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Eyes On The Prize

Amid the annual festival of self-celebration that is the Pulitzer Prize process is the hulking brute of a business story.

The New York Times won five — five! — Pulitzers, but the parent Times Co. reported a brutal plunge in its first quarter earnings. (Others are faring even worse: The McClatchy Newspaper company has been warned its stock price has fallen so sharply that it may be dropped from the New York Stock Exchange listing.)

As the Boston Globe appears to be the greatest financial drag on the Times Co., media critic Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix has called on it to use the Globe as a lab to test out innovations that executives hope will work for the New York Times itself.

Another Pulitzer-winning publication appears to have done just that: the Las Vegas Sun. In just four years, it appears to have reinvented itself from a trailing paper in a two-daily town into a multi-media power.

Deep in the paper's coverage of its Pulitzer Prize for Public Service today is a passage about the Sun itself:

The Sun has always been a scrappy paper, first publishing in the morning and then in the afternoon, when its circulation had dropped by 2005 to about 35,000. That year Brian Greenspun renegotiated the Sun's joint operating agreement with its competitor, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to embark on a pioneering experiment. The Sun ceased operating as an afternoon newspaper and started being delivered inside the morning Review-Journal, with which it still competes fiercely. That raised the circulation to about 180,000 daily, and boosted the Sun's reach in Las Vegas.

With that transition, [Managing Editor Michael J.] Kelley refocused the newspaper's mission to concentrate on enterprise and investigative reporting. Kelley imagined a daily paper in the vein of magazines like The Economist, Time and Sports Illustrated. The print Sun's relatively small staff probed the community in ways that had not been done before in Las Vegas. The breaking news that print newspapers traditionally covered was left to the competition until the Sun launched its award-winning Web site in 2008.

Greenspun said he was thinking "with an eye to what newspapers needed to be in the future."

He said the Internet serves readers best by doing what newspapers did in past decades: car crashes, crime stories, house fires. The Sun's Web site staff of reporters, videographers and editors provides breaking news updates throughout the day as well as multimedia features....

But Greenspun said people still want and need in-depth stories, "the ones that tell the 'why' and the 'how' — that makes a city and community better."

Obviously, that's a news organization's account of itself. But even from afar, it appears there's been a fundamental rethinking of the business news model in Las Vegas. And maybe it took a Pulitzer to bring that to greater light.