NEW YORK — The earthquake in Haiti and Gulf oil spill were among the most intensely covered stories of 2010, but none of that coverage was deemed worthy of a Pulitzer Prize for reporting. Journalism's most prestigious awards went to the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, among others, but the awards were notable for the one prize no one won – basic breaking news.
In a first in the 95-year history of the Pulitzers, judges declined to name a winner in the category, usually given for local coverage.
Staff at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Pro Publica, an online news organization, were honored Monday with prizes for their work. Chicago native Jennifer Egan's novel "A Visit From the Goon Squad" won the prize for fiction, while Bruce Norris won the drama prize for "Clybourne Park."
The breaking news award is given for stories in your own backyard, not somewhere else in the world, and it recognizes "speed and accuracy of initial coverage," said Sig Gissler, the administrator of the prizes.
But this time, none of the three finalists impressed a majority of the panel.
"No entry received the necessary majority," Gissler said, without elaborating.
The finalists were the Chicago Tribune for coverage of the deaths of two Chicago firefighters; The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald for reporting on the Haiti earthquake; and The Tennessean in Nashville, Tenn., for coverage of a devastating flood.
The chair of the nominating committee for breaking news, Gabriel Escobar, the metro editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, said it was not a year "defined by major breaking news."
"This is a category that these days is defined by what you can do online. It's a tough category and it's very competitive," he said.
But he also warned about reading too much into the board's decision. "This is one year, and it's defined by what happened in that year," he said.
Manny Garcia, executive editor of El Nuevo Herald, said he respected the Pulitzer board's decision.
"Today as a journalist, you have that bar where it has to be immediate and it has to be accurate," he said. "We strive to hit both bars every time. We make it a point of moving the big story on the web, in every platform on the web, and in print, whether it's on our website, Facebook, Twitter and in the paper."
The Pulitzer Board gave awards in 13 out of 14 categories for journalism and in seven categories for the arts.
The Los Angeles Times won the Pulitzer for public service for its series revealing that politicians in Bell, Calif., were drawing salaries well into six figures. The newspaper's reporting that officials in the struggling city of 37,000 people were raising property taxes and other fees in part to cover the huge salaries led to arrests and the ouster of some of Bell's top officials.
"The real victors in this are the people of Bell, who were able to get rid of, there's no other way to say it, an oppressive regime," said reporter Jeff Gottlieb, clutching a bottle of champagne before about 100 people in the newsroom.
Ruben Vives, another staff writer on the story, said: "At a time when people are saying newspapers are dying, I think this is the day when we can say, no, not really. We gave a small town, we gave them an opportunity to speak out. That's what newspapers do."
The Los Angeles Times has been hobbled by the troubles of its owner, Tribune Co., which has been operating under federal bankruptcy protection for the past two years. Tribune Co. has been trying to shed most of the debt that it took on in an $8.2 billion buyout of the company engineered by real estate mogul Sam Zell. The Times has also gone through wrenching staff cutbacks before and after the bankruptcy filing, and other turmoil in the newsroom.
The Times won a second Pulitzer for feature photography, and The New York Times was awarded two Pulitzers for international reporting and for commentary.
In the arts, Egan's novel was praised for its "big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed." Norris' winning play, "Clybourne Park," imagines what might have happened to the family that moved out of the house in the fictitious Chicago neighborhood where Lorraine Hansberry's Younger clan is headed by the end of her 1959 play "A Raisin in the Sun."
In other journalism awards, the nonprofit ProPublica won its first outright Pulitzer for national reporting. Reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein exposed questionable Wall Street practices that contributed to the economic meltdown. The judges cited their use of digital media to help explain the complex subject.
Graphics and videos also accompanied the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's winning entry in explanatory reporting, an account of the use of genetic technology to save a 4-year-old boy from a mysterious disease.
The competition's rules were changed this year to allow digital media to be considered along with text entries.
Associated Press writers John Rogers in Los Angeles and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.