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Religion Newswriters Association Announces 2008 Contest Winners

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

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Religion Newswriters Association today announced the winners of its 2008 contests for excellence in religion reporting in the mainstream media The organization, which has more than 550 members and subscribers, awarded nearly $10,000 in prizes at its annual banquet, held Sept. 20 at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza.

Winners were selected from among 242 entries in eight categories. Judges included current or former reporters, journalists and scholars who praised the entries as "simply amazing" and "beat reporting at its best."

Templeton Award for Religion Reporting
The Templeton Award recognizes excellence in enterprise reporting and versatility in the field of religion. The first-place winner is Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe for a series of stories about the birth and trials of inner-city neighborhood church. The series, called "Ma Siss's Place," was judged a "memorable example of narrative journalism. As with the best journalism, the reader develops a nuanced appreciation for the gritty lives and struggles with faith endured by the congregants." Paulson received $3,500.

Supple Award for Religion Writing
The Supple Award recognizes a reporter's writing skills. Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe won first place in this award too. Judges thought his series, "Ma Siss's Place," was "a powerful and honest package that avoided cheap sentiment" and "took readers to a place they were unlikely to visit." Paulson received $1,000.

Religion Reporter of the Year -- Mid-sized Newspapers
The Cornell Award recognizes the religion writer of the year at mid-sized publications with circulations between 50,001 and 150,000. Jennifer Green of Canada's Ottawa Citizen won first place for an extended look at the shift of world Christian dynamism southward and eastward. Judges said her stories stood out for "their analytical skill, reporting initiative and clear writing." Green won $750.

Religion Reporter of the Year -- Small Newspapers
The Cassels Award recognizes the religion writer of the year at small publications with circulations of 50,000 or less. This year's first-place winner was Sara Schilling of the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Wash. Judges liked Schilling's range of stories and said her reporting was solid and her writing "highly readable." Schilling received $750.

Best Religion Section or Pages
The Schachern Award recognizes excellence in religion pages or sections in the general circulation news media. This year's first-place winner was The Salt Lake Tribune for its "quality of reporting, writing and consistency of presentation." Judges took particular note of the section's presentation, saying it was "hands down the best photography and design." The section had a good mix of shorter and longer stories, the judges said, and "made a conscious attempt to appeal to several different generations." The Tribune received a citation for its newsroom.

Best Student Religion Reporter
The Chandler Award is given to to a student journalist who has a grasp of religion issues and writes in a fair and balanced way. The award was established through the generosity of Russell Chandler, former religion writer for the Los Angeles Times, and his wife, M.L. 

This year's first place winner was Heather Donckels, who graduated this spring from The Master's College in Santa Clarita, Calif. Judges said Donckels took on compelling subject matters--GodTube, Hell Houses and the Hollywood adaptation of "The Golden Compass"--to critique conventional wisdom and offer countering points of view. She won $600.

Best Television Religion Reporting
Awarded for excellence in religion reporting in general audience news television, this year's award went to Kim Lawton of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly for an entry on street children of Brazil. "Kim Lawton chose to get out of the way and let those called to help the children tell their story in their own words. All the judges were totally silent as they watched."

Best Radio Religion Reporting
Awarded for excellence in religion reporting general audience news radio, this year's award went to Jason DeRose, for a piece on dementia and religion he produced for Chicago Public Radio. "This was not only a wonderful example of of nuanced religion reporting but fine radio reporting," wrote the judge. "The listener was never bored," the judge continued, "and wasn't left with unanswered questions."