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Like many newspapers, The Washington Post is struggling mightily with falling circulation and advertising revenue. It's going through its third round of employee buyouts since 2003.
But cheers erupted Monday in the newsroom when staffers learned the newspaper had hauled in a near-record six Pulitzer Prizes, journalism's top awards.
"This is actually a boost to remind people that we can produce this kind of journalism at any time," said Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. "We're going to have a large enough newsroom to continue to produce this kind of quality journalism."
In the arts category, Pulitzer winners included Bob Dylan, who received an honorary Pulitzer Prize; Tracy Letts for his dark play, "August: Osage County;" and Junot Diaz, who won the fiction prize for his novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."
Diaz, 39, worked for more than a decade on his first novel, a tragic but humorous story of desire, politics and violence among Dominicans at home and in the United States &
"I spent most of the time on dead-ends and doubts," he told The Associated Press on Monday.
The Post was honored for its coverage of the Virginia Tech rampage, for exposing deplorable conditions at Walter Reed military hospital, and for revealing the enormous behind-the-scenes influence of Vice President Dick Cheney, among other projects.
In the always-fierce competition among major papers, The New York Times won two Pulitzers, for investigative reporting about toxic ingredients in medicine and other products imported from China, and one for explanatory reporting on ethical issues related to DNA testing.
Previously, the Post won as many as four Pulitzers in a single year, in 2006. The record is seven, won by the Times in 2002, mostly for its coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Dylan's win marked the first time rock 'n' roll was honored by the Pulitzers, although several jazz musicians have won prizes and citations in the past.
The judges cited Dylan for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."
Dylan continues to tour almost continuously and release highly regarded CDs. Fans, critics and academics have obsessed over his lyrics since the 1960s, when such protest anthems as "Blowin' in the Wind" made Dylan a poet and prophet for a rebellious generation.
The Washington Post swept the major categories, including the prestigious public service award for its series on Walter Reed. Reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille documented poor treatment and living conditions for wounded soldiers, prompting national revulsion that led to the firing of the Army secretary and reforms ordered by a presidential commission.
"I am still surprised at the huge reaction that it got, not just from the government but mainly from readers," said Priest. "People are still calling to say 'What can they do and how can they make things better?'"
The Post's other awards came in breaking news, for its comprehensive staff coverage of 32 murders and suicide by a deranged student at Virginia Tech last year; national reporting by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker on Vice President Dick Cheney's backstage influence; international reporting, for a series on private security contractors' operations in Iraq; feature writing for Gene Weingarten's gripping story on violinist Joshua Bell; and commentary for Steven Pearlstein's columns on the nation's economy.
The Chicago Tribune, as well as the Times, won for investigative reporting. It was honored for its report on faulty government oversight of car seats, cribs and toys.
Government accountability was a theme in other awards as well.
David Umhoefer of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won in the local reporting category for stories on the padding of county employees' pensions.
Other journalism winners were editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez of Investor's Business Daily; The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney for criticism; photographer Adrees Latif of Reuters for his spot news photo of a Japanese videographer fatally wounded in Myanmar street riots; and Preston Gannaway of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor for photo feature coverage of a family dealing with terminal illness.
"Amid all the gloomy talk about journalism today, these are fine examples of high-quality journalism in all parts of the nation," said Sig Gissler, administrator for the Pulitzers.
The winning play, "August: Osage County," debuted at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company last summer and later was well-reviewed in New York.
The playwright's father, Dennis Letts, who appeared in the cast as an Oklahoma patriarch, died of cancer in February, weeks after his last performance.
In a telephone interview from Chicago, Tracy Letts called his Pulitzer win "pretty overwhelming."
The play, he said, is "loosely autobiographical," drawing on family tragedy. "I always thought, 'Well, that's the stuff of drama right there.'"
Other awards in the arts included:
"" "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848," by Daniel Walker Howe, a professor emeritus at Oxford and UCLA, received the prize for history.
"" Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, already a National Book Award winner for "Time and Materials," won the poetry Pulitzer, as did Philip Schultz's "Failure."
"" John Matteson, won the biography award for "Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father."
"" "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945," by Saul Friedlander won the general nonfiction award.
"" "The Little Match Girl Passion" by David Lang took the music prize.
The Pulitzers, created by the will of publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who died in 1911, are journalism's highest honor.
Given by Columbia University on the recommendation of an 18-member board, each is worth $10,000, except for public service, where a gold medal goes to the winning newspaper.
Washington Post cleans up the Pulitzers; Bob Dylan wins rock's first prize
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