In September, we chatted with Matt Richtel – the lead reporter on the New York Times’ National Reporting category winning series on driving while texting. The Audit also talked up both National Reporting finalists earlier in 2009; a McClatchy series that took a close look at how Goldman Sachs (an Audit funder) helped fuel the mortgage crisis, and Ken Bensinger’s and Ralph Vartabedian’s investigative work for the Los Angeles Times on Toyota’s disturbing trend of rare, but fatal, sudden acceleration-related incidents and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s role in letting the big automaker slide. The LAT duo’s work is also the subject of the latest Darts and Laurels column in the magazine’s upcoming May/June issue. Stay tuned.

We also lauded International Reporting winner Anthony Shadid’s work for the Washington Post, albeit in a backhanded way. In criticizing David Ignatius’s “helicopter journalism” from the safety of a Blackhawk flyover of Baghdad back in October, CJR contributing editor Michael Massing also praised then-Waco reporter Shadid’s less rosy on-the-ground reporting. Massing wrote, “The view from the ground is left to the Post’s Arabic-speaker Middle East expert, Anthony Shadid, whose report the same day captured the shattering and traumatizing effect the bombings had on local residents … The full extent of the devastation is graphically and gruesomely conveyed in the remarkable photo gallery accompanying Shadid’s article. It provides a stark contrast to Ignatius’s above-it-all account.” Shadid, who was later poached by the New York Times, entered his own work in the Pulitzers and was one of the rare self-entries to win in the history of the prizes, Gissler said yesterday.

Also back in October, our Greg Marx did a Q&A interview with International Reporting finalist, Borzou Daraghi about his coverage of political unrest surrounding the elections in Iran for the Los Angeles Times. Marx’s questioning elicited more than one fascinating insight into the story behind the Prize-winning coverage, including Daraghi’s view of the much-ballyhooed role of social media in covering the unrest. Instead, he emphasized the importance of keeping international bureaus open and journalists on the ground in areas of conflict. Daraghi told CJR:

I never knew about Andrew Sullivan or Nico Pitney or any of these people until I left Iran, because all those Web sites were filtered out. But without a presence on the ground, you’re very, very, very limited. The LA Times has sources in Iran—we have friends of the LA Times, long-time friends. This is the advantage of having a real news operation, we have people who have been going into Iran with the LA Times brand for decades. That makes a big difference. We have built up sources, contacts, relationships with officials even.

Back in June, after International Reporting finalist David Rohde safely escaped the Taliban captors who had kidnapped him seven month earlier, CJR’s former assistant editor Katia Bachko did another illuminating Q&A with New York Times executive editor Bill Keller on the news blackout imposed during Rohde’s long disappearance. Rohde’s insightful and riveting memoir of his harrowing experience as a Taliban prisoner, published later in 2009, was closely followed everywhere, including here at CJR, where we included a wrap-up analyzing what the Times didn’t tell us about the circumstances of his ordeal.

Commentary finalist David Leonhardt has been a longtime CJR darling, linked and discussed numerous times, both for his coverage of the bailout and the healthcare debate, done through an exacting financial lens. Ryan Chittum called him a “must read” for a recent March column that persuasively cast the bankers who created the crisis as looters, called another Leonhardt piece on Social Security back in October a “smart column,” and wrote simply, “I like Leonhardt’s column this morning,” way back in 2008. Back in September, Starkman called Leonhardt’s discussion of medical malpractice within the context of the healthcare debate, “deft” , and that he “asked the right question” in another column about the federal bailout that same month.

We missed the chance to highlight eventual winners in some categories entirely, some big – like the inspiring Cinderella story of 28-year-old Daniel Gilbert’s Public Service award for an investigation chronicling the mismanagement of natural-gas royalties owed to thousands of land owners in southwest Virginia, written for the tiny Bristol, Va., Herald Courier - and some of which don’t usually fall under CJR’s gimlet-eyed purview as media critics (not to say there’s any topic too big or too small for us to tackle).

Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.