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2001 RNA Contest Winners

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Religion Newswriters Association honors best in religion writing, design at awards ceremony

Cambridge, Mass.—Twelve religion writers and three newspaper sections won more than $8,000 in prizes at the 2001 Religion Newswriters Association’s Awards Banquet Sat., Sept. 22, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel.

The banquet, held during RNA’s Annual Conference, was in honor of the winners of RNA’s seven annual writing and reporting contests that promote excellence in religion coverage in the secular media. RNA First Vice President Sandi Dolbee, who is the contest chair, presented the awards.

Douglas Todd of The Vancouver Sun received the largest prize of the evening–$3,500 for first place in the Templeton Religion Reporter of the Year Award. Contest judges cited Todd’s ability to "find stories simultaneously novel and weighty, from a corrupt Christian radio personality, to Aboriginal claims against Christians, to financial mismanagement of the local Catholic diocese.” Another quality that attracted the judges to Todd’s work was how he shows "respect, but not an undue reverence for the religions he covers.”

In second place for the Templeton Contest, Larry Witham of The Washington Times was chosen for his depth in analyzing complex religious issues, judges said. Witham took home $400 for his efforts, along with compliments from the judges that his work, including stories about homosexual unions and a profile of Al Gore, is "compelling journalism and important religion writing.”

David Gibson, reporter for The Star-Ledger, received third place in the Templeton Contest, along with a $200 check. Gibson, who won first place in the contest last year, stood out to the judges most for his profiles of Pius IX and John XXIII. Judges said, "the writer brings these two church figures alive and illuminates all the controversy that swirls around the effort to promote them at the Vatican. This religion reporter demonstrated not only talent but a remarkable dexterity in these portraits.”

RNA awarded the $1,000 first place prize in the James O. Supple contest for Religion Writer of the Year to Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times. Not only did the Supple judges applaud Watanabe’s sustained use of "sharp detail, clear writing and logical organization,” they also directed the members of RNA to "read these entries—particularly the pieces on Muslims and exorcism—and to study how the writer takes command of the storytelling, drawing power from simple words, short sentences and an authoritative voice.”

Second place in the Supple contest was given to Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek. He, too, was honored for engaging and controlling the reader and also for his "sparing use of quotes” that help to strengthen his reporting. Woodward received $400.

In third place for Supple, Liz Szabo of the Virginian-Pilot was awarded $200 for her talents in writing "vividly drawn central characters and street-level topics—such as the ‘parallel universe’ occupied by Christian merchandising, a Kosavar family’s unhappy transition to American life and the struggle to integrate a Baptist church before its white congregation died off.”

Mid-sized newspapers with circulations between 50,001 and 150,000 were honored in the Cornell Contest for religion writing. Robert Sibley of the The Ottawa Citizen was awarded $500 for first place for his "diary-style” accounts of a 500-mile Camino journey from France to Spain. His personal touches grabbed the judges, one of them saying, "Robert’s honest searching for a rationale to ‘go the distance’ on this grueling journey helps readers, whether religious or not, to identify with his inner spirit.”

The Record’s Charles Austin won second place in the Cornell Contest. The judges said Austin "writes concisely, adroitly covers a breaking story, brings new perspective to trends in religion and puts traditional holy days in an innovative framework.” Austin received $250 for his talents.

Larry Witham of The Washington Times received third place and a $100 check in the Cornell Contest for his stories on changes in Black churches and the worship trends resulting from immigration. "The third place winner displays notable ability to amass abundant material and creatively uses it to help readers understand a diverse set of current issues and trends,” judges said.

Judges also awarded an honorable mention in the Cornell contest. Lisa Kozleski of The Morning Call was praised for her efforts in covering the canonization of U.S. Saint Sister Katherine Drexel. "...the continuing mission of the Blessed Sacrament are colorfully described in details easily understood by secular readers.”

