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April 19 2012

14:26

Narrative gold: Eli Sanders and his Pulitzer-winning crime saga

“The prosecutor wanted to know about window coverings. He asked: Which windows in the house on South Rose Street, the house where you woke up to him standing over you with a knife that night – which windows had curtains that blocked out the rest of the world and which did not?”

So begins Eli Sanders’ story “The Bravest Woman in Seattle,” which this week won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. The category usually offers up an unforgettable narrative and this year gave us a story – and an exciting writer – that we otherwise might have missed.

Sanders’ elegantly tense portrayal of a home invasion, double rape and murder appeared last June in The Stranger, a Seattle weekly, but Sanders’ coverage of suspect Isaiah Kalebu started long before that. In “The Mind of Kalebu,” which ran in the fall of 2009, Sanders examined loopholes in the criminal justice system’s treatment of mentally unstable suspects. His reporting ultimately led us into the courtroom, as murder victim Teresa Butz’s partner testified:

The attacks became more sadistic. Things began to happen that were beyond the worst imagining of Butz’s partner. She felt like she was going to be ripped in half. She thought: “He’s not going to kill me with a knife, but he’s going to kill me this way.”

Then she heard Butz say: “Why are you cutting me? Why are you cutting me?”

The man said to Butz: “Shut up, or I’m going to kill your girlfriend.”

He took the women into another room in the house, where he pulled another knife out of a pair of jeans he’d left on a guest bed.

The story he had been telling them, the story Butz’s partner had been telling her- self, the story that he just wanted sex and was not going to hurt them, now completely shattered. “In that moment I just knew he was going to kill us,” Butz’s partner told the court. “I just knew. There was something different in his gaze. There was this kind of looking. I didn’t feel fear from him, I didn’t feel anger from him, I just felt this nothing.”

We asked four Pulitzer winners, a Pulitzer judge and a legendary contributor to the craft of narrative journalism what they thought made the story special. Here’s what they said:

I’ve never read a court story like “The Bravest Woman in Seattle” – never in 28 years of journalism. I don’t know that anyone has read a trial story containing such painstaking detail and emotion; containing so many elements of the human instinct to survive in the face of the near inevitability of death.

“The Bravest Woman in Seattle” has all the elements of a work of fiction until the reader quickly reaches the chilling realization that this case was real. This was not some made-up crime novel. The people who were the subjects of this story, the heroes of it, too, were human beings, though savagely treated.

The power of this story is in the incredible writing, which made me care deeply for two women who were strangers to me, who were living normal lives before a knife-wielding man sexually assaulted and tormented them. “The Bravest Woman in Seattle” leaves readers clinging to hope that all ends well. The readers pray for the victims’ survival and that the bad guy gets caught. It is a challenge of human will to stay with this story. There is the temptation to leave for fear it will rip at your own emotions. Once the mind wraps itself around the facts in the case (although it is impossible to comprehend how one human could be so cruel to another), the reader is left to draw her own conclusions about whether the convicted man got what he deserved.

Ronnie Agnew is a four-time Pulitzer Prize judge and sat on this year’s feature writing jury. He is the executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting and the former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, in Jackson, Miss. He has worked as a reporter and editor in Ohio, Alabama and Mississippi.

***

As the Pulitzer board noted this week, Eli Sanders’ “The Bravest Woman in Seattle” is “a haunting story of a woman who survived a brutal attack that took the life of her partner.” It is also the story of the woman telling that story: The citation commends Sanders’ use of her courtroom testimony to “construct a moving narrative.”

But it is also the story of Sanders, a reporter, responding to the woman’s telling of that haunting story. And that extra level of narrative, I think, is the source of the story’s riveting power.

Sanders calls the survivor “the bravest woman in Seattle.’’ Maybe that is true. But what matters is that we feel the rawness of his admiration for her courage, and of his rage on her behalf. It takes journalistic bravery to expose yourself, as well as your subject, to the reader. And it takes a rare skill to do it, as Sanders does, almost entirely with telling details, structure and intensity of tone. Seeking to transport us into the head of the woman whose story he is telling, Sanders places us at the same time into his own. He quotes her as well as her thoughts, channeling her with an authority born of his observation, of his participation as a reporter covering the emotionally charged event: “I am not scared,’’ he imagines her thinking. “I have nothing to hide here. Not anymore. Not for something as important as this, the opportunity to put him away.’’

