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The AP, NPR, CNN among winners of RCC’s annual Wilbur Awards

Thursday, April 07, 2016  
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Religion Communicators Council honors 22 for work during 2015

NEW YORK — Honoring excellence in communicating religious issues, values and themes in 2015, the Religion Communicators Council handed out 22 Wilbur Awards to individuals in the secular media April 2 in areas of print and online journalism, book publishing, broadcasting and motion pictures.

Winners included representatives from Own: The Oprah Winfrey Network, The Associated Press, CBS News, National Public Radio, Vanity Fair, CNN and The Atlantic, to name a few.

Accepting Didi Tang’s Wilbur for her report on “China’s Crackdown on Crosses” was her colleague from The Associated Press, Rachel Zoll.

Zoll read a statement from Tang, who was born in China and has reported for AP for 12 years. In it, Tang wrote about the importance of the story and the danger it brought on many people who spoke with her for the report. Many of the courageous people that spoke with her and stood up against the government have been jailed in the wake of the report, she wrote.

In accepting the Wilbur for radio series, Hansi Lo Wang of the New York Bureau of National Public Radio said that the NPR series on Pope Francis was right in organization’s wheelhouse.

“We try to explore how people are living out in the world,” he said.

He continued, saying that the series showed how “the Pope has brought people together across viewpoints.”

The Religion Communicators Council has presented Wilbur Awards annually since 1949. Secular communicators enter work in eight categories. Juries of media professionals, coordinated by council members across the country, evaluate submissions on content, creativity, impact and excellence in communicating religious values.

The award is named for the late Marvin C. Wilbur, a pioneer in religious public relations, longtime council leader and former Presbyterian Church executive. Dr. Andrew (Andy) Rawls has produced the Wilbur program for 26 years.

In accepting her Wilbur for a series of articles Betsy Hiel, the Middle East correspondent for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, said covering religious issues in the media is vitally important.

“As I live in the Middle East issues of religion are being debated in coffee houses and on many of the battlefields today and it can’t be overlooked,” she said.

From time to time the Council’s board of governors confers a special Wilbur Award. It recognizes a person or organization whose body of work makes a substantial and unique contribution to public discourse on religious faith and values or interfaith dialogue and understanding.

Past recipients of special Wilbur Awards include Bob Abernethy of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly; John P. Blessington of CBS-TV’s Religion and Culture series; President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter; John Dart, former religion editor of the Los Angeles Times; Martin Marty of The Christian Century; Bill Moyers of Bill Moyers Journal; Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts; and filmmaker Ken Wales.

The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, the first woman minister to head the National Council of Churches and first woman Director of Religion at the historic Chautauqua Institution received a special award this year from the Religion Communicators Council.

The honor recognizes Campbell’s over 30 years of public and behind the scenes work in all forms of media. She was spokesperson for the National Council of Churches on national and international issues for nearly a decade.

Rev. Campbell is a devoted activist for peace and social justice, believing that citizens in a democracy must act on their conscience. This commitment was crafted during her life changing work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was deepened in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu referred to her as “a woman of courage and compassion” pointing out that Rev. Campbell was the only woman in the clergy procession of over 200 for his enthronement as Archbishop of South Africa.

2016 Wilbur Award winners (for work produced during 2015):

Newspaper Articles: National or Top 15 Metro Markets

  • “China’s Crackdown on Crosses,” Didi Tang, writer; The Associated Press

Newspaper Articles: All Other Markets

  • “Series of Religious Articles,” Betsy Hiel, Middle East correspondent; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Newspaper Articles: Commentary, Blog, or Column

  • “Faith Matters” columns, David Waters, writer; The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Magazine Articles: National or Top 15 Metro Markets

  • “Our Man in the Vatican,” Paul Elie, writer, David Friend, editor; Vanity Fair Magazine

Magazine Articles: All Other Markets

  • “Falling in Love with the Earth: Francis’ Faithful Ecology,” Jacob J. Erickson, writer; Religion Dispatches

Magazine Articles: Commentary, Blog, or Column

  • “Saint Fred,” Jonathan Merritt, author; The Atlantic Magazine

Books: Non-Fiction

  • Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution, Diana Butler Bass, writer; HarperOne an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Feature Films: Documentary (30 minutes or longer)

  • “The Armor of Light,” Abigail E. Disney, director; Kathleen Hughes co-director and producer, Eva Anisko, producer; Purple Mickey Productions in association with Fork Films

Digital Communications: Faith-Based Blogs

  • “Christians, Conflict, and Change,” David Gushee, writer; Religion News Service

Digital Communications: Online News Stories

  • “How an Evangelical Creationist Accepted Evolution,” Rachel Gross, writer; Slate

Digital Communications: Multimedia

  • “How the Ultimate Scandal Saved One Pastor,” John Blake; CNN

Television & Cable: Network News or National Syndication (up to 8 minutes)

  • “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley: Football Nun,” Steve Capus, executive producer: Dean Reynolds, correspondent; Kim Godwin, senior broadcast producer; Wendy Krantz, producer; Larry Goldfine, editor

Television & Cable: Network News or National Syndication (8 minutes or longer)

  • “CBS Sunday Morning: The Girl in the Picture,” Jane Pauley, correspondent: Mary Lou Teel; producer, Lauren Barnello, producer/editor; Rand Morrison, executive producer

Television & Cable: Public Broadcasting (up to 8 minutes)

  • “Rancher Nuns,” Lucky Severson, correspondent; Trent Harris, producer; Arnie Labaton, executive producer; Bob Abernethy, host; Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Television & Cable: Public Broadcasting (8 minutes or longer)

  • “CHAPLAINS,” Martin Doblmeier, producer/director; Ellen Tripler, Nathan DeWild, producers; Journey Films, American Public Television

Television & Cable: News – Local

  • “Reverse Food Truck,” David Schechter, reporter; Taylor Lumsden, camera operator; Brian Hardcastle, chief editor; WFAA-TV/ABC, Dallas, TX

Television & Cable: Documentary (up to 30 minutes)

  • “Marriage, Religion, and Modern Life,” John P. Blessington, senior executive producer; Elizabeth Kineke, executive producer; CBS Religion & Culture

Television & Cable: Documentary (30 minutes or longer)

  • OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, “Belief,” Oprah Winfrey, Sheri Salata, David Shadrack Smith, and Jonathan Sinclair, executive producers

Television & Cable: Made-for-TV Movie

  • Saints and Strangers, Part 1, from National Geographic Channel; Gina Matthews, Grant Scharbo, Teri Weinberg, Eric Overmyer, and Seth Fisher, executive producers; Peter McAleese, producer; Paul A. Edwards, director; Chip Johannessen, Walon Green, Eric Overmyer, Seth Fisher, writers

Television & Cable: Interview

  • “SuperSoul Sunday: Jimmy Carter interviewed by Oprah Winfrey,” Tara Montgomery, executive producer; Jenna Kostelnik, Amy Ward, and Eric Peltier, co-executive producer; OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

Radio or Podcasts: Single Program

  • “Israel’s Newest TV Stars: Nice Jewish Boys From a Synagogue Near You,” Laura Kwerel, senior producer, Interfaith Voices

Radio or Podcasts: Series of Programs (2 or more)

  • “NPR: Pope Francis, Catholicism and His visit to Cuba and the US,” Andrea Bruce, editor; National Public Radio
Religion Communicators Council logoAbout the Religion Communicators Council

Founded in 1929, the Religion Communicators Council is the oldest public relations professional association in the United States. The council has more than 400 members and six regional chapters. Members represent Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish organizations and work in advertising, print and electronic communication, and public relations.


Shirley Struchen

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