board of journalists and others. Each award carries a $10,000 prize except for the public service award, which is a gold medal.