You risk credibility when you do this, even in a story where no one can fault you for sympathizing with the woman on the stand. Maybe especially in a story like this, reporters bend over backward to be fair, to maintain a safe distance. But Sanders’ understated honesty makes us trust him. The reporter next to him cried, he says. “I cried.’’

How much of the graphic information about the rapes and murder, we hear Sanders wondering, about his role in this drama, is right to include? “Some of her testimony from this day is not going to be recounted in this story,’’ he decides.

One of my favorite passages comes when Sanders observes the mother of Teresa Butz, the partner who was murdered:

She is a small woman, just like her daughter. If this woman can absorb, at the level of detail required for proof before a jury, the particulars of what happened to her daughter – can view the bloody crime scene photographs, can listen to the 911 call from a neighbor leaning over her blood-soaked daughter and screaming, “Ma’am, please wake up! Please wake up!” (while, to the 911 operator pleading, “Please hurry, please hurry”), can hear the testimony about DNA evidence and what orifices it was recovered from – then no one else in this courtroom can dare turn away.

Here, Sanders transports us to all three levels of the story at once. We are in the moment of the attack, we are listening to the horrifying details unfold in the courtroom, and we are in Sanders’ own head, flinching from those details yet increasingly convinced that there is a moral imperative in relaying them.

Amy Harmon is a two-time Pulitzer winner and a New York Times national correspondent who covers the impact of science and technology on American life. Her series “The DNA Age” won the 2008 Pulitzer for explanatory reporting, and in 2001 she shared the prize for national reporting, for the series “How Race Is Lived in America.”

***

“Maybe he could use that love against them.”

In Eli Sanders’ searing narrative about the rapes of two women and the murder of one of them, that single sentence reveals the writer’s mastery of his subject. In the midst of all the horror, we are reminded of the victims’ love for one another and experience an excruciating clash of emotions.

With his command of pace, rhythm, vivid description and multiple perspectives, Sanders switches between courtroom and crime, and from the victims’ point of view to the narrator’s, always taking care to be honest without being sensational.

The tension in the story comes as much from what is not said as what is. Instead of detailing every grim act, we get the reactions to the survivor’s descriptions of those acts – from the bailiff, the court reporter, the prosecutor, even another reporter. By the end, we are reminded that violence is not ordinary, nor are the victims of violence.

If ever a story was three-dimensional, “The Bravest Woman in Seattle” is it. The story lives not only in time and space, but in consciousness. A testament to its power and truthfulness is that the survivor, who asked not to be named by Sanders, was moved to identify herself after the story’s publication.

Amy Ellis Nutt won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2011 for “The Wreck of the Lady Mary,” and was a finalist in 2008 for “The Accidental Artist.” A reporter at the Newark Star-Ledger, she’s also an adjunct professor in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

***

The writing is rhythmic, concise. Every sentence does what it should in narrative: reveals more about character or moves the action forward. And while the details are beyond grisly, Sanders frames them in a way that forces – obligates – readers to withstand them.

Raquel Rutledge won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 2010 for her Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series “Cashing in on Kids.” An investigative reporter on the Watchdog Team, she is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

***

Sometimes details are nitroglycerin. As a kid, I knew about nitroglycerin only from Road Runner cartoons – this stuff is incredibly explosive yet there was always plenty of it, and the characters always seemed destined to drop it. Back then, I didn’t know that in tiny doses, in heart medication, it can save a life. As reporters entrusted with powerful details, we sometimes wind up like the coyote trying desperately to cradle them before the ground falls away.

Not here. I was continually impressed with the way Sanders blended the horrific details with a strong instinct for story and, most importantly, care. It’s a crucial combination, as I think he sets this up as more of a campfire story than a courtroom story. He starts off with a scene, then tells us that he’s going to tell us a story. He actually allows us a chance to smile. He lets Teresa Butz’s partner lay the foundation for how honest this story is going to be. He foreshadows some of it, knowing that won’t make it easier when we get there, but at least we know to prepare. Then he tells us we’ve seen enough. Then he immerses us again.

The scenes in this story will join so many others in the feature writing category that haunt and teach through searing detail and restraint, among them one particular child in a car in Gene Weingarten’s “Fatal Distraction,” a little girl’s room/closet in Lane DeGregory’s “The Girl in the Window,” and the description of the dead boy in the snow in Barry Siegel’s “A Father’s Pain….”

