RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On the same day that reporters were scrambling to cover that deadly shooting spree at Virginia Tech, Columbia University announced the winners of the top prizes in journalism. Pulitzer prizes went to shoe-leather reporting that uncovered local corruption and meticulous explanations of abuses of power.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: When President Bush used a so-called signing statement to say he wasn't bound by federal legislation banning torture that he had just signed, Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe took note.
Mr. CHARLIE SAVAGE (Reporter, The Boston Globe): This is an interesting kind of story because so much of it is hiding in plain sight. You don't need someone on the inside to leak you the documents. You just need to recognize what's happening.
FOLKENFLIK: In fact, Savage found the president was using those statements to defy both Congress and the Supreme Court on hundreds of laws. Savage's articles won the Pulitzer for national reporting.
Mr. SAVAGE: The expansion of presidential power versus Congress and the courts is one of the great phenomenon that we're living through, and yet it's one that has been sort of drowned out by less abstract stories which are also important such as, obviously, Iraq.
FOLKENFLIK: And indeed, no Pulitzer was given this year for reporting specifically on the war. Though the Wall Street Journal was given two awards for international reporting and public service, it was a year in which regional papers flexed their muscles.
The Miami Herald won in local reporting for revealing widespread abuses in the local housing authority; the Portland Oregonian won in breaking news for chronicling the tragic story of a family that had disappeared in the Oregon mountains.
New York Times metro reporter Andrea Elliott was seeking to chronicle life for Muslim immigrants in America. Here was what she e-mailed to her editors, perhaps a bit naively.
Ms. ANDREA ELLIOTT (Reporter, The New York Times): I proposed to report and write a series about the life and times of an American imam in the next six weeks, and it ended up taking me actually six months of intensive reporting and writing.
FOLKENFLIK: Readers responded warmly, especially non-Muslims who saw fellow Americans who shared many of the same aspirations. Some of the imam's Brooklyn, New York, congregation admired Elliott's articles, but others recoiled from the media attention and he left for another post in New Jersey.
Writers won at two lesser-known publications: exposes by the Birmingham, Alabama, News forced the ouster of leaders of the state community college system. And Jonathan Gold of the alternative L.A. Weekly won for his low rent but high concept food criticism.
The Pulitzer board also hands out awards in the arts. Historian Debby Applegate won for her biography of 19th century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, Emory professor Natasha Trethewey won in poetry, and David Lindsay-Abaire won in drama for his play, "The Rabbit Hole."
The new Pulitzer winner for fiction is Cormac McCarthy for his post-apocalyptic novel, "The Road." Veteran journalists Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff won in history for their book on reporters who covered the civil rights movement. And we'll leave you this morning with this from jazz composer and saxophonist Ornette Coleman, "Sound Grammar."
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FOLKENFLIK: Coleman is the 2007 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: You can hear more "Sound Grammar" at npr.org, or listen right now.
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