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NEW YORK (Reuters) - ProPublica, in an historic first for online journalism, won a coveted Pulitzer Prize on Monday for investigative reporting about controversial deaths at a New Orleans medical center following Hurricane Katrina.
The chronicle of decisions by doctors caring for patients stranded by the flood, written by Sheri Fink of ProPublica in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine, marked the first time an online service won a top journalism award given annually by the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University.
The nonprofit ProPublica is considered by some to be a new model for journalism as struggling for-profit outlets have fewer resources to put toward investigative reporting. The Times magazine published the Hurricane Katrina piece.
"This is something we're going to see more of in the years ahead as there's more and more collaboration of news entities when it comes to enterprise journalism," Sig Gissler, administrator of the prizes, said in announcing the winners.
In another online first, www.sfgate.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, won for editorial cartooning. The award for the animated cartoons by Mark Fiore marked the first time an Internet-based entry won in that category.
A second Pulitzer for investigative reporting went to Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News for their expose of a rogue police narcotics squad.
Reporter Michael Moss and New York Times staff won in the explanatory reporting category for writing about contaminated hamburger and food safety issues. Reporter Matt Richtel and Times staff won the national reporting award for writing about the hazards of using cell phones and computers while driving.
"The watchdog function of journalism is heavily underscored," Gissler said. "Watchdog journalism is still a vibrant force.
"It's been a tough time for newspapers the last few years," he added. "But amid the gloomy talk, the winners and the finalists are encouraging examples of the high quality of journalism across the nation."
In the public service category, the Bristol, Virginia Herald Courier won for writing about the "murky mismanagement" of natural gas royalties owed to landowners, the board said.
The Washington Post won four prizes. The newspaper's Anthony Shadid, now with The New York Times, won for international reporting for his articles from Iraq, and Gene Weingarten won in feature writing for a story about parents who accidentally kill their children by forgetting them in cars.
The Post's columnist Kathleen Parker won in the commentary category and dance writer Sarah Kaufman won for criticism.
Tod Robberson, Colleen McCain Nelson and William McKenzie of The Dallas Morning News won in editorial writing for their work exploring social and economic disparities in the city.
The prize for breaking news photography went to Mary Chind of The Des Moines Register for a picture of a rescuer trying to save a woman trapped in water. The prize for feature photography went to Craig Walker of The Denver Post for his portrait of a teenager joining the U.S. Army.
Among the prizes for letters, drama and music, "Tinkers," a debut novel by Paul Harding, won for fiction. In drama, the winner was "Next to Normal," music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, a rock musical about mental illness in a suburban family.
Country music's Hank Williams won a posthumous special citation. The board said his "poignant and simple songs ... played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major force." Williams died on January 1, 1953.