In “The Bravest Woman in Seattle,” Sanders also finds that balance between the explicit and delicate, guaranteeing that though readers may pause, brace themselves or close their eyes they’ll keep going. We have to continue, because Sanders has allowed Butz’s partner to take us by the hand and show us why we must. By building elements of the story’s framework on the details that make us cringe, Sanders demands that we read until the last word – actually the last nine words – so that by the time we reach that scream, it has been transformed into pure strength.

Jim Sheeler won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2006, for a Rocky Mountain News story that chronicled nearly a year in the life of a U.S. Marine casualty notification officer and the families he touched. His subsequent book, “Final Salute,” was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award.  He holds the Shirley Wormser Professorship in Journalism and Media Writing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

***

The story is admirable in a similar (though of course less profound and courageous) way as its subject is admirable. Throughout, Sanders stresses the survivor’s reasons for going through the ordeal of testifying, writing early on:

This happened to me. You must listen. This happened to us. You must hear who was lost. You must hear what he did. You must hear how Teresa fought him. You must hear what I loved about her. You must know what he took from us. This happened.

Later, he says that the mother of the murder victim, Teresa Butz, was in court and observes: “If a woman can absorb, at the level of detail required for proof before jury, the particulars of what happened to her daughter…. then no one else in this courtroom can dare turn away.”

The accumulation of such comments begins to suggest, in a subtle way, that Sanders and we (the readers) are also participating in the very painful but also brave and important act of taking in this testimony. Later in the story he writes that in the aftermath of the crime, “civilization, which did not stop this from happening, which did not even know this was happening, slowly returned.” The persuasive suggestion is that this article is a part of that slow return: listening to the woman bear witness, without turning away, is the least we can do.

I’ll add, in passing, something I might have asked Sanders if I had been his editor. It strikes me that the bravest woman in Seattle, maybe the bravest woman in the history of Seattle, may have been Teresa Butz, whose actions, as described in the story, ultimately saved her partner’s life even as she was losing her own. Do you think it might make sense to put a little more emphasis on Butz? Just asking.

Ben Yagoda has written about language, writing and other topics for Slate, the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times magazine, The American Scholar, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and many others. He’s a professor of English at the University of Delaware and the author of, among other books, “About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made” and “The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing.” His “The Art of Fact,” coauthored with Kevin Kerrane, is a staple of narrative journalism classrooms. His forthcoming book is “How to Not Write Bad.”

 ***

This year’s two features finalists were also rivetingly memorable, and each ran with compelling multimedia components. In “A Chance in Hell,” Corinne Reilly of the Virginian-Pilot told the story of two weeks in a NATO hospital in Afghanistan. A glimpse:

A few minutes later the soldier is in the operating room. He’s writhing now more than shaking. Through the moans, he’s mumbling three words over and over.

“This is bad. This is bad. This is bad.”

He keeps lifting his head, trying to get a look.

On the end of the bed, the last right boot he ever put on is lying at an angle that’s all wrong, a sweaty foot still inside. The calf above it is a shredded mess of uniform, flesh, dirt and grass. Nothing about it looks real.

Above that there is no discernible knee, just a thin stretch of filthy skin barely hanging onto what’s left of a thigh, which looks a lot like the mangled calf, except for one thing: Among the blood and mud, there is a little white inchworm, scrunching and straightening, slowly making its way across a bit of dying muscle.

Somehow it survived an explosion the soldier may not.

Around him, a dozen people are preparing for surgery. The room smells like damp earth, rubbing alcohol and blood.

“Hang in there one more minute, bud,” the anesthesiologist says, trying uselessly to soothe his patient. “Everything’s gonna be OK in just a minute.”

A nurse walks in. Next to the boot, she sets down a medical form.

It says the soldier’s name is Eddie Ward.

It says he is 19 years old.

And in “Punched Out,” John Branch of The New York Times told the story of the life and death of hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard:

Boogaard, with a backlog of frustrations, wanted to quit during training camp in 2000. He was 18. He called his father to tell him. He told his teammates he had a plane ticket home. Tobin ultimately persuaded him to stay.

And, suddenly, Boogaard started to win fights.

“His first year in the W.H.L., I think, it was mostly adjusting to his frame, not knowing how to use his reach,” Ryan Boogaard said. “I think he felt more comfortable with that frame in his second year in the W.H.L., and he did a lot better.”

He quickly  avenged his broken-jaw loss to Mike Lee.  He beat Mat Sommerfeld, a rival who had torn Boogaard’s name from the back of his uniform and  held it over his head after an earlier conquest. One Web site put Boogaard’s record at 18-4-4 in fights that season. One poll named him the toughest player in the W.H.L.’s Western Conference.

