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Pulitzer Prize rewards journalists

There are 13 winners in the journalist categories at the annual Pulitzer Prizes. The wide variety of subjects is covered and no subject is dominating the front pages. The music category is won by a jazz composition.

Also for the first time, the Pulitzer Prize Board pulled a play - "Rabbit Hole" - out of the hat for the drama award after three finalists approved by the jury in that category failed to attract the necessary majority of board members.

The Wall Street Journal was the only multiple winner, taking home the international reporting and public service awards for its coverage of China and a stock-options scandal that roiled corporate America.

Paul Steiger, the Journal's managing editor, called the stock stories "tremendous pieces of work" that "resulted in more than 100 companies coming under investigation and many companies having to restate their earnings."

The Associated Press won the Pulitzer in breaking news photography for Jerusalem-based staff photographer Oded Balilty's dramatic picture of a Jewish settler trying to resist Israeli security officers. It was the news agency's 49th Pulitzer, 30 of them for photography.

"I feel like today I kissed the moon," Balilty exulted in a telephone interview while celebrating with colleagues in Jerusalem.

The AP's photo staff was a finalist in the same category for coverage of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"Their success in the breaking-news photo category enhances the truly spectacular and enduring contribution made by AP photojournalists over decades," AP President and CEO Tom Curley said. "They have added to an unrivaled collection of iconic images displayed on front pages and newscasts that have become forever etched in public consciousness."

The Pulitzers, announced on Monday by Columbia University, honored achievements in American journalism and the arts for the 91st year.

Ornette Coleman's victory in the music category for a jazz composition titled "Sound Grammar" represented a departure from customary Pulitzer awards for classical works. Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler said the only other jazz figure to win a Pulitzer was Wynton Marsalis in 1997, but that was for a classical composition.

In literature, winners included "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," by Lawrence Wright, in general nonfiction, and "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation," by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, in the history category.

"It's never too late," quipped Roberts, a University of Maryland journalism professor who won his first personal Pulitzer after a distinguished career at The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, which earned 17 Pulitzers during his 18-year tenure as editor.

The natural disasters that dominated last year's Pulitzer competition were notably absent this year, Gissler said, quoting one board member as saying this was "probably good news for the country." He said a reduced number of entries on the war in Iraq possibly reflected security risks and other "severe barriers to coverage" by the news media.

The Birmingham News' Brett Blackledge won a Pulitzer for an expose of cronyism and corruption in Alabama's two-year colleges. His work originally was entered for public service, but was moved to the investigative reporting category.

The staff of the Oregonian, of Portland, won in breaking news for its coverage of a family lost in the mountains during a blizzard. James Kim and his family took a wrong turn while returning home to San Francisco following a Thanksgiving trip. Kim was found dead after his wife and two young daughters were rescued. The judges praised the newspaper for its "skillful and tenacious coverage."

"Our thoughts today are with the Kim family, for, as our reporting showed, this is a tragic accident that might have been avoided," said Peter Bhatia, the Oregonian's executive editor.

Cynthia Tucker of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution won for "courageous, clear-headed" commentary, and Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly earned the criticism prize for "zestful, wide-ranging" restaurant reviews.

Other journalism winners included Andrea Elliott of The New York Times for feature writing, for a story about an immigrant imam; Charlie Savage of The Boston Globe for national reporting on President Bush's use of "signing statements" to bypass laws; Kenneth R. Weiss, Usha Lee McFarling and Rick Loomis of the Los Angeles Times for explanatory reporting on the world's oceans; and Debbie Cenziper of the Miami Herald for local reporting on scandals in the city's housing agency.

The editorial writing prize went to the New York Daily News for "compassionate and compelling" commentary on health issues involving ground zero workers, and Walt Handelsman of Newsday won for editorial cartooning. Handelsman was a previous winner in the category while at the New Orleans Times Picayune in 1997.

The feature photography winner was Renee C. Byer of The Sacramento Bee for her portrayal of a single mother and her son as he lost his fight with cancer.

Gissler noted that online materials, including streaming videos and audio-backed slide shows, "played a significant role" in 15 to 20 percent of this year's 1,225 newspaper entries, reflecting a growing trend in the news industry.

The Los Angeles Times was also praised for its online work on its winning project, including video and photos by Loomis - reflecting the added consideration given to multimedia this year.

In other arts categories, Cormac McCarthy won the fiction prize for his sparse, apocalyptic novel, "The Road," and Debby Applegate won for biography for "The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher," the 19th-century abolitionist and preacher.

"Native Guard," Natasha Trethewey's collection of poetry, earned the prize in that field.

The drama prize went to David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole," about a wealthy suburban couple trying to cope with the auto-accident death of their young son. Gissler said the Pulitzer Board looked beyond the three original finalists after a majority of the board could not agree on any of them. Details of Pulitzer Board deliberations are not made public, he said.

Special citations for their work went to Ray Bradbury, 87, for "prolific and deeply influential" writing in science fiction and fantasy," and to the late jazz composer John Coltrane, for "masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality' to the history of jazz."

Winners are awarded US$10,000 (EUR7,380) cash, except for the public service award winner, who receives a gold medal.

The Pulitzers were created in 1911 under terms of the will of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who endowed the journalism school at Columbia. The first awards were handed out in 1917.

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