Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced

The 2012 Pulitzer Prizes were announced by Columbia University on Monday. Among the reporting winners are the staff of the Tuscaloosa News for its coverage of a tornado that ripped through the city last year, and Sara Ganim and the staff of the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., for breaking the Penn State sex scandal. There was no fiction prize awarded this year.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The most prestigious award in American print journalism was announced today at Columbia University. The Pulitzer Prizes also recognized distinguished works of literature, drama and music. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports on today's honorees.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Almost exactly a year ago, a massive tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

KATHERINE LEE: It was pretty chaotic. So, you know, at first, we were getting a lot of reports of trees down, and then we started hearing this building is gone, this entire corner is gone, this intersection is gone, there are bodies in the streets.

ULABY: Katherine Lee is the city editor of The Tuscaloosa News. The staff won a Pulitzer for Breaking News. That's a tough category right now as papers struggle to report in real time. Lee says her staff had just finished a social media session about how to tweet news and photos. In the face of wrenching disaster, that's exactly what they did.

LEE: One of my reporters lives in one of the hardest hit areas, and his apartment was gone. And he texted me and said, my apartment's gone. I got my notebook. I'll stay out here. And he reported that night, even though he had no place to go.

ULABY: The Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting was shared this year by The Seattle Times and the Associated Press. Mike Oreskes is a senior managing editor at the AP. He says it's coverage of the New York City Police Department spying on Muslim communities is ongoing.

MICHAEL ORESKES: This is one of the central debates facing the country right now. Where should we draw the line between freedoms and safety? And it is not an easy decision. And from our point of view as a newsgathering organization, it's not our job to decide where to draw that line. It is our job to help people with facts.

ULABY: One of the youngest new Pulitzer winners is 24-year-old Sara Ganim for Local Reporting on a story that captured national interest. She helped break the sex scandal surrounding Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. She discussed a 1998 incident on NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS ARCHIVE)

SARA GANIM: Basically, the child came home from a tour of the Penn State football building with Jerry Sandusky. He came home, and he told his mom: If you're wondering why my hair is wet, it's because we took a shower together. And then he ran into his bedroom and slammed the door. And she said she immediately called police.

ULABY: That case was closed without charges. Other Pulitzers went to the Philadelphia Inquirer for Public Service reporting on school violence. The National Reporting Pulitzer went to The Huffington Post for a series about the challenges facing veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. As it happens, the Pulitzer winner for Poetry spent a day in a newsroom, NPR's. Tracy K. Smith was a sort of poet in residence here, and she said poetry helps her makes sense of the headlines.

TRACY K. SMITH: I often find that news events are things I'm thinking about and wrestling with and trying to understand better. So writing a poem is one of the first approaches that I take to trying to understand something a little bit better.

ULABY: A few surprises this year. No award was given for Fiction. And no one anticipated a win for Drama by playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes for her play "Water by the Spoonful." The late scholar Manning Marable won in History for his book "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention." And in Music, the award went to the first opera by composer Kevin Puts.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "SILENT NIGHT")

ULABY: "Silent Night," an opera in two acts, is based on the real truce between German, French and Scottish soldiers on Christmas Eve during World War I. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "SILENT NIGHT")

CORNISH: As Neda mentioned, Tracy K. Smith, today's Pulitzer winner for Poetry, was also ALL THINGS CONSIDERED's first news poet. She spent a day with us back in January and wrote this poem based on the news that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS ARCHIVE)

SMITH: "New Road Station." History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman corralling her children onto a crowded bus. History spits, go, go, go, lurching at the horizon, hammering the driver's headrest with her fist. Nothing else moves. The flies settle in place, watching with their million eyes, never bored. The crows strike their bargain with the breeze. They cluck and caw at the women in their frenzy, the ones who suck their teeth, whose skirts are bathed in mud.

But history is not a woman, and it is not the crowd forming in a square. It is not the bright swarm of voices chanting, no and now, or even the rapt silence of a room where a film of history is right now being screened. Perhaps history is the bus that will only wait so long before cranking its engine and barreling down the road.

Maybe it is the voice coming in through the radio, like a long distance call, or the child in the crook of his mother's arm who believes history must sleep inside a tomb or the belly of a bomb.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: That poem titled "New Road Station" by Tracy K. Smith, our first news poet, and as of today, a Pulitzer Prize winner. Be sure to tune in later this month when we welcome our next poet in residence, Monica Youn. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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