Top prizes in journalism were shared amongst a brand new model of nonprofit news production that places investigative articles in major publications; a cartoonist who transitioned from print illustrations to 45 second flash animations; a middling paper in a small market mixing old and new, and a traditional major market paper about to be swallowed by debt and handed to creditors.
Applause erupted in the New York Times newsroom today as the Times shared one of the two Pulitzer Prizes for Investigative Journalism, but the real honor belonged to Sheri Fink of ProPublica. Fink's article ran simultaneously as a New York Times Magazine cover-story as well as on the ProPublica website. The piece exhaustively laid out the decisions doctors made to save, or possibly end lives in a New Orleans hospital as the city flooded after Katrina.
ProPublica is a non-profit news organization that promotes a new model of funding investigative pieces that many newsrooms find too expensive with their rapidly declining profits. They work with traditional news sources to place the stories, supplementing the newsroom and providing greater exposure for the work than ProPublica would achieve on its website.
Mark Fiore of SFGate.com also represented new media by winning the prize for editorial cartooning. Like ProPublica's founder and editor who transitioned from legacy media, Fiore moved from the San Francisco Chronicle where he produced illustrations to the papers website where his 45 second flash animation impressed with, "biting wit, extensive research and ability to distill complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary," according to the prize committee. His latest cartoon taking on the Catholic Church's blame-shifting entitled Hierarchy Complicitus is a fine example of that wit in action.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits the Philadelphia Daily News. The paper served as the poster child for the fate of the print news business in David Carr's New York Time's Media Equation article today that catalogs the efforts of the Daily News' owner to save the paper from creditors due to the newspapers value as a, "Public service." The former PR man running the paper, Brian Tierney's argument was bolstered today as the paper won a Pulitzer for reporting on a rogue police narcotics unit (I smell "The Wire" sequel) by Wendy Laker and Barbara Ruderman. Carr promptly posted a blog noting that the paper is on a roll, winning a court decision and the Pulitzer, but the auction is still to come.
Similarly, the financially struggling family owned Seattle Times took home an award for breaking news adding to their sterling reputation, but not their struggling bottom-line. The Seattle Times faced an ugly battle with their Joint Operating partner the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that almost ended both papers -- the Times survived while the Post-Intelligencer failed leaving one major paper in Washington.
Somewhere in the middle of this changing media storm stands the Bristol Herald Courier. The Virginia paper won the top honor, the Public Service award, "for the work of Daniel Gilbert in illuminating the murky mismanagement of natural-gas royalties owed to thousands of land owners in southwest Virginia, spurring remedial action by state lawmakers." (ProPublica was a finalist for this award also.)
The Herald Courier is part of a "converged newsroom" owned by Media General, Inc. and includes the online element, http://www.tricities.com; print, Bristol Herald Courier, and broadcast; WJHL all working together with reporters often appearing on TV. The converged model is a cost-cutting move employed by struggling media companies to eliminate waste and maximize their dwindling resources. The top Herald Courier story right now: Road closed due to traffic crash. The article announcing that the newspaper has won the top honor in journalism: written by the AP. I look forward tomorrow's edition...in print.