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NCR captures top Catholic press awards


For the third year in a row, National Catholic Reporter has received the top award of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. General Excellence, the association’s most coveted honor, topped the list of 15 awards won by the NCR across 10 categories. Awards, for material published in 2001, went to diocesan and national newspapers, as well as books, magazines and newsletters. They were presented May 24 at the close of the three-day annual convention in Minneapolis.

In several categories, NCR took multiple awards: three for feature writing; two each for investigative news reporting, editorial on a specifically national or international issue and personality profile. The paper received one award each for news reporting on an international event, reporting on children and reporting on teenagers, illustration and use of syndicated/wire service art or graphic.

In their critique of the newspaper for the General Excellence award, the judges wrote, “NCR once again raises the bar for comprehensive news and commentary from across the religious landscape. We encountered subjects and in-depth exposés that we might never have seen treated in other religious or even secular publications; extensive reporting; lively writing; and news magazine format stories that challenge one’s thinking to the core.” They also noted that NCR features “the most comprehensive representation of readers’ views by a Catholic newspaper in ‘Letters.’ ”

The first-place award for best news writing on an international event went to John L. Allen Jr.’s Jan. 5 story “The way we are.” The judges said, “Powerful stories often hold a mirror up to society or a community. In this case, John Allen and other staff members have thrown open a window for the church to view dimensions of its constituency that it would prefer not to acknowledge. The main story has an excellent lead and the whole package represents practically a herculean effort in terms of research.”

The first place award for best investigative news writing went to John L. Allen Jr. and Pamela Schaeffer for their March through December coverage of the rape of nuns by clergy in Africa. The judges said the series, which opened with a March 16 story titled “Nuns targeted,” “represents a classic case of investigative reporting with the added dimension that the writers took on what turned out to be a worldwide story. The paper used all its resources going beyond officials and getting to the people actually involved. It also had an excellent sidebar.” Second place went to Luis Angel Saavedra for his Nov. 16 piece titled “Colombia’s drug war.”

In the national newspaper category, NCR won the second place award for best editorial on a specifically national or international issue. The paper’s April 20 editorial “We can repair the sanctuary” was critiqued by the judges as a “very timely examination of clergy abuse and getting more timely daily. This is a reasoned look at the subject, here and abroad, minus some of the usual tabloid-like rhetoric but still firm in its conclusions and recommendations.” NCR also won honorable mention in the same category for an Aug. 10 editorial on episcopal appointments in Latin America, titled “Appointments insult human rights cause.”

The first place award for best feature writing went to Rich Heffern’s April 20 feature, “Your brain on prayer,” an exploration of the recent scientific data about human brain activity during meditation. Judges commented: “This was such an interesting piece, nicely told and strong on research. It is often very difficult to ‘translate’ scientific work in a way that is both accurate and interesting to read, and … this author succeeded very well on both counts.” Third place in this category was awarded to Claire Schaeffer-Duffy for her Oct. 5 feature, “Death penalty lawyers.” Judges praised the piece as “good solid reporting, tracing the stories of lawyers who fight for the rights of the politically invisible … while providing extensive background on the context of current death penalty law.”

An honorable mention in this category was given to John L. Allen Jr.’s “The pope’s executioner,” published Sept. 14.

First and second place awards for best personality profile went to Arthur Jones and Rich Heffern respectively for Jones’ Oct. 26 “Pen and ink prophet,” about Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad and Heffern’s Oct. 10 “Prophet for the earth” on eco-theologian Thomas Berry. Judges praised the writing as “superb,” “with energy and good sense of character.”

Teresa Malcolm’s March 2 story “Lobby, then lunch,” on teaching children to lobby for social justice, won first place for best reporting on children. Judges praised the piece as “well structured, instructive and interesting.”

Arthur Jones received a third place award for best reporting on teenagers for his March 30 story on Catholic education.

Patrick Marrin and Toni-Ann Ortiz received honorable mention for best use of syndicated/wire service art or graphics for their Sept. 21 cover, “September 11, 2001.” Marrin also won second for best illustration for his artwork for “The way we are.”

Another journalism honor presented during the convention is the annual Eileen Egan Award, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. This award honors writers for excellence in international reporting, especially coverage of developing nations. Paul Jeffrey was the recipient of the award in the national publications category for his NCR story in the Dec. 14 issue on Afghan refugees, titled “In refugee camps, peace is an ‘if.’ ”

The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada represents 640 publications -- 217 of them newspapers -- with a combined circulation of almost 27 million.

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is pmorrison@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, June 21, 2002