When Boogaard took the ice, a buzz rippled through Prince George’s arena, which routinely had capacity crowds of 5,995. One side of the arena would shout “Boo!” and the other would shout “Gaard!”

He scored only once in 61 games for Prince George in 2000-1. He recorded 245 penalty minutes, ranking eighth in the W.H.L. He was, finally, an enforcer, appreciated by one team, feared by all others.

This continues Pulitzer Week on Storyboard. On Tuesday, Anna Griffin looked at Walt Harrington’s story about Pulitzer-winning poet Rita Dove’s writing process in our “Why’s this so good?” series. On Friday, we’ll post a video, transcript and interactive index of Pulitzer-winning novelist Paul Harding’s recent standing-room-only appearance at the Nieman Foundation.

In the meantime, you’ll find the citations, works and biographies for all of this year’s Pulitzer winners here.

May 20 2011

17:26

Amy Ellis Nutt on writing a Pulitzer-winning story: tell “readers something they don’t know”

The Star-Ledger’s Amy Ellis Nutt won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for feature writing with The Wreck of the Lady Mary,” her five-chapter story on the sinking of a scallop boat off the coast of New Jersey. An adjunct instructor with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a former Nieman fellow, Nutt has long been devoted to narrative journalism. We spoke by phone with her this week about the Lady Mary and her earlier project, “Jon Sarkin’s Story: The Accidental Artist,” which was a Pulitzer finalist in 2009. In these excerpts from our talk, Nutt describes combining technical information with storytelling, explains how she organizes her stories, and shares one phrase everyone should know.

How did you first come to the story of the Lady Mary?

The first piece was hearing about it as a news story. Because we’re based in Newark, which is just eight miles outside of New York, and Cape May is at the very opposite end of New Jersey, we don’t carry a lot of cape news.

I followed it over the weeks mainly as a news story and realized when men were still missing that there was confusion about what exactly had happened. I became intrigued with the idea that if six men had been killed in a car accident, there would be a lot of front page stories, a lot of public outcry to find out what happened. And the more I looked into what happens to fisherman at sea, the more I realized I wanted to do a story that looked not only at the dangers and the lives that these men lead, but tried to solve the mystery of what happened.

Have you done this kind of in-depth investigative reporting before, or is that a new hat for you?

I have to say it is. It was totally thrilling and absorbing. It took over my life, and in some ways, I’m still living it, because the Coast Guard has not yet released its report, more than two years later.

But I’ve done a mixture of things in the past few years. Most of my projects have been typically explanatory. My last one, though, “The Accidental Artist,” was definitely a combination of some explanatory and a lot of narrative.

So this was a very different beast for me, and frankly, if there’s a place for narrative investigative journalism, this was the perfect story. The drama of this story lent itself tremendously to a narrative approach. There was the background on these men and their lives and their last moments. There was also a wealth of documentation about phone calls and where the boat was, as well as the record of the Coast Guard – what calls were made and when – that I could use as a narrative framework.

Did you struggle with the structure of the story?

Not as much as I have in the past. I knew very early on where I wanted to begin the story, and that was with José in the water. And then I knew I would go back and tell the story chronologically. The difficulty of switching gears and going into the more investigative and explanatory stuff – I knew I couldn’t wait on that until the very end, that I had to weave it in earlier.

But ultimately it didn’t prove to be that difficult. The fact is that I have terrific editors: the editor of the paper, Kevin Whitmer, and most importantly the editor I work closely with, the managing editor, David Tucker, who is just a marvel at both narrative and investigative journalism. He was the perfect editor to lead me through this.

Did you know right away that you’d say that all the men aboard except José Arias had died? That information comes really early in the story.

I went back and forth with my editor on that: “How much do we tell the reader?” The fact that we tell them they died, does that reduce some of the power of the story? The more I looked into the story of what happened and some of the terrible coincidences and tiny mistakes that contributed to this tragedy, I realized that I could tell this story in a compelling way, that even though people knew six men had died, it was why they died and how they died that would keep people reading.

The Sarkin story [“The Accidental Artist”] is a look at a single human, almost from his point of view, while the Lady Mary story is a sweeping account of a shipwreck. Do you have common ways of thinking of stories, or did those projects feel completely different when you were working on them?

