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2003 RNA Contest Winners

Religion Newswriters Association announces 2003 award winners#

SEATTLE—The Religion Newswriters Association today announced the winners of its 2003 contests for excellence in religion reporting, awarding nearly $10,000 in prizes at its annual awards banquet, held at the downtown Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Winners in the eight print and broadcast contests were selected from among 242 entries and thousands of individual stories that were judged by panels of current or former reporters and editors.

For the first time RNA presented its Chandler Award for Student Reporter of the Year in Religion News, which rewards excellence in religion stories written by undergraduate or graduate college students.

Funded by former Los Angles Times religion writer Russell Chandler and his wife M.L., the $500 inaugural award went to Manya Brachear, for stories written while she was a student at Columbia University. Brachear began a job this month as a resident at the Chicago Tribune.

"This writer wins points for ambition. The stories reflected more variety and depth than the other entries and a greater sensitivity to nuance and to diversity of faith-all important hallmarks of good religion reporting,” judges said of Brachear’s entry.

Gayle White of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution won the $3,500 first place Templeton Award for Religion Reporter of the Year. The Templeton Award, funded by The John Templeton Foundation, honors the breadth and depth of a journalist’s skills. It is named for philanthropist John Templeton.

"The reporter conveyed strong drama in each entry,” judges said. "The fact-filled stories also took the readers to other places, often mixing past and present nicely, and working conflicting ideas and emotions into cogent tales. The story of multiple transplants and faith-tested health rises was a gripping one.”

White also took first in the Templeton Award in 1991.

First place in Supple Religion Writer of the Year Award and $1,000 went to Frank Brown, a freelancer who writes for Religion News Service. Brown is based in Moscow and traveled from overseas to accept the award.

"This entry, with its clean writing and clear description, stood out among its competitors,” according to judges. "It showed depth and breadth; doing a fine job of taking the complexities of religious topics and explaining them to an American audience.”

Eric Gorski won first place and $500 in the Cornell Award, which is given to the religion reporter of the year at a mid-sized newspaper. Gorski won for stories published at The Gazette, in Colorado Springs. Gorski now covers religion for The Denver Post.

Judges praised Gorski’s leads, endings and use of quotes. "This entry was so well reported and the stories so well detailed that it rose like cream to the top…you don’t see better leads than the one about the megachurch pastor,” judges said.

The Cassels Award is given to the religion reporter of the year at newspapers with circulations of 50,000 and below. This year’s winner of the $500 first place prize is Gloria LaBounty of The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass.

LaBounty "wins the Cassels Award by responding better than any other contestant to the biggest religion story of the year and by showing the strongest variety of stories and telling them well,” judges wrote. "This reporter clearly benefited from the accident of geography” by working in a community where one of the most notorious early cases of sexual abuse by a priest was uncovered. "The depth of the reporter’s story about (the priest’s) victims shows that this reporter knew how to find and tell the powerful local angle to the story,” judges said.

The Schachern Award recognizes excellence in religion sections or pages in three circulation-based categories: Under 50,000, mid-sized newspapers and publications with circulations over 150,000. All winning papers receive a citation.

The Dallas Morning News’ six-page section was named winner of the best religion section or page among papers with circulations over 150,000. This is Dallas’ seventh time for the honor, tying the record previously set by the St. Petersburg Times as the paper with the most wins since the award’s creation in 1969. The Morning News’s section, now edited by Bruce Tomaso, also won in 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997 (tying with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), 1995 and 1994.

Judges said the section won for its complete package. "Judges were particularly impressed with the lead stories, many of which had a strong analytical component, and with the localization of national issues. Noteworthy examples include stories on church schisms, homosexuality, religion in child custody cases and the sex scandals in the Catholic Church…the judges also noted the good, useful shorter news items and the excellent page six, devoted to religion and media.”

In the Schachern Contest of mid-sized newspapers, The Grand Rapids Press, edited by Charles Honey, won. "The judges considered this section a worthy contender in any circulation class. Filling seven pages each week is a commendable commitment of resources….lead stories aren’t just good features.” This is the third year the paper won the Schachern Award. The Press was the top mid-sized paper in 2000 and won the award in 1986 before the contest was divided into three circulation sizes.

The Altoona (Pa.) Mirror won for the best page or section among papers with circulations 50,000 and under. Linda Gracey edits the section, which judges praised for the mostly local content in this eight-page weekly tabloid section. "While many (stories) are news briefs or short features that give a feel for the local faith communities, other features have some depth and are nicely tied to national and international news.

RNA gave three broadcast awards this year, each with a $500 prize. This is the second year for RNA’s broadcast awards.

In the Radio Excellence in Religion Reporting contest for both local and national markets, Hillary Wicai won for work done at KWMU-FM in St. Louis.

Judges said "St. Louis listeners are ‘truly blessed’ to hear the diversity of religious topics objectively covered by Hillary’s outstanding work. Beyond the voice-which is crystal clear and never grating-her writing sings and her sound selections soar. Her coverage of what it is like to be a Muslim in a land of rainbows of religion shines.”

In the local television market, judges selected Amy George as winner of the Television Excellence in Religion Reporting award. George, who reports for Huntsville, Ala., station WHNT-TV, "is exemplary in several ways. The writing is simple and direct. It is easily understood. Too, George obviously cares little about how much on-camera time she gives herself. The story is primary. Finally, her passion for the beat is clear,” according to judges.

The second annual award for television reporting in national markets went to Deryl Davis of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, who won the award last year as well.

Judges said they "particularly liked the way Davis explored a diversity of religious thought and topics in a way that could have been slow and boring, but instead had edge, newsworthiness and strong elements of storytelling … Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly should be commended for finding a newsworthy, interesting and balanced way to enlighten Americans about one of the most powerful and significant forces in American culture-religion.”

2003 RNA Contest Winners & Links to Stories#

Cassels Award for Excellence in Religion Reporting

First place: Gloria LaBounty, (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle

Second place: Rhonda Parks Manville, Santa Barbara (Calif.) News-Press

Third place: Robin Galiano, Longview (Texas) News-Journal

Chandler Award for Student Reporter of the Year in Religion

First place: Manya Brachear, Columbia University, for work done at The Dallas Morning News

Second place: Jamie Lusk, Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University

Third place: Lacy Elwood, Baylor Lariat, Baylor University

Cornell Award for Excellence in Religion Reporting

First place: Eric Gorski, for work done at The Gazette (Colorado Springs)

Second place: Tom Kisken, Ventura County Star

Third place: Beth McMurtrie, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Radio Excellence in Religion Reporting

Hillary Wicai, KWMU-FM, St. Louis, Mo.   

Schachern for Excellence in Religion Pages and Sections

Small Papers (50,000 and below): Altoona (Pa.) Mirror, section editor: Linda Gracey

 Medium (50,001-150,000): The Grand Rapids Press, section editor: Charles Honey

 Large (150,001 and over): The Dallas Morning News, section editor: Bruce Tomaso


Supple Award for Religion Writer of the Year

First place: Frank Brown, Religion News Service

Second place: Yonat Shimron, The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer

Third place: David Briggs, The Plain Dealer

Television Excellence in Religion Reporting

National: Deryl Davis, formerly of Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly

Local: Amy George, WHNT-TV, Huntsville, Ala.

Templeton Religion Reporter of the Year

First place: Gayle White, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Second place: William Lobdell, Los Angeles Times

Third place: Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times


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2018 Chandler Student Religion Reporting Award

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