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NSA Coverage Garners Pulitzers For Post And Guardian

Winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday. The Washington Post and The Guardian were among the notable winners, commended for together breaking the news of NSA surveillance programs.

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This year's Pulitzer Prize winners were announced today in New York City. The Pulitzers are the country's most prestigious award in journalism, music and letters.

As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, this year's jurors at Columbia University faced a serious dilemma: Whether to reward stories based on illegal leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The answer is they did. The Pulitzer committee decided to honor one of the most significant stories of the decade, one which even Washington Post reporter Bart Gellman could not believe when he first started talking to Snowden.

BART GELLMAN: I was fundamentally trying to find out is this a crank or a put-up job or a trap or a pretender, or is it the real thing? And that took quite a bit of time.

ULABY: That's Gellman talking to NPR last fall. His analysis of Snowden's documents was rewarded, along with NSA coverage by The Guardian. Well, maybe not exactly The Guardian. British newspapers are not eligible for Pulitzers. The Guardian's U.S. website won instead.

Reporter Glenn Greenwald has more of a background as a civil rights advocate than member of the media establishment.

GLENN GREENWALD: I set out purposefully to violate those rules, to ignore them, to break them. And so, I knew that the way I was going to report it was going to be more aggressive, more defiant, more rapid, more frequent.

ULABY: For National News the Pulitzer went to the Colorado Springs Gazette, for a series about combat veterans getting discharged without benefits. And The Investigative Pulitzer was awarded to a series of stories about the systematic denial of benefits to coalminers with black lung disease.

CHRIS HAMBY: This is our first Pulitzer for Center for Public Integrity. And we are just thrilled.

ULABY: Chris Hamby's news organization publishes online. The reporter spent months reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents, X-ray readings, and he spent a lot of time in West Virginia.

HAMBY: Probably almost qualify for citizenship there.

ULABY: The New York Times captured both Photography Pulitzers. And The Boston Globe won for Breaking News. Reporter David Abel was standing at the marathon finish line right when the bombs exploded.

DAVID ABEL: It was the most horrific thing I've seen in my life. And I've covered some pretty bad things over the years as a reporter.

ULABY: Abel, talking to NPR soon after the bombing last spring.

ABEL: I did the best to stay there as long as I could. I had a video camera and so I stayed there and tried to piece together what was happening, like every other reporter, until police, firefighters, and the FBI eventually escorted us out.

ULABY: The Pulitzer committee declined to recognize a feature writer this year. In Drama, the winner was a play called "The Flick" set in a movie theater. It's about the death of actual celluloid film. And novelist Donna Tartt won the Fiction Pulitzer for "The Goldfinch." It's a made up story about a real painting. Tartt told NPR it was inspired by a visit to an art museum filled with Old Masters on the Las Vegas Strip.

DONNA TARTT: And when I saw that - bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing - all sorts of things started to fire in my head. I began to think about money, about the movement of money, about how art is really very often connected with dirty money - it always has been - and about luck and chance and fate.

ULABY: It was more than luck or chance or fate that led the Pulitzer committee to file on an Alaska based composer named John Luther Adams.

JOHN LUTHER ADAMS: I was actually taking a nap between classes when the phone rang. So it was a welcomed wake-up call.

ULABY: The Pulitzer committee described his orchestral work, "Become Ocean," as suggesting a relentless tidal surge with polar ice melts and rising sea levels.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "BECOME OCEAN")

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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