The Cassels contest for small newspapers (circulation sizes 50,000 and under) awarded three prizes totaling $850. First place was awarded to Larry Mitchell from the Chico Enterprise-Record. The judges praised Mitchell for his depth and grace in writing. One judge said, "The reporter provided thorough and thoughtful analysis of the most important issues in religion today.”

Second place in the Cassels contest was awarded to the Longview News-Journal’s Robin Galiano. Her attention to details stood out to the judges, as well as her ability to use the wide variety of her sources "to examine and explain issues.” She took home $250 for her efforts.

Melanie B. Smith of the Decatur Daily took third place in the Cassels contest for her "strength of creative story ideas and capable execution.” Smith took home a $100 check and compliments from the judges for her stories, including bioethics, alternative healing and religious tracts.

In addition to writing awards, the RNA also handed out citations for best religion pages or sections in the Schachern Contests for small, medium and large newspaper categories.

Winning the large category and holding on to first place another year was the section from The Dallas Morning News. Calling it the "gold standard,” the judges applauded Dallas for its treatment of in-depth news stories on the front page and the variety of faiths and columnists the paper uses each week. Diane Connolly edits the Dallas section.

In the mid-sized newspaper category, The Grand Rapids Press, edited by Charles Honey, won a citation for its local news, features and strong columns. "The total package provides depth and variety in subject matter and in religions,” judges said.

The Abilene Reporter-News picked up the small newspaper category Schachern Award. The judges said, "...each issue of this paper provided a good mix of feature and issue-oriented stories, almost all locally written.” Loretta Fulton edits the section.

The RNA is the nation’s only association for journalists who cover religion in the secular media. The organization has 240 full-time members and approximately 110 subscribers and associate members.




2001 RNA Contest Finalists

Cassels Award

  • Thomas Chesser, The Capital (Wis.) Times
  • Anne Cumming, Greeley Daily Tribune
  • Robin Galiano, Longview (Texas) News-Journal
  • Ernie Garcia, North Jersey Herald & News
  • Linda Hanson, Duluth (Minn.) News-Tribune
  • Gloria LaBounty, The (Mass.) Sun Chronicle
  • Larry Mitchell, Chico (Calif.) Enterprise-Record
  • Rhonda Parks Manville, Santa Barbara News-Press
  • Melanie B. Smith, The Decatur (Ala.) Daily
  • Judy Totts, The Medina County (Ohio) Gazette


Cornell Award

  • Charles Austin, The (N.J.) Record
  • Julia Duin, The Washington Times
  • Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune
  • Tom Kisken, Ventura County Star
  • Lisa Kozleski, The (Penn.) Morning Call
  • Christopher Lewis, The Record
  • Beth McMurtrie, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Carrie Moore, The Deseret (Utah) News
  • Robert Sibley, The Ottawa Citizen
  • Larry Witham, The Washington Times


Schachern Award

Small Newspapers

  • Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News
  • Longview (Texas) News-Journal
  • Owensboro (Ky.) Messenger-Inquirer

Mid-sized Newspapers

  • The Deseret (Utah) News
  • The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press
  • The Wichita (Kansas) Eagle

Large Newspapers

  • Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
  • The Dallas Morning News
  • The Kansas City (Mo.) Star


Supple Award

  • Julia Lieblich, Associated Press
  • Mary Beth McCauley, freelancer for The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Carol McGraw, The Orange County (Calif.) Register
  • David O’Reilly, The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • Richard Scheinin, San Jose Mercury News
  • Liz Szabo, The Virginian-Pilot
  • Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
  • Gayle White, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Ken Woodward, Newsweek


Templeton Award 

  • Charles Austin, The (N.J.) Record
  • David Gibson, The (N.J.) Star-Ledger
  • Donald Lattin, San Francisco Chronicle
  • Julia Lieblich, Associated Press
  • Robert Mims, The Salt Lake Tribune
  • Richard Ostling, Associated Press
  • Peter Smith, The (Ky.) Courier-Journal
  • Douglas Todd, The Vancouver Sun
  • Jeffrey Weiss, The Dallas Morning News
  • Larry Witham, The Washington Times

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