NCR earns 'General Excellence' honor for 14th time in 15 years

"Finding Father" by Pat Marrin, which won third place at the annual Catholic Press Association awards

National Catholic Reporter was named first in "General Excellence" among national Catholic newspapers for the 14th time in 15 years June 26 by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

"The National Catholic Reporter is superb. The variety of story of topics was unmatched by any other paper and the editorials, cartoons, and graphics were excellent," the judges wrote in announcing the winners.

NCR won 22 awards, including 11 first-place awards, in the annual contest that covers material published in 2014. Judges for this year's contest were the journalism faculties of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Loyola University in Chicago and Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala.

The awards were announced during the 2015 Catholic Media Conference June 24-26 in Buffalo, N.Y.

NCR and its writers made a strong showing in the arts and opinion categories for national newspapers, taking first place for best editorial section and first, second and honorable mention for best editorial. Of NCR's Opinion & Arts section, the judges said, "Bold visual presentation enhances strong writing and broad topic selection."

The winning editorials were "The idolatry of US military might," "Both sides must look for alternatives to violence," and "Climate change is church's No. 1 pro-life issue."

Menachem Wecker won first place for his art reviews. Heidi Schlumpf and Melissa Musick Nussbaum won first and second place, respectively, for best regular column on family life. The judges called Schlumpf's columns "well written" and "practical." They noted Nussbaum's writing "literally draws a word picture."

Young Voices columnist Jennifer Mertens earned a first place for general commentary for three columns: "Catholic Sex Ed 101," "Violence against women cries out for church response," and "A stole for the pope: Women offer their gifts."

NCR staff and contributors also had a strong showing in news writing and investigative/in-depth news reporting categories.

A first-place award for news writing was shared by NCR staff writer Brian Roewe and Vatican correspondent Joshua J. McElwee for their report "Kansas City's Finn under Vatican investigation." McElwee also won a first-place award for his reporting on the October 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family.

A first-place award for investigative writing went to Melinda Henneberger's series "The stolen children" about religious women and church officials in Chile forcibly taking newborns away from teens and young unmarried women to be raised in adoptive homes.

Third place for analysis writing went to Claire Schaeffer-Duffy's three-part series on the gun trade along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Dan Morris-Young, NCR's West Coast correspondent, earned an honorable mention for in-depth news for his profile of the conservative Catholic Napa Institute. had near sweeps of two blogging catagories, winning first and second places for group blogs for NCR Today, written by NCR staff and contributors, and Young Voices, written by Zachary R. Dehm, Kate Childs Graham, April Gutierrez, Brian Harper, Mike Jordan Laskey, Jennifer Mertens, Jocelyn A. Sideco, Nicole Sotelo and Mike Sweitzer-Beckman.

Winning second and third places for individual blogs were Michael Sean Winters' Distinctly Catholic and Jamie Manson's Grace on the Margins.

Following is the full listing of NCR's awards from the Catholic Press Association and the judges' comments.

TOTAL: 22 awards

  • 11 first-place awards
  • 5 second-place awards
  • 4 third-place awards
  • 2 honorable mention

Best online blog, group or association blog

  • First place: "NCR Today" by NCR staff and contributors. "Website was very strong. It covered a wide range of topics -- some controversial -- that would be informative for, and provoke conversation and reflection among, audiences. They focused on a wide range or current events while putting them in a Catholic context, instead of only focusing on explicitly religious issues as some other blogs do. Articles were well written and compelling. Tabs include: Accountability. Art & Media, Faith & Parish, Global, Peace and Justice, Politics, etc. Very impressive."
  • Second place: "Young Voices" by staff. "Also very strong. A subsection of the main NCR page, 'Young Voices' covers a wide range of discussions and commentary on crucial social issues and the role Catholic churches and communities play in these situations. There was a dedication to presenting a wide range of information. The language and writing was grammatically correct and compelling. The tone was a little less formal, but it was appropriate for a youth blog. Very great."

