How Bout Some Good (Religion) News?

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


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9 years 9 months ago
Congratulations to all the winners, as the religion beat has become a more difficult one to cover over the past several years as some dioceses have limited or stopped altogether reporter access to priests. The reasons for this are many, but the major ones are sexual-abuse litigation and consistent orthodoxy of statements-which are both valid concerns for dioceses. Newspaper editors, however, know the value of talking with priests, who can often explain Catholic ideas and ideals very well. Lately, however, they are unable to make those clergy contacts. This has created something of a vacuum. I've been writing occasional columns for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for a little over a year. The first one focused on the psychological and spiritual effects of the slow rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I wrote it and submitted it with the blessing of the rector of Notre Dame Seminary. Then a funny thing happened. The editorial page editor-a lovely woman-called and asked me to write for the paper regularly, and she asked that I come in with my collar on so they could take a professional photo to run with the columns. The non-Catholic editor of a secular daily in a major American city wanted a visible religious presence in the paper and I guessed I was as good as any. We went into the newsroom cafeteria for some coffee and sat for a real nice hour-long conversation. I had been a reporter and editor for 20 years before entering the seminary, so this was like home for me. Then I asked her the question that had been on my mind: ''Do you have other seminarians, priests, Protestant ministers, nuns or rabbis writing for the paper?'' She answered quickly, almost impulsively: ''No, we're uncomfortable with that.'' And there I was sitting across a small cafe table from her with a Roman Collar around my neck. I guess the oddness of the situation was obvious right after the words left her mouth. She reached her hand out immediately, touched my sleeve and said, ''But we're real comfortable with you.'' It was one of the sweetest moments of my professional life as I think she was saying that she knew I would respect readers of different faiths, that I cared about the people of New Orleans and that I wouldn't hit anybody over the head with a Bible. I have to think that Annette had the best interests of her readers at heart in wanting to have a faith perspective in the paper. I respect her for that. Newspaper people deal with facts. Faith is something that can't be pinned down. It's good to know that the Times-Picayune sees the value of talking about faith in its pages. Sorry you haven't gotten any responses to this ''good religion news'' story! There are loads of comments on the stories on the Kansas Tragedy on the America blog-including my own. Guilty!
9 years 9 months ago
Exactly what blogs do you read?  I have hundreds of Catholic blogs in my RSS aggregator and I can not think of one that was not saddened by the murder of Dr. Tiller and calling it the evil act that it was. I ask this because of a previous post you said basically about the same thing regarding Judge Sotomayor and the Catholic blogosphere.  In this case the overwhelming consensus was that she was about the best we can expect from the Obama administration and that she not be rejected since their were much worse possibilities.  It was quite a prudent reaction coming out of the majority of St. Blogs in regards to her nomination.  Sure there were some questions about her racist comment and judicial philosophy, but certainly not the vitriol that you cast to to the Catholic blogosphere. How about some positive news on the Catholic blogosphere and not the constant griping?
9 years 9 months ago
I have some good religious news: a Jesuit who gets it. Check out a great piece by Fr. Schall: [url=][/url]
9 years 9 months ago
Hi James, Thanks for blogging about our awards. I appreciate the congrats! - Tracy


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