#RNA2012: ‘Energized’ to tell great religion stories

Screenshot of award-winning story by Jennifer Preyss

That awkward moment when you meet a really nice, aspiring Godbeat pro at the Religion Newswriters Association annual convention, and he tells you that you panned one of his stories …

Oops.

A former seminarian, Wes Gentry is a native Oklahoman and a late-blooming journalist who earned second place Saturday night for RNA’s Chandler Award for Student Religion Reporter of the Year. In fact, his award-winning entry included the story about which I raised a few questions.

Not that I got defensive or anything (smile), but I explained to Gentry that we generally don’t include the reporter’s name when we write a negative review. Also, I noted that we produce a lot of posts on deadline and may not nail every single one. But Gentry let me off the hook rather easily and told me how much he enjoys reading GetReligion. I look forward to following his developing career.

Another young journalist honored this past weekend was Jennifer Preyss of the Victoria Advocate in Texas. Preyss captured RNA’s Cassels Religion Reporter of the Year prize. The first-place award recognized Preyss as the top Godbeat pro among the nation’s small newspapers.

Advocate editor Chris Cobler nominated Preyss for the award:

Victoria Advocate faith reporter Jennifer Preyss loves her beat. She shows that regularly with her daily assignments and with her in-depth features for our Saturday faith section.

She covers this important beat better than any reporter we’ve ever had on it. She cares deeply  about her subjects and the issues explored, and it shows. Our readers let us know how much they enjoy her work and appreciate she’s writing about what truly matters to them.

Preyss’ winning stories (which can be read here) included profiles of an artist who uses hip-hop to spread the gospel of Jesus, a Pentecostal pastor who “speaks in tongues” during his sermons and a young woman who waged a spiritual battle against cutting herself with razor blades.

I enjoyed hearing the nervousness in Preyss’ voice as she thanked her colleagues for the award. These words about the importance of an organization focused on improving religion reporting stuck with me:

I’m leaving here (the RNA convention) more energized than ever to go home and tell great religion stories.

Paul R. Carlson, an RNA member since 1957, received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, Carson, 82, stressed the importance of RNA in ensuring “a fair and balanced account” of all religious groups. In an age when advocacy often masquerades as journalism, that’s certainly a praiseworthy mission.

A personal aside: I enjoyed meeting in person for the first time a number of Godbeat pros whose work I have followed, including Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rose French of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and David Gibson of Religion News Service. It was nice, too, reconnecting with my former colleague Richard N. Ostling, retired religion writer for The Associated Press and Time magazine.

In a couple of upcoming posts, I plan to highlight some of the other award-winning religion stories honored by RNA.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://www.twitter.com/beliefbeat Nicole Neroulias

    I remember winning the Cassels category and having NO IDEA that I was supposed to give a speech. I quickly decided I would just say “thank you,” but then the runner-up who spoke just before me had very emotional and eloquent remarks, if memory serves… thus, my nervous ramble. Oh well! Wish they would hand out a few of the bigger awards before this one (which is more likely to go to first-time RNA attendees), or maybe they now warn the winners in advance!

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      It’s the first journalism awards program I’ve seen where the recipients all say something. I was worried at first about how long we might be there. :-)

      • Jennifer Preyss

        Thank you for the kind words, Bobby. I guess I should have prefaced that speech with “I’m a writer, not a speaker.” I hope I was semi-coherent … ;)

        • Bobby Ross Jr.

          Jennifer,

          You were perfectly coherent! I could just tell that you were a little nervous. And I can feel your pain, as one who has prefaced any number of speaking engagements with “I’m a writer, not a speaker.”

  • Bob Smietana

    This conference was like Union Station for smart, young, aspiring religion writers.
    I left DC with great hopes for the future of the beat.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      I enjoyed seeing you there, Bob! The reports of the trimmer Bob Smietana certainly were not exaggerated!

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