Best online blog, individual blog

  • Second place: "Distinctly Catholic" by Michael Sean Winters. "Enjoyable blog. The author takes care to make his entries incredibly timely and focus on current events as they go on. He encourages discussion on major political and social justice issues. The blog is not strictly about the Bible or faith, but instead about where those aspects of Catholicism meet current events and decisions facing Catholics, especially young people."
  • Third place: "Grace on the Margins" by Jamie Manson. "Jamie Manson's blog posts cover a wide range of cutting-edge news stories and current events, especially in regard to politics, LGBT equality, etc. 'Grace on the Margins' helps to integrate Catholicism into a broader framework. The writing had very minor errors (e.g. not only, but also) and was otherwise strong and compelling. She kept her posts relatively brief and compelling."

Best news writing originating with the paper on national event

  • First place: "Kansas City's Finn under Vatican investigation" by Joshua J. McElwee, Brian Roewe. "Very strong hard news story on an important topic, both locally in Kansas City and nationally. Writing is clear and easy to follow. Nice job."
  • Third place: "Trial of anti-nuclear activists ends with unusual sentence" by Megan Fincher. "Nice story. The writing's bemused tone fits the topic. A stronger nutgraph would have helped make its importance to the broader audience more evident."

Best investigative news writing  

Best analysis/background/round-up news writing: The Gerard E. Sherry Award

  • Third place: "Guns across the border: US arms and Mexico's violence"; "Blame crosses US-Mexico border"; "Counting victims is a murky business" by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy. "Deeply reported set of stories. Writing is strong and clear. Important topic, well covered."

Best in-depth news/special reporting

  • Honorable mentions: "In-your-face Catholicism"; "EWTN an ambitious media partner" by Dan Morris-Young. "Important topic, deeply explored. Brought great clarity of thought to the writing."

Best editorial, national newspaper

  • First place: "The idolatry of US military might" by NCR editors. "Using direct and forceful language, the author confronts the contemporary culture of war that has been accepted so readily in the United States. With the focus on the 25th anniversary of the murders of Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador, the writer pleas for the Bishops to stand up and stand firm against the war culture which drains society of the resources needed to keep people fed, clothed and housed."
  • Second place: "Both sides must look for alternatives to violence" by NCR editors. "Writing about this complex topic is not easy. The writer has tackled the nuances of the situation and offered the only peaceful advice."
  • Honorable mention: "Climate change is church's No. 1 pro-life issue" by NCR editors. "Beginning with a provocative statement the editorial continues to suggest that Catholics find ways to address the effects on climate that are made by human beings."

Best editorial page or editorial section

  • First place: "Opinion & Arts" by NCR staff and contributors. "Bold visual presentation enhances strong writing and broad topic selection. While the focus of this judging was on editorials, the expansive inclusion of book and film reviews adds reader interest. Both the editorials and columns are well-written and thought-provoking, with particular kudos to Jamie Manson and Colman McCarthy."

Best personality profile, national newspaper

  • Second place: "Consoling the heart of Jesus" by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy. "This is a captivating and uplifting story that takes readers on a journey of a remarkable life. Historically educational and contextually timely, this article was written with an understanding of how to combine narrative, quotes, and background information in order to create an impactful experience for the reader."

Best regular column: culture, the arts and leisure

Best regular column: spiritual life

Best regular column: general commentary

  • First place: "Catholic Sex Ed 101"; "Violence against women cries out for church response"; "A stole for the pope: Women offer their gifts" by Jennifer Mertens. "Powerful, challenging essays on tough topics including sex education and violence agaisnt women. Strong graphic support. A third column takes a slightly different tone using a letter to Pope Francis that documents the journey of a stole handmade as a gift to him."

Best regular column: Family Life

Best use of art or graphics: best original illustration

  • Third place: "Finding Father" by Pat Marrin. "Fun illustration that captures the general confusion the article untangles."

Best coverage of the 2014 synod on the family  

General excellence: national newspaper

  • First place: National Catholic Reporter. "The National Catholic Reporter is superb. The variety of story of topics was unmatched by any other paper and the editorials, cartoons, and graphics were excellent. Just a joy to read. Outstanding in its seriousness about being a paper of news for the national Catholic community, National Catholic Reporter exhibits the fearlessness and breadth of view about reporting the important news that marks strong journalism."

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