Obviously, you use the same tools. First of all, I’m a complete geek. One of the things about journalism that I love is doing research. With “The Accidental Artist,” I had written about neuroscience before, so the subject matter of mind and consciousness was very familiar and interesting to me. But I loved delving deeper into finding out about the brain along with Jon and his search.

It was the same way with the Lady Mary. Frankly, I’d been out on a sailboat once, and I’d never been out on a scallop boat until I did the research for this story. My port and starboard were mixed up because I was a rower in college, and you row backwards.

If anything, I started with a deficit, so I loved doing that part of the research, before I even started writing: interviewing fishermen, learning about scallops and the life of fishermen, government regulation and the history of safety regulations. And then there’s learning about the mechanics of a boat at sea and the tremendous complexity of that. We talked with experts in rudder design, in buoyancy and how ships sink. That was almost overwhelming, because of the sheer complexity of how difficult it is to reconstruct these things.

But my approach to both stories was very similar, in so far as I knew that I wanted to take a very personal, intimate look at, in one case, one man’s life with his family and how things changed, and in the other case, the men on the boat and who they were. It’s being able to interweave the personal with the technical – in one case, the neurological, and in another case, the maritime.

I always go back to something that Jim Willse, the former editor of The Star-Ledger, told me before I did my first series some years ago. It involved a lot of science writing, and he said, “The success of the story will rise or fall depending on your ability to make analogies.” If I have a talent, I think it’s being able to do that, being able to simplify things, not so much that you talk down to readers but enough to make it understandable.

In the Sarkin piece, I think I remember you describing a blood vessel as thin as a thread and as short as a stitch. Is that the kind of analogy you’re talking about, or are you talking about bigger metaphors?

Both, really. It’s always important to make something as real and as visual as possible to a reader. So you could say “a really tiny blood vessel,” or “800 mm wide,” or something like that, but if you can compare it to something that everyone can relate to, that gives readers a much more palpable sense of exactly what you’re talking about.

On the other hand I’m always looking for larger metaphors. In Jon Sarkin’s life, the sea itself plays a big role. It also conveys the sense that things are always changing even as they stay the same. In many ways that’s also true of “The Wreck of the Lady Mary.” I think that my background in poetry, which is a lot of what I studied in college, along with philosophy, helps. Poetry is still a strong thing in my life. David Tucker is actually a very accomplished published poet. That way of thinking in larger metaphors and images very much helps in narrative writing.

On a more mundane level, how do you work? Do you type on a computer with an outline, map out your stories on posterboard, use index cards?

It can vary a bit. I did a project a couple of years ago on a 12-way kidney transplant. I definitely used a dry eraser board for that. But in most of my stories, I know early on where I want to begin and where I want to end. And then after I’m pretty far into the research and the interviews, I get a sense of how it needs to be broken down into chapters. I’ll outline that and say, “This is how the first part needs to end and this how it needs to begin.” And I’ll do that for each part.

A lot of writers that we’ve interviewed say that once they’ve done the bulk of the reporting that they’ll often read through everything for a section and then set it aside and write without that material there, so that they can keep the narrative arc of the story going. Is that how you work?

That’s very much how I do it, so that when I’m writing I’m really writing. I’ll know sometimes, “Oh I’ve got to fill in more information here.” And when I’m through writing that section, I’ll go back and fill it in. By the time I’m ready to write, it’s really pretty much in my head, and I know where I’m going. But I will go back and flesh things out, especially details.

People talk about stories different ways. What do you want a story to do?

With “The Wreck of the Lady Mary,” there were a couple things I really wanted. First, I wanted for people to connect with these men, who were, by and large, deeply flawed, simple human beings who did one thing really well. I wanted people to connect with them, because you live in a place like Boston or New Jersey, and you live on a coast, you hear stories all the time, “Oh, a boat went down,” and that’s all you ever hear. Sometimes you get a TV interview with the wife waiting at home, but that’s it.  I obviously wanted to fill out the lives of these men, what their lives are all about.

At the same time, I very much wanted there to be a sense of outrage that readers would have and hoped that it might spur the Coast Guard or someone else to take a deeper look.

And with the Sarkin story, what were you looking to do?

With that, it’s a story of one man and his family, and it’s an odd, close-to-unique, rare kind of story. However, there are a lot of things that I would hope a reader could take away from that. You hear it often, “the resilience of the human brain.” It is a remarkable thing that a brain can suffer so much damage, that a person can lose so much and yet not only survive but flourish, and that relationships can radically change, that losses can accrue, and yet people stay together and learn how to love one another differently.

