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Tough times, award-winning stories

TWO newspapers have won Pulitzer Prizes for exposing scandals that brought down a governor and a mayor, in what was hailed as a victory for old-fashioned journalism at a time when the industry's survival is in question.

The New York Times on Monday received five Pulitzers in all, including one for being the first to report that then-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was a client of a high-priced call girl ring - a discovery that led to his resignation.

The Detroit Free Press won for obtaining a cache of steamy text messages that destroyed then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's political career.

Three Pulitzers were awarded for coverage of Barack Obama's historic election. But in a surprising turn, not one prize was handed out for the other big story of 2008 - the financial meltdown. Some suggested it could be a criticism of the press for not sounding enough of a warning before the crisis.

"If I had to guess, I feel like there is going to be some reluctance to give prizes for after-the-fact reporting no matter how good it is, period," said Dean Starkman, managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review's The Audit, which focuses on business reporting.

The awards were announced after one of the most depressing years ever for the industry, with layoffs, bankruptcies and closures brought on by the recession and an exodus of readers and advertisers to the Internet. Many of Monday's winners were among the hardest hit; in fact, one of the winners, Paul Giblin, was laid off a few months ago.

"These are tough times for America's newspapers, but amid the gloomy talk, the newspaper winners and the finalists are heartening examples of the high-quality journalism that can be found in all parts of the United States," said Sig Gissler, administrator of the prizes.

The Detroit Free Press less than a month ago cut back home delivery to three days a week and the team that broke the Spitzer story at The New York Times has been cut back.

No online-only news organization, which were allowed to compete for the first time this year, won any prize.


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