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Journalists Honored for In-Depth Reporting

July 16, 2007

Contact: Susan Snider

Jennifer Green of the Ottawa Citizen, Jason Byassee of The Christian Century, and Robert Sibley of the Ottawa Citizen won the 2007 American Academy of Religion Awards for Best In-Depth Reporting on Religion.

Green won the contest for journalists at news outlets with more than 100,000 circulation or on the Web; Byassee for journalists at news outlets with less than 100,000 circulation; and Sibley for opinion writing.

The awards recognize “well-researched, well-written newswriting that enhances the public understanding of religion,” said John R. Fitzmier, Executive Director of the American Academy of Religion. Founded in 1909, the AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, with more than 10,000 members in North America and abroad.

Green submitted stories on the Saint John’s Bible project; the split in the Anglican Church over same-sex unions and gay clergy; conservative faith and public discourse in Canada; a Baylor University scholar and the repercussions of expressing his views on Southern Baptists; and how Mary, the mother of Jesus, is revered by some Muslims. The judges highlighted Green’s “thorough reporting, good writing and interesting choice of topics,” calling her a “gifted journalist” with an “impressive set of entries.”

Byassee submitted stories on emergent churches; Protestant theologians converting to Catholicism; the meaning of social justice to hospitality workers; prison ministries and the lives of prisoners; and a Hispanic immigrant seeking sanctuary in a Methodist church. “An excellent body of work,” said the judges, noting Byassee’s “confident tone about a wide variety of topics.” Said one judge, “This writer has an enormous amount of talent and a reporter’s keen eye for detail, the good quote and the added insight that makes readers keep reading.”

Sibley, who placed second in last year’s contest for news outlets with more than 100,000 circulation, submitted opinion articles from a series on faith, nihilism, and wonder; and from a series marking the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, which included essays on intellectuals in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and on multiculturalism. The judges called Sibley’s work “deeply informative,” noting that “each piece is solid and thoughtful,” and praising him for illustrating “the essential voice of religious studies scholars in general coverage of religion.”
Jennifer Garza of The Sacramento Bee placed second in the contest for news outlets with more than 100,000 circulation. “Lively, engaging writing,” said the judges, commenting on Garza’s “good sense for the news” and “strong use of the newspaper ‘profile’ that takes readers into a setting and hears the reporting with a sense of that environment.” Summed up one judge, “This writer takes the reader to the scene in every article.” 

G. Jeffrey MacDonald of The Christian Science Monitor won second place in the contest for news outlets with less than 100,000 circulation. The judges said MacDonald “confronts a wide variety of challenging topics head-on and with excellent writing skills,” and offers “serious exploration of American religion.” His stories have “good perspective, a strong sense of character and color,” remarked one judge.

Asra Q. Nomani, a freelancer based in Morgantown, W.Va., placed second in this year’s opinion-writing contest. “This writer’s works all deal with aspects of Islam, but in such a way, and with such authority, that they become relevant to non-Muslim readers as much, if not more, than to Muslim readers. A valuable service,” said the judges, who praised her entries as “well-written with great perspective and depth.”  

Omar Sacirbey, a freelancer based in Boston, placed third in the contest for news outlets with more than 100,000 circulation. “Like few other newspaper writers today, this author has taken readers into the world of American Islam in wondrous detail. The stories flow, and the quotes ring truth,” remarked one judge. “Insightful coverage … takes readers below the surface and behind the scenes,” noted another judge.

Adam Parker of The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), placed third in the contest for news outlets with less than 100,000 circulation. The judges were impressed with Parker’s entries, saying his “strong reporting and varied sourcing” made his work “stand out.” Commented one judge, the “terrific writing draws the reader into each subject’s world.”

Kevin Eigelbach of The Cincinnati Post placed third in this year’s opinion-writing contest. One judge said of his work, “Pithy and to the point. An entry illustrating how religion and religious studies relate to so many facets of life.” Another judge remarked, “With verve and an admirable talent for economy, this writer’s columns pack a punch — and a lot of information — into a short space.”
Each contestant submitted five articles published in North America during 2006. Names of contestants and their news outlets were removed from submissions prior to judging. Each of the first-place winners receives $1,000.

The judges for the contest for news outlets with over 100,000 circulation included Gayle White, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Larry Witham, author and former reporter for the Washington Times. The judges for the contest for news outlets with less than 100,000 circulation and for the opinion-writing contest included David Gibson, author and former reporter for The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), and Cecile Holmes, a professor of journalism at the University of South Carolina and a former reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Ronald Thiemann, a professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School, served as the third judge on all three contests. Thiemann is a member of the AAR Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion.

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