#RNA2019 awards honor nation's top religion writers -- many of these names will be familiar


In a post last year, I described Emma Green’s piece for The Atlantic headlined “The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead” as one of the best religion stories of 2018.

“It’s remarkable in a number of ways,” I wrote. “The strength of the idea and the implementation of it. The quality of the writing and the specific details contained therein. The depth of the religious knowledge and the ability to convey it in understandable prose.”

Green has established herself as one of the nation’s preeminent religion journalists, and it could be argued — especially after Saturday night — that she occupies that top spot all alone, especially in magazine work blending news reporting and commentary.

Here’s what I mean: At the Religion News Association’s annual awards banquet here in Las Vegas, Green got plenty of exercise walking back and forth from her seat to pick up first-place awards.

She won top honors in three categories: for the Supple Award for Excellence in Religion Feature Writing, for Excellence in Religion News Analysis and for Excellence in Magazine News Religion Reporting. A video of the awards banquet can be viewed online.

At some point, RNA typically posts links to all the winners’ stories, but I don’t see that as I’m typing this. However, I believer hearing reference to Green’s extraordinary story that I mentioned above.

I was honored to receive third place in the magazine/non-daily reporting category behind Green and Tiffany Stanley of the Washington Post Magazine. In case my mother is reading, my portfolio included stories on a church’s response to a police shooting in North Little Rock, Ark., on “boy preachers” mentored by the late traveling evangelist Marshall Keeble and on a disaster relief truck driver’s all-night ride from Nashville, Tenn., to hurricane-battered Panama City, Fla.

“I’m just glad Emma can win only one place per category,” I joked, or something along those lines, when I accepted my award.

My #RNA2019 roommate, Norris Burkes, is a retired U.S. Air Force chaplain who writes a weekly syndicated column on spirituality and everyday life. He also won a third-place award . He was among those recognized for the Cassels Award for Excellence in Religion Reporting—Small Newspapers. Read him at TheChaplain.net.

Another top winner along with Green was Manya Brachear Pashman, the former Chicago Tribune religion writer who along with Tribune investigative reporter Jeff Coen did the bombshell #MeToo investigative report on megachurch pastor Bill Hybels. Pashman and Coen earned first place for Excellence in Religion Reporting — Large Newspapers and Wire Services and second place for the Gerald A. Renner Award for Excellence in Enterprise Religion Reporting.

Pashman had an emotional moment after accepting the top prize when she suggested that Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette should have won for his coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting last year. However, because Smith is president of RNA, he was ineligible to enter the contest.

Smith will have to settle for the Pulitzer Prize, which he and his colleagues certainly deserved. (In case you missed it, the paper recently donated its Pulitzer winnings of $15,000 to help rebuild the synagogue.)

Another RNA winner I was pleased to see: Silvia Foster-Frau of the San Antonio Express-News received first place for the Cornell Award for Excellence in Religion Reporting—Mid-sized Newspapers. I’ve repeatedly gushed over her sensitive, nuanced coverage of the aftermath of the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas.

Other familiar names who placed in more than one category: Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post, Daniel Burke of CNN and Kelsey Dallas of the Deseret News.

I’m sure I’m missing others in my rush to type this before heading to the airport here in Sin City.

Please forgive me, and be sure to check out the entire list. By the way, my colleague Julia Duin wrote a piece earlier today on her impressions of the 2019 RNA annual meeting.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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