#RNA2012: Godbeat's 'Susan Lucci' takes second place

At the Religion Newswriters Association's annual awards dinner Saturday night, Abe Levy of the San Antonio Express-News jokingly referred to himself as the "Susan Lucci of the RNA."

Levy, a perennial finalist in the RNA's religion writing contests, came this close to a top spot yet again — taking second place in the Religion Reporter of the Year competition for metropolitan newspapers.

The first-place award in that category went to Judy Thomas of the Kansas City Star. The Star reported on her win:

Thomas was recognized for her coverage of a priest sex abuse scandal involving Father Shawn Ratigan, Bishop Robert Finn and the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, and stories about the Rev. Jerry Johnston and the former First Family Church of Overland Park.

Thomas isn't actually a Godbeat pro. She's a projects writer who focuses on in-depth reporting and investigations. That was evidenced by the three stories that she submitted to the judges. Her first story — co-written with another bylined reporter — measured about 5,700 words (or, in newspaper terms, roughly three entire forests). She also included a three-part, 6,300-word series related to a priest sex abuse scandal as part of her entry.

So, in some ways, we're comparing apples and oranges when we talk about a projects writer such as Thomas and the three religion writers who claimed second place (Levy), third place (Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and honorable mention (Anyssa Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) in that category.

On the daily religion beat, in-depth enterprise reporting and scandal stories must be balanced against the demands of breaking news, developments on ongoing stories and the general nitty-gritty of the world of faith. That makes the award-winning stories by writers assigned full time to religion news — and producing bylines day in and day out — all the more remarkable.

Levy's entry, for example, included a major investigative piece on a priest sex abuse case as well as a trend story on black churches repackaging themselves as multicultural and a spot news report on a Texas controversy related to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.

So, while I extend heartfelt congratulations to Thomas (whose community certainly appreciates her high quality of journalism), I must admit that I am equally impressed with Lucci — er, Levy.

In most of the RNA categories, I should stress, Godbeat pros claimed the top honors. I'll highlight a few of those winners in my upcoming third — and final — post on the 2012 award winners.

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