Can the N.Y. Times ride Apple all the way to a Pulitzer?

Foxconn workers scrambling for jobs. Photo: Donald Chan/Reuters

FORTUNE — If you wondered where the New York Times‘ massive, 9-part iEconomy series was headed, here’s a clue:  Part 1 was published on Jan. 21, and Part 9 on Thursday, Dec. 27 — just under the wire, we presume, for the Dec. 25 electronic submission deadline for the 2012 Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism.

For reporters who know about these things, the series had Pulitzer written all over it from the start.

The plan was simple: Single out Apple (AAPL) as what biologists might call a “conspicuous megafauna” — the high-profile stand-in for thousands U.S. firms that have been shipping American jobs overseas. Then, with only a couple detours into automobiles and robots, a team of Times reporters set out to dissect Tim Cook’s company one layer at a time:

Part 1: How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work
Part 2: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad
Part 3: How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Global Taxes
Part 4: Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay
Part 7: The Patent, Mighty as a Sword
Part 8: As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living
Part 9: Signs of Changes Taking Hold in Electronics Factories in China

Never mind that Apple’s competitors all outsource work, sidestep taxes, use patents as weapons and turn an even blinder eye to labor abuses in the Asian supply chain. The fact is, Apple — always a draw for readers — made a big, fat, easy target.

But the Times, which has won a record 108 Pulitzers, knows better than any other American newspaper that what the prize committee wants to see is evidence that all this reporting has led to real, substantive reform. And that’s what Part 9 — “Signs of Changes” — sets out to show. The nut graphs:

In March… a critical meeting had occurred between Foxconn’s top executives and a high-ranking Apple official. The companies had committed themselves to a series of wide-ranging reforms. Foxconn, China’s largest private employer, pledged to sharply curtail workers’ hours and significantly increase wages — reforms that, if fully carried out next year as planned, could create a ripple effect that benefits tens of millions of workers across the electronics industry, employment experts say…

The shifts under way in China may prove as transformative to global manufacturing as the iPhone was to consumer technology, say officials at over a dozen electronics companies, worker advocates and even longtime factory critics.

Did the paper nail it? We’ll find out in April.

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