01:55 - Source: CNN
Snowden's NSA leaks earn Pulitzer Prize

Story highlights

The Pulitzer Prize for public service is among journalism's highest awards

Coverage of NSA surveillance, based on leaks by Edward Snowden, won this year

The Washington Post and Guardian US each took the award

The Boston Globe won in breaking news for reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing

(CNN) —  

Two news organizations’ stories about National Security Agency surveillance, based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden, have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service, often described as the highest prize in American journalism.

The Washington Post and United States arm of The Guardian each received the prize on Monday.

The Pulitzers are administered by Columbia University. More than a dozen prizes were announced on Monday, but the recognition of the NSA reporting was most significant because of the questions raised by Snowden’s leaks and the reaction to them.

The Pulitzer board’s decision is bound to be controversial; then again, snubbing the NSA coverage would have been controversial, too.

Snowden, who has been living in Russia while seeking asylum from U.S. prosecution, said in a statement that the Pulitzer board’s recognition of the coverage was “vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government.”

“We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognizes was work of vital public importance.”

While Snowden provided a trove of documents, reporters including Glenn Greenwald, working for the Guardian; Barton Gellman, working for The Post; and Laura Poitras, who worked with both, pored over the raw information, decided with their editors what parts were ethical to publish, and turned the information into stories that stunned readers around the world.

On Monday the staffs of The Guardian and The Post celebrated the prize, ten full months after the first NSA stories were published.

“We’re extremely proud and gratified to have been honoured by the Pulitzer board,” Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of Guardian US, said in a statement published on the British-based news organization’s website.

“It’s been an intense, exhaustive and sometimes chilling year working on this story and we’re grateful for the acknowledgment by our peers that the revelations made by Edward Snowden and the work by the journalists involved represent a high achievement in public service,” Gibson added.

Marty Baron, editor of The Washington Post, told his newsroom that without Snowden, “There would have been no public debate about the proper balance between privacy and national security. As even the President has acknowledged this is a conversation we need to have.”

Other Pulitzer Prize winners included the staff of the Boston Globe, for breaking news reporting in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings; Chris Hamby of the Center for Public Integrity for investigative reporting; Eli Saslow of The Washington Post for explanatory reporting; and two New York Times photographers, Tyler Hicks and Josh Haner.