Episcopalian journalists honored by Associated Church Press for 2003 work

April 25, 2004

The Episcopal Church's national newspaper, Episcopal Life, and Episcopal News Service won 18 awards between them at the 2004 Associated Church Press convention, held in Toronto April 18-21. More than 100 writers, editors, graphic designers, photographers and marketing directors attended this year's meeting.

The newspaper's 12 honors included the award of excellence for "Best in Class" among national and international newspapers. Among its six honors, ENS garnered awards of excellence for feature article for a news service and convention coverage, and an honorable mention for overall excellence.

James Solheim, recently retired director of ENS, was given an honorary life membership in recognition of his years of service to religious journalism and the Associated Church Press.

In addition to the awards ceremony, participants in the annual convention honed their skills in a broad variety of workshops and plenary seminars and heard from two thought-provoking keynoters: Toronto author and journalist Irshad Manji and veteran Canadian religion journalist Hugh McCullum.

A lost tradition reclaimed

Manji, an openly lesbian Muslim whose bestselling book The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change has led to threats on her life from angry co-religionists, told the assembled Christian journalists that Muslims are "desperate and hungry" for something akin to the Protestant Reformation. But moderates and liberals in Islam are afraid to challenge "extremists and conservatives" on their rigid and literalist interpretation of the Qur'an, the Hadith (sayings of the prophet Mohammed) and shari'a law, legal opinions collected by Islamic scholars over the centuries, she said.

According to Manji, Islam has a deeper tradition of independent reasoning known as ijtihad, which allows Muslims to update their religious practice in light of contemporary conditions. The burden of reclaiming this lost tradition is on Muslims living in the West, she said, since Western governments allow freedom of religious expression and most contemporary Muslim-led governments do not.

Yet the Islamic world has a role to play as well. "Iraq is the right place to call Muslims back" to the ijtihad tradition, Manji said, since Baghdad was the crossroads of commerce and intellectual life in the Muslim world when ijtihad was practiced up until the end of the 11th century. What Manji called "the incarceration of interpretation" was a response to political pressure on the caliphs of the medieval Muslim empire, not a religious decision, she said--and therefore, she maintained, its burden can be lifted from the shoulders of faithful Muslims.

In a question-and-answer session following her address, Manji told the journalists she had received many threats. "But I don't live my life in fear," she assured them. "I know that what I'm doing, I'm doing with integrity."

Living in revolutionary times

McCullum, who lived in Africa for 13 years and covered Africa's Great Lakes crisis for various international publications and news services, delivered a scathing indictment of the role of Christian churches--and the inaction of the Christian press--in the Rwandan genocide ten years ago, and a stern warning that religion journalists may be missing yet another vital story in Africa. "The beautiful hills of Rwanda ran red with blood--blood-drenched church compounds filled with corpses all too often killed with the complicity of many blood-drenched church leaders," McCullum remembered. "It seems 'corporate church' didn't know what to do with genocide which involved their own partners, Africans hacking to death their relatives, their women, their children. Since Rwanda was 96 percent Christian, the church spin doctors couldn't even blame it on Muslim 'terrorists.'

"But, like another great Holocaust, we knew all about it but we didn't do anything about it until the end and then, in our liberal guilt, the corporate P.R. types flooded the country with dubious 'Christian aid agencies' all using Rwanda to raise funds to assuage our inaction," he said. "800,000 people butchered in 10 weeks: compare that with the statistics we toss around about the present crisis [in Iraq]. But then, that was in Africa and this is the West."

McCullum warned that "there is such a mighty fissure growing within Christianity that will cause such huge mutations that our liberal Northern version of the faith will simply disappear." He called the phenomenon "Third Church"--"highly supernatural, ultra-orthodox and inclined to see Jesus as the embodiment of divine power who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness on the human race." In the turbulent Africa of today and tomorrow, said McCullum, "Third Churches with a strongly apocalyptic mindset which triumph on righteousness and a vision of a world destroyed by fire and plague could be a perilously convenient ideology...We are living in revolutionary times but we have failed to see them or been willing or even interested in participating in them."

Best of the Christian press

The ACP honored the "Best of the Christian Press" at its April 20 banquet. The first place Award of Excellence for a feature article in a newsletter, news service, or website went to ENS's James Solheim for "Anglicans in Uganda live their faith in difficult circumstances" (June 18, 2003). "Important topic. Very well described; thoughtful analysis," the judges said. "Effective use of quotes. Overall, the main strength is the excellent depth that truly serves the audience." Solheim also received an honorable mention for news story, for "Pope Paul II describes new obstacles to unity" (October 8, 2003), and ENS deputy director Jan Nunley received an honorable mention for her interview with Bishop Geralyn Wolf in "We are all homeless" (February 21, 2003).

