NEW YORK — The Washington Post and The Guardian won the Pulitzer Prize in public service Monday for revealing the U.S. government's sweeping surveillance efforts in stories based on thousands of secret documents handed over by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
The Pulitzer for breaking news was awarded to The Boston Globe for its "exhaustive and empathetic" coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt that followed.
The winning entries about the NSA's spy programs revealed that the government has collected information about millions of Americans' phone calls and emails based on its classified interpretation of laws passed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The disclosures touched off a furious debate in the U.S. over privacy versus security and led President Barack Obama to impose limits on the surveillance.
The stories were written by Barton Gellman at the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewan MacAskill, whose work was published by The Guardian US, the British newspaper's American operation, based in New York.
"I think this is amazing news," Poitras said in New York. "It's a testament to Snowden's courage, a vindication of his courage and his desire to let the public know what the government is doing."
Snowden, a former contract employee at the NSA, has been charged with espionage and other offense in the U.S. and could get 30 years in prison if convicted. He has received asylum in Russia.
At the Boston Globe, staff members said the announcement of the breaking-news award — coming just a day before the anniversary of the bombing — was met with a moment of silence in the newsroom for the victims.
The attack last April 15 killed three people and wounded more than 260 near the finish line of one of the world's most celebrated races, transforming a celebratory event into a scene of horror and heroics.
Journalism's highest honor, the Pulitzers are given out each year by Columbia University on the recommendation of a board of distinguished journalists and others.
The New York Times won two Pulitzers in photography: Tyler Hicks was honored in the breaking news category for documenting the Westgate mall terrorist attack in Kenya, and Josh Haner was cited for his essay on a Boston Marathon blast victim who lost his legs.
The Center for Public Integrity's Chris Hamby won the award for investigative reporting for his reporting on how lawyers and doctors rigged a system to deny benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease.
The Pulitzer for explanatory reporting was given to the Washington Post's Eli Saslow for reporting on food stamps in America.
No award was handed out for feature writing.
The two winners of the public service award receive gold medals. The other awards carry a $10,000 prize.
The prize for national reporting went to David Philipps of the Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo., for an investigation that found that the Army has discharged escalating numbers of traumatized combat veterans who commit crimes at home.
The Pulitzer for international reporting was awarded to Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters for their reports on the violent persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar.
It was the news agency's first Pulitzer for text reporting.
The Oregonian newspaper was awarded a Pulitzer for editorial writing, with the judges honoring a selection of works that focused on reforms in the public employee pension fund. The prize was the third in the newspaper's history for editorial writing.
The Tampa Bay Times' Will Hobson and Michael LaForgia won in local reporting for writing about the squalid housing for the city's homeless.
"These reporters faced long odds. They had to visit dicey neighborhoods late at night. They had to encourage county officials to be courageous and come forth with records," said Neil Brown, Tampa Bay Times editor and vice president. "And in the end what they were ultimately doing was standing up for people who had no champion and no advocate."
The Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic Inga Saffron won for criticism. At The Charlotte Observer, Kevin Siers received the award for editorial cartooning for his "thought-provoking cartoons drawn with a sharp wit and bold artistic style."
Sig Gissler, who administered the prizes at Columbia, said the reporters on the NSA story "helped stimulate the very important discussion about the balance between privacy and security and that discussion is still going on."