Huffington Toast! Her blog empire grows up; A.P. win angers local pols; and ‘New York Times’ hits a double with the Pulitzers

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The website that launched under the name of Arianna Huffington as a content aggregator and celebrity blogging apparatus in 2005 won its first Pulitzer Prize on Monday afternoon.

The winning entry, in the national reporting category, was a series about wounded Afghanistan veterans by David Wood, one of a line of journalistic heavyweights that have joined The Huffington Post over the past year or so, and himself a previous Pulitzer finalist.

HuffPosters got a hint about the breakthrough earlier this afternoon when Huffington and executive editor Tim O'Brien, who edited the Wood series, sent a note to staff asking them to "join us in the 5th floor newsroom at 3 for some good news."

Both editors addressed the staff, and Wood joined the group by phone from D.C. There was champagne and toasts, too, according to people who were there.

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The Huffington Post series becomes only the second piece of digital-only journalism to win a Pulitzer. The first was a series last year by the non-profit investigative outlet ProPublica. The awards were expanded to include online news outlets in 2009, and this year was the first in which nominations were submitted and reviewed electronically.

"This was a transformational year for the Pulitzer Prizes," said Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzers and a professor at Columbia's journalism school, where the awards are announced.

"They're having an impact," he said of online news outlets, noting that there were dozens of submissions from digital shops. "It shows the growing importance of online sites."

"We are delighted and deeply honored," Huffington told Capital in an emailed statement. "We thank the Pulitzer Committee for recognizing Beyond the Battlefield as a tribute worthy of the men and women whose lives it chronicles -- and also for acknowledging that singular, vibrant reporting can thrive on the web, and indeed, be enhanced by it."

Another big winner was The Associated Press, which won the investigative reporting Pulitzer for its coverage of the NYPD's covert Muslim surveillance program.

"It's a real honor and totally humbling," said Matt Apuzzo, one of four reporters on the A.P. team behind the series.

Asked whether he thinks the accolade sends a message to those who have maligned the series as naive and unpatriotic, Apuzzo said: "You expect debate on a subject like this. To the extent it sends a message I think the message is that we can't have a real discussion about important topics like this unless the public has access to the facts. That's what reporters do. And if it generates strong opinions on all sides, all the better."

Indeed, several New York politicians who have been vocal critics of the series quickly blasted the Pulitzer decision.

“It is an absolute disgrace," Long Island Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Capital. "The reporting was the most irresponsible, biased journalism I have seen in years."

Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the New York City Council's Public Safety Committee and a Democrat from Astoria, mocked the wire service for reporting what he said was an obvious strategy.

"Wow, they got an award for breaking the news that the NYPD keeps communities where terrorists come from under surveillance?" he said. "I'm a shoo in next year because I'm working on a one about college coaches keeping high-school basketball teams under surveillance."

Not all local political figures were aghast at the prize, however.

Al Sharpton, who has criticized the department's stop-and-frisk program and, to a lesser extent, its surveillance program, said through a spokeswoman: "I congratulate the writers from the Associated Press who won a Pulitzer Prize for a very important story. They deserve it."

Frank Zimring, a professor at the University at California Berkely Law who has studied and written extensively on the NYPD's response to street crimes wrote: "God bless the Associated Press."

This year's only double-winner, meanwhile, was The New York Times, which took home the Pulitzers for explanatory reporting (David Kocieniewski on corporate tax loopholes) and international reporting (Jeffrey Gettleman on famine and conflict in East Africa).

The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were both shut out this year, as the latter paper has been most years since it was acquired by News Corp. in 2007.

Other recipients include The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Tuscaloosa News, The Seattle Times, Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, Pennsylvania's Patriot News, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Politico (another digitally-oriented first-time winner), Agence France-Presse and The Denver Post.

You can view the full list here.