Everything about the death of George Tiller saddens me, including the bloggers (and commenters) who are angry, bitter and vitriolic still, even in the face of death.
So how about some good news? The American Academy of Religion has handed out their annual awards to the increasingly beleaguered profession of religion reporters. Some familiar names to our blog regulars are among the winners. Their submissions show that religion journalism is still vibrant, even though many newspapers, magazines and television stations have cut back severely. (Time magazine, for example, no longer has a full-time religion writer. And a few weeks ago one reporter told me that he was now "culture and religion," since, as his editor explained it, the two were "more or less the same.") This from their AAR press release:
Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times, Tracy Simmons of the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American, and David Gibson, writing for the Star-Ledger of New Jersey and the Wall Street Journal, won the 2009 American Academy of Religion Awards for Best In-Depth Reporting on Religion. Goodstein won the contest for journalists at news outlets with more than 100,000 circulation or on the Web; Simmons for journalists at news outlets with less than 100,000 circulation; and Gibson for opinion writing.
--The annual awards recognize “well-researched newswriting that enhances the public understanding of religion,” said John R. Fitzmier, Executive Director of the AAR. Founded in 1909, the AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, with some 11,000 members in North America and abroad.
Goodstein submitted articles on the authorship of the Serenity Prayer; the battle in California over same-sex marriage; and a three-part series on Roman Catholic priests recruited from overseas to serve U.S. parishes. The judges highlighted Goodstein’s “unflinchingly honest quotes,” and praised her series on foreign Catholic clergy as a “sophisticated take on how the priest shortage plays out in everyday religious life.” “Too much religion writing is drily sociological. These three pieces really got to the heart of living and preaching the Gospel,” added one judge.
Simmons submitted articles on Christian sexual ethics; the 2008 Lambeth Conference and the split over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church; religious environmentalism; and the Green Bible. “In taking on hot-button issues — a Catholic nun whose liberal take on sexual ethics in the church won a national award, the Episcopal Church’s Lambeth debates, and a ‘green’ Bible — this writer shows a desire to include scholarly voices and give readers perspective,” said the judges, impressed with Simmons’ entries.
Gibson submitted opinion articles on defining secularism; Pope Benedict XVI’s vestments; and the abortion debate during the 2008 presidential campaign. “This was a ‘wow!’ entry from a journalist with a strong, sure voice and inviting writing style. The writer deserves a pair of Benedict’s red shoes for the deftness and depth of a piece on how the pope’s vestments, sometimes more than his words, offer clues to his papal agenda,” said one judge. “The article on abortion displayed a sensitive approach to this volatile issue, shedding a lot more light than heat,” remarked another.
In the more than 100,000 circulation or on the Web contest, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, writing for National Public Radio’s website, placed second, and Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe placed third. The judges praised Hagerty as a “great storyteller who knows how to get people to talk and then tells their stories so that you can’t put them down,” and Paulson for his strong, impressive reporting using “facts, figures, and personal stories” and “literary and historical insights” to inform readers.--AAR
James Martin, SJ