MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
This year's Pulitzer prizes were announced this afternoon in New York City by Columbia University. It's the country's most prestigious award in journalism and it also recognizes achievement in music and letters.
NPR's Neda Ulaby reports on the winners.
NEDA ULABY: One of the big question marks for this year's Pulitzers was whether the National Enquirer would win for breaking the story about John Edwards' extramarital affair. The answer was no, but the old traditional media model did get shaken up when a Web site won for investigative reporting.
The Web site, ProPublica, is funded by foundations. The winning story was done collaboratively with the New York Times magazine.
Dr. SHERI FINK (Reporter, ProPublica): The story basically reconstructed the events that took place in one of the hospitals in New Orleans after Katrina.
ULABY: Reporter Sheri Fink is also a medical doctor. She spent over two years delving into a heartbreaking story about hospital workers faced with the ethics of letting patients died. And the way she went about it, first as a freelancer, then pulling in resources from a number of organizations, points to one of the ways good journalism is surviving.
Dr. FINK: I think it just really validates this model that we can look into different forms of journalism and different support for journalism going into the future. And we need lots of different solutions for what's happening in journalism.
BARKER: A more venerable news organization, The Washington Post took the most awards - four - including a nod to its dance critic, and a commentary award to Kathleen Parker who, during the presidential campaign, suggested in a column that Barack Obama is not a, quote, "full-blooded American."
Other big papers got shut out. No Wall Street Journal; no L.A. Times. Most of the winners were small or midsized papers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won a local reporting prize for its investigation into pension fraud.
The Seattle Times won the Pulitzer for breaking news by covering the coffeehouse murder of four police officers.
David Boardman is the paper's executive editor.
Mr. DAVID BOARDMAN (Executive Editor, Seattle Times): The most meaningful part of it, I think for us, was how the community really turned to the daily newspaper in the modern age for its verified news.
BARKER: The Seattle Times is one of the few remaining family-owned newspapers in the country, and in some ways, it's emblematic of the industry's upheaval.
Mr. BOARDMAN: We went through as much financial turmoil and hardship as anybody, but the Blethen family really put all of their own personal assets at risk, and we're coming out of it.
BARKER: The Bristol Herald Courier in Virginia won a public service Pulitzer for uncovering a scandal involving millions of dollars of unpaid gas royalties.
In arts, a first-time novelist won for fiction. Paul Harding authored "Tinkers," about a clock repairman recalling his sad New England childhood on his deathbed.
The musical "Next to Normal" won for drama.
(Soundbite of play, "Next to Normal")
Ms ALICE RIPLEY (Actress): (As Diana Goodman) (Singing) Catch me before it's too late.
Mr. LOUIS HOBSON (Actor): (As Dr. Madden) Depression, anxiety.
Ms. RIPLEY: (As Diana Goodman) (Singing) Catch me before...
Mr. HOBSON: (As Dr. Madden) Anxiety.
BARKER: It's about a helpless, harrowing descent into mental illness. Brian Yorkey, one of the musical's creators, told NPR last year about choosing an unlikely subject for a musical.
Mr. BRIAN YORKEY (Musical Creator, "Next to Normal"): I actually saw a television news report on electroconvulsive therapy which is, you know, commonly known as shock therapy. And I think I, like many people, was surprised to find out that it still was a very important element in a psychiatrist's sort of armature of treatments.
BARKER: For the first time in over a decade, the Pulitzer for music went to a woman. Jennifer Higdon is one of America's most frequently performed composers. Last year, she told NPR being thought of as accessible does not bother her a bit.
Ms. JENNIFER HIGDON (Flutist): I think of music as a communicative art. Most art is, but there's something about music that just goes straight to a person's heart or has the ability to do that. So accessible, to me, means that you're doing your job as a composer.
BARKER: This year, Jennifer Higdon got a bonus. The Pulitzer includes a $10,000 prize.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.