Winners of Best In-Depth Reporting on Religion Award Announced

June 18, 2014

Contact: Susan Snider

Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune placed first in the 2014 American Academy of Religion Award for Best In-Depth Newswriting on Religion. Jaweed Kaleem of the Huffington Post placed second, and Matthew Brown of the Deseret News placed third.

“We’re very pleased to announce the winners of our annual award that recognizes in-depth religion reporting informed by the work of scholars,” said Jack Fitzmier, AAR Executive Director. Founded in 1909, the AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion.

Stack, senior religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, won first place. The judges praised her entry as “a sterling example of journalism that combines academic scholarship, careful reporting, and sophisticated writing about very sensitive and complicated issues,” noting there was a “palpable humanity woven through the articles, which explored the life of an excommunicated Latter-day Saints historian, the decision of a disabled professor to end his life, the role of the Heavenly Mother in LDS theology and practice, and the struggle faced by young Mormons whose health problems force them to return early from their two-year missions.”

Kaleem, national religion reporter for the Huffington Post, placed second. “A trio of pieces on changing trends in the American way of death, all intimately reported and vividly written,” summed up one judge. “The writer invested deeply in reporting these stories, and the result is that readers get to know parents who insist on a funeral at home for their young daughter, volunteers who join choirs to sing at the bedsides of the dying, and dinner parties organized to talk about death. This is a marvelously fresh example of journalism that shows how people are integrating belief—both traditional and nontraditional—into their lives.”

Brown, national editor and writer for the Deseret News, placed third. “This entry shows a remarkable range of subjects and ambition. The writing is clear and allows the voices of sources, including a significant number of scholars, to carry some of the more complex sections. Tracking down the actual Schempp of Abington v. Schempp [1963 U.S. Supreme Court case about Bible reading and prayer in public schools] was a great detail,” remarked one judge.

Thirty-five journalists entered articles published in calendar year 2013 for the 2014 contest. The names of the contestants and their media outlets were removed from the submissions prior to judging. The first-place winner receives $1,000; second-place, $500; and third-place, $250.

The judges were Laurie Goodstein, national religion correspondent for the New York Times; Jeffrey Weiss, veteran religion reporter and senior writer on education for the Dallas Morning News; and Erik Owens, Associate Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and a member of the AAR's Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion.