NEW YORK – The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and The Sun Herald of Gulfport, Miss., each won the Pulitzer Prize for public service Monday for their dauntless coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
The Times-Picayune also received the Pulitzer in breaking news reporting for its storm coverage. The two papers managed to keep putting out the news — online, if necessary — despite damage to their buildings and disruption to their staffs.
The Washington Post won four awards in all, followed by The New York Times, with three. The Rocky Mountain News, like The Times-Picayune, won two.
"We never missed a day of publication and that's a testament to everybody in this room," said Ricky Mathews, The Sun Herald's president and publisher. "We will arise from this terrible situation," he added. "I think our best journalism is still ahead of us."
Executive Editor Stan Tiner dedicated the Pulitzer to the residents of southern Mississippi "whose magnificent hearts and spirit moved us every day that we have been privileged to tell the story of their struggle and triumphs."
"They will not be defeated — not by Katrina nor anything," he added.
The Times-Picayune newsroom in New Orleans erupted in applause at the news of winning two Pulitzers, but there was no champagne.
"It was a national tragedy," said Peter Kovacs, managing editor for news. "It would not be appropriate to have champagne because of the nature of the event."
As reporters quietly sobbed, Editor in Chief Jim Amoss stood on a newsroom table and said: "As our city was being ravaged and our citizens were dying ... as all these things happened, we came together as a team and fulfilled a mission that is sacred to us."
Susan Schmidt, James V. Grimaldi and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Post received the award for investigative reporting for their stories on the Jack Abramoff scandal.
David Finkel of the Post won the prize for explanatory reporting for writing about the U.S. government's attempt to bring democracy to Yemen. The Post's Dana Priest was honored in the beat reporting category for stories on secret prisons and the government's counterterrorism campaign.
James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the Times and the staffs of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley News Service won the award for national reporting — The Times for stories on the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping, the Union-Tribune and Copley for disclosing the bribe-taking that sent former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to prison in disgrace.
Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley of the Times won the award for international reporting for coverage of China's legal system.
Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News was honored for feature writing for his story on a Marine major who helps families of comrades killed in Iraq cope with their loss. The newspaper's Todd Heisler received the prize for feature photography for his accompanying pictures in a package called "Final Salute."
The Pulitzer for commentary went to Nicholas D. Kristof of the Times for focusing attention on genocide in Darfur.
Robin Givhan of the Post received the Pulitzer for criticism for her fashion coverage.
Rick Attig and Doug Bates of The Oregonian of Portland, Ore., won the award for editorial writing for writing on abuse inside a mental hospital.
The prize for editorial cartooning went to Mike Luckovich of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Dallas Morning News won in the breaking news photography category for its coverage of Katrina.
Like their communities, The Sun Herald and The Times-Picayune in New Orleans took a beating from Katrina. Their buildings were damaged, advertisers and subscribers were displaced, and circulation dropped.
The Sun Herald, whose offices are less than a mile from the Mississippi Sound, never missed an edition during the crisis. Before the storm hit, the Knight Ridder-owned publication arranged to have the newspaper printed at a sister paper in Columbus, Ga., and then shipped back to Mississippi.
To ensure delivery back home, the entire staff pitched in and handed it out free at tents, damaged homes, shelters and elsewhere.
In the first days after Katrina hit on Aug. 29, The Times-Picayune was published only online. The first printed editions came Sept. 2 and were published through an arrangement with The Courier, the newspaper in Houma, La., owned by The New York Times Co.
The Times-Picayune evacuated about 240 employees in the back of newspaper delivery trucks as water from a levee breach rose around the plant, located in the central part of the city. For many staffers who remained, reporting on the breaches that eventually flooded the city was horrifying because they saw the disaster unfold in their own neighborhoods.
The paper has regained about two-thirds of its pre-storm circulation, which was 260,000 on weekdays and 285,000 on Sunday.
For the first time, applicants in all categories were allowed to include material published online as part of their entries.
The Pulitzer for public service carries a prize of a gold medal. The other prizes come with cash awards of $10,000.
The awards are given by Columbia University on the recommendation of the 18-member Pulitzer board. Juries in each category pick the finalists.
The Times-Picayune was not named as a finalist for public service, but the Pulitzer board voted to award it the prize, along with The Sun Herald, said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzers.
The Pulitzers were created under the terms of the will of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who died in 1911. He endowed the journalism school at Columbia, and dictated that money be set aside for the prizes. The first awards were handed out in 1917.