So what would you say to the thousands of wannabe feature writers and current feature writers who hope to win a Pulitzer one day? Is there one lesson for writing a fabulous true story?

Honestly, no one ever sets out to win a Pulitzer Prize-winning story. I knew I had a great story here, but there was a mystery that I wanted to solve. You want to impart to readers something they don’t know, something they’re not familiar with, something that will open their eyes or their hearts or their mind in a new way. That’s what every writer would love to be able to do: to tell a story well enough that someone says, “Wow, I never knew that” or “That makes me think differently” or “I want to know more about that.”

I tell young journalists – in some ways, I still feel like I am a young journalist, because I started a little bit late in my life – there’s no greater profession. The personal satisfaction of being able to tell other people’s stories is a gift, and one that I never forget. And the fact that I can make a living doing that is still remarkable to me.

I also love the fact that I never know what I’m going to be working on day to day. That’s a pretty exciting way to come to work.

Whose work has inspired you? What are you reading now?

When I’m working on a big project, to get inspired and get into the mood, I’ll read a lot of literature. For instance, when I was working on a memory series, I read Proust for the first time and fell in love with it. When I was working on the Lady Mary story, I read Joseph Conrad and Melville.

But what have I read that’s inspired me? So often I read a book and then forget it. One thing I did read recently that I hadn’t read in about 30 years was “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is a big hero of mine. What I’m reminded of and inspired by is that it is a brilliant book but really deeply flawed. It’s his first work, and so he throws everything in there. And you can see his brilliance, but you can also see that it’s a little all over the place. Knowing where Fitzgerald ended up, at least writing-wise, it inspires me to know that even the greatest writers start out hot and glorious but still need a lot of work. That’s how I approach what I do.

Hot and glorious?

Gosh, no! [Laughs.] I learn something from every story I write, and I get better. I tell young writers, “Just keep writing. You’re not going to get worse. You can only get better.” Maybe there are some people that never do, but you’re not going to get worse.

If I didn’t have an editor to save my ass, I’m frightened to think of some of the things that would have gotten in the paper. I said to this book editor of mine, when I published my first book, “You know, I’m a good writer, but I’m a really good rewriter.” I take instructions really well. When there’s a good editor who tells you what you need, what you don’t have, and what you need to take away, I love that. There’s nothing better for me than someone to tell me, “All right you’ve got something here, but it needs work, and this is what you need to do to make it better.”

Anything else you want to share with our readers—maybe you have a secret obsession with Marilyn Monroe?

Klaatu barada nikto. You always need to know that.

April 18 2011

20:14

Another online milestone for the Pulitzer Prize

It’s prize season for journalists, and today came the biggest of them all: the Pulitzer Prizes. And the trend toward online-only news organizations playing a part in what has traditionally been a newspaper game continues.

In the journalism categories, of the 1,097 total entries, about 100 came from online-only outlets, according to Pulitzer officials. Those entries came from 60 different news organizations. That’s a healthy growth curve, considering that in 2009, the first year online entries were welcomed, 37 organizations submitted 65 entries.

In the winner’s circle again is ProPublica, which took home its second Pulitzer this year. But unlike the nonprofit’s last prize, which was for a story published in The New York Times Magazine, this year’s prize (for reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein) was for work that didn’t move through a partner newspaper (although they did partner with radio’s Planet Money and This American Life). As ProPublica chief Paul Steiger wrote, “This year’s Prize is the first for a group of stories not published in print.”

ProPublica’s win follows on the heels of last year’s Pulitzer for Mark Fiore and his animated editorial cartoons, which had a home on SFGate, not in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the ground-breaking Pulitzer for PolitiFact in 2009.

At the same time more online-only content is receiving a nod from the Pulitzer committee, it’s also worth noting that more projects are entering the awards that include a digital component. In this year’s journalism entries nearly a third featured online content, which is up from just one fourth last year. Of the finalists digital content was featured in seven winners, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s award for Explanatory Reporting and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Investigative Reporting prize among others.

A hearty congratulations to all the winners and finalists — especially the three past or present Nieman Fellows to be honored. They are current Nieman Fellow Tony Bartelme (finalist in Feature Writing), 2005 Nieman Fellow Amy Ellis Nutt (winner in Feature Writing), and Mary Schmich (finalist in Commentary). Nutt’s win is the 107th Pulitzer (if our quick count is right) to be won by a Nieman Fellow.

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