The entire ENS staff received an award of excellence for coverage of the aftermath of General Convention during August and September 2003. "With a very heavily covered conference, this news service helped get out the information in a timely and effective manner. It handled controversy with grace," said judges. ENS also received a second place award of merit for coverage of the election, consent, and consecration of openly gay New Hampshire bishop Gene Robinson. "A strong introduction to the first article reflects the high quality of reporting and writing throughout," judges remarked. "Reader can quickly grasp what has happened and appreciate the significance. Evenhanded reports on a subject that so divides the church and society." In addition, the news service received a Best in Class honorable mention, with the comment, "An excellent array of well-written news backed by a strong selection of photos and a commendable commitment to truth in reporting."

The judges said of Episcopal Life: "Beautiful covers draw the reader into a wide variety of news, features columns, and reviews. Well-written articles expose readers to both local and international concerns. News stories are clean and easy to read, while the features pop with a present tense style focused on people, not just ideas." The newspaper also received six other awards of excellence for top honors in its category and five awards of merit or honorable mentions for second and third place.

Among the first place awards was one for its coverage of last year's General Convention in Episcopal Life and the Convention Daily. The judges said: "This newspaper did a great job in two ways: It promoted the conference well with specifics and understandable chunks of information, and it reported on the conference well. Both participants and readers at home got a lot out of this coverage."

A second place award for written humor went to Garrison Keillor who contributed an article to the first issue of Convention Daily: "Enjoy Minneapolis - but not too much!"

Jerry Fargo, graphic arts director, won top honors among newspaper entries for best design. "Episcopal Life is refreshing and contemporary," the judges said. "The graphics and typography are excellent, the use of photographs is inventive, and the personality is strong and distinctive. This lively and colorful publication is a model of how newspapers should be designed. Congratulations!"

Judges also awarded Episcopal Life first place among 24 newspaper entries for front page design. "Overall pleasing balance of images, typography and white space," they said. "The Table of Contents is organized well, easy for the reader to use."

Nan Cobbey, associate editor, received an award of merit for her coverage of the enthronement last year of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. Several other honors were given to the "Active Voice" section of which she is the editor. Of the "Great Ideas" series which won top honors for best department, judges said: "All news media would be improved if daily newspapers included a 'great idea' department. Especially notable is the article "New Take on Nativity," making connections between contemporary homelessness and 'no room at the inn' experienced at Bethlehem. This article and others in the department, succeeded in a clear, tight, professional manner."

Two other writers in that section received awards. Nancy Allen's article examining the plight of Haitian refugees held in detention in the U.S. received top honors for editorial/opinion, as did Doug LeBlanc's "From the Edge" that were judged as best column. Describing his writing, the judges said: "Douglas LeBlanc strikes an accessible and reasonable tone as he tackles some of our culture's toughest issues. You won't have to agree with his conclusions to find yourself thinking that this is a man with whom it would be fun to have a long conversation over a cup of coffee."

Freelance writer Diane Walker received a second place award in the feature article category for her cover story "Searching for Intimacy" published last October. "Valuable insights about human relationships from an Episcopal perspective," the judges said.

The letters-to-the-editor columns also won praise and a second place award. "Readers feel like they are part of the publication," they said.

Larry Moore, Episcopal Life's marketing manager, received an award of excellence for a successful marketing program he executed last year for Friends Journal, the Philadelphia Quaker publication for which he had worked.

Episcopalians and Anglicans garnered all the awards in the Newspaper or Newsletter Front Page and the Newspaper, Newsletter, News Service or Website Design categories. They almost swept the Best in Class category for regional newspaper, with the top award going to Central Florida Episcopalian (Joe Thoma, editor), followed by Chicago's Anglican Advance (David Skidmore, editor) and The Anglican (Stuart Mann, editor), which tied for honorable mention.

Other awards to diocesan and Episcopal Church-related publications included: Central Florida Episcopalian (Joe Thoma, editor) award of excellence for annual report; Soundings, of the Diocese of Minnesota (Susan Barksdale, editor), honorable mention, best front page design; Hi-Lites, of St. Francis Academy (Norman Carr, editor), third place awards for excellence and feature article (newsletter category); TrinityWallStreet.org (John Allen and Nathan Brockman, editors), honorable mention for best website; The Episcopal New Yorker (Mary Beth Diss, editor), award of merit for best department and award of excellence for media kit "9/11 Spiritual Responses" by Neva Rae Fox; The Lookout, of Seamen's Church Institute (Debra Wagner, editor), second place for annual reports; Cathedral Age, of Washington National Cathedral, award of excellence for magazine design, best story design and honorable mention for best department.

A total of 24 judges with expertise in writing and editing, communications training, teaching, book publishing, graphic arts, theology and photography judged the entries.

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