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Religion Newswriters Association Announces 2007 Contest Winners

Contact: Debra L. Mason, RNA Executive Director, 614-313-0441

SAN ANTONIO, October 2 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Religion Newswriters Association today announced the winners of its 2007 contests for excellence in religion reporting in the mainstream media. The organization, which has more than 570 members and subscribers, awarded nearly $15,000 in prizes at its annual banquet, held this year at the Historic Menger Hotel.

Winners were selected from among 327 entries in 11 categories. Judges included current or former reporters, journalists and scholars who praised the entries as "simply dazzling" with insights "honed and sharp."

Religion Reporter of the Year

The Templeton Religion Reporter of the Year Award recognizes excellence in enterprise reporting and versatility on the religion beat. The first-place winner this year is Sandi Dolbee of The San Diego Union-Tribune. From a feature on a team of young Mormons recreating a pioneer mountain trek, to a moving profile of a local National Guard chaplain whose faith was challenged in Iraq, judges said her stories showed a "knack for finding the heart of a story and presenting it in a way that brings difficult and complex subjects to life." Dolbee received $3,500.

Religion Writer of the Year

The Supple Religion Writer of the Year Award, also judged on a body of work, recognizes a reporter's skill with a particular focus on writing. This year's winner is Eric Gorski for work he did at The Denver Post.  "This writer's package had it all—a hard-hitting investigation of Heritage Christian Center, strong examination of the Ted Haggard scandal that was both local and national in scope, and a good sampling of other religious events in the community." Gorski, now a religion reporter for The Associated Press, received $1,000.

Religion Story or Series of the Year

Created four years ago, the Templeton Story of the Year contest showcases a single story or series on religion in print media. This year the first-place award went to David O'Reilly and the Philadelphia Inquirer for a three-part series on the Catholic Church worldwide called "Faith in Flux." Judges lauded O'Reilly's work for "taking an ambitious look at the state of the Catholic Church, examining its current place both in the community the paper serves and in the larger world." For his award-winning work. The $3,500 award is courtesy of the John Templeton Foundation.

Religion Reporter of the Year—Small Newspapers

The Cassels Award is given to the religion reporter of the year at newspapers with circulations of 50,000 and less.

Larissa Theodore-Dudkiewicz of the Beaver County (Pa.) Times won first place this year with an entry judges deemed "beautifully written." "The author's eye for detail and compassionate prose make this truly a joyful read." Theodore-Dudkiewicz won $750.  

Religion Reporter of the Year—Mid-sized Newspapers

The Cornell Award is given to the top religion writer at mid-sized papers with circulations between 50,001 and 150,000. G. Jeffrey MacDonald of The Christian Science Monitor won first place with "fresh angles on religious issues," the judges said. MacDonald won $750 for his work.  

Best Religion Section or Pages

The Schachern Awards for best religion section or pages give citations for three places in two categories: newspapers below 100,000 circulation and newspapers above 100,000 circulation.

In the smaller paper category, The Mobile Press Register, won first place. Judges mentioned "centerpieces that consistently got beyond headlines to reflect the intensity that people feel about faith."

In the larger Schachern category, The Salt Lake Tribune took top honors. Michael A. Anastasi and Lisa Carricaburu are editors. Judges complimented the section for "clear writing, distinctive design, a lively column, provocative centerpieces and an affinity for confronting the biggest, toughest topics from suicide to 'The Da Vinci Code.'"

Best Student Religion Reporter

Excellence in student journalism is recognized with the Chandler Award. Established through the generosity of Russell Chandler, former religion writer for the Los Angeles Times, and his wife, M.L., the contest rewards young writers who have a grasp of religion issues that is fair and balanced.

Taking top prize this year is Tina Shah of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, whose entries included topics from Filipino Catholics to varieties of Hindu cremation. "This writer has already been to India and will continue going places," the judges said. Shah won $600.

Best Television Short and Long Religion Reporting

This year, the Religion Newswriters Association awarded two prizes for television segments on religion. The short form recognized a four-minute television segment and the long form recognized segments of four to 20 minutes.

In the short form, Maria Arita of CBS II in Dallas/Fort Worth won for her piece "Orbs of Light. The long form was awarded to PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer for a reflection on Sept. 11, 2001. "We were moved to tears" the judges wrote, adding that seldom have they seen a story "so powerfully told."

Best Radio Religion Reporting

The top prize for a short radio piece less than eight minutes long went to Rachael Martin of NPR for a segment on Latina women converting to Islam. Martin's use of "natural sound to contrast the Latino music with the Muslim call to prayer was a wonderful way to begin the piece," the judge wrote. "Her clear voice and straightforward writing brought to life the very human conflict some of the women choosing Islam face within their families."