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Four more Pulitzers -- but does it matter?

"The effect on the morale of a staff is so strong that it does translate to something you see on the page," said Roy J. Harris Jr., a former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of "Pulitzer's Gold: Behind the Prize for Public Service Journalism."

The impact of a Pulitzer on a newspaper's journalism is "kind of diaphanous, it's hard to put your fingers on it. I just know it when I see it," he said. "Everybody in the office begins to think, 'I can do this kind of work.' The standard is high. It makes everybody sharper."

To many who win a Pulitzer, the jubilation is fleeting. The Post's Gene Weingarten, who won his second prize for feature writing, recalls getting an e-mail from "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau after winning his first Pulitzer two years ago. "Congratulations," it read. "The euphoria will last until your next deadline." Sure enough, Weingarten's editor called about 20 minutes later to complain that he'd just submitted a mediocre column.

"So in some ways," Weingarten said, winning "means almost nothing."

In an online chat Tuesday, Weingarten said it's "a bit of a crapshoot." Indeed, the odds are long. There were about 1,100 entries. Earlier this year, scores of top-flight journalists spent several days at Columbia narrowing them to three finalists in each of 14 journalism categories. The separate 19-member Pulitzer Board selected the winners.

The process is rigorous. It's also imperfect. Finalists, like The Post for its coverage of last year's Fort Hood massacre, fall heartbreakingly short. Some superb entries don't even make the finalist category.

Quality is subjective. Winners may not always represent last year's best work. But they almost always reflect truly exceptional journalism.

"None of us comes to work every day with the aim of winning a Pulitzer," Brauchli told the newsroom on Monday, "but it sure is nice when it happens."

Andrew Alexander can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at For daily updates, read the Omblog.

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