Baptist communicators present journalism awards, Christian Examiner's Hannigan wins news writing grand prize

by Will Hall, |
Kathy Dean, grand prize winner in feature writing, and Joni Hannigan, grand prize winner in news writing, take time together to enjoy the awards they just received. | Carrie Brown McWhorter

SAN FRANCISCO (Christian Examiner) – Southern Baptist communicators from around the world gathered April 17 in San Francisco, California, for a banquet celebrating winners of the 51st annual Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition.

The program, held on the campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, presented 182 awards in categories covering news writing, photography, interactive communications, public relations and development, audio-visual communications, feature writing, design and print production.

Joni B. Hannigan, senior editor with Christian Examiner, reacts to the April 17 announcement that she won grand prize for news writing in the Baptist Communicators Association's annual Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition.

Seven grand prizes were awarded, including the top honor in news writing, the Frank Burkhalter Award, presented to Joni B. Hannigan, who joined Christian Examiner as senior editor in October 2014 during the launch of the digital Christian news service.

Hannigan submitted a news package she had written earlier in 2014 for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. "To the Least of These" was a set of articles about disaster relief ministry to tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children in Brownsville, Texas, who had come from South and Central America.

Hannigan, who is an adjunct professor at California Baptist University, also won first prize for the series.

The judge for her category offered praise for her excellent writing, good interviews and interesting content, noting her "wonderful job" of bringing readers into the facility with the response teams. "You showed me with your words. You took me into the observation room. ... You introduced us to the volunteers and guards. Well done."

Additionally, she earned a first place award for a single article, "An Open Door to Ministry," which was part of the package, and, a third place prize for a photograph of detained children that accompanied one of the reports.

Other 2015 grand prize winners "for exceptional achievement" included:

  • M.E. Dodd Memorial Award (audio-visual communications): Innovative Faith Resources for "Pass the Plate."
  • Albert McClellan Award (print media and design): Tracey Harrison of Mississippi College for Beacon Magazine.
The Baptist Communicators Association awards committee included co-chairs Doug Rogers, director of communications and technology services for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (3rd from left), and Jennifer Rash, executive editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper (4th from right). | FACEBOOK

Jennifer Davis Rash, executive editor of The Alabama Baptist and co-chair of the awards committee, said the 48 judges — from academia as well as religious and secular journalism, outsource marketing firms and video production companies — consistently described the competition among the 441 entries as "fierce, strong and tough."

She added that there was a large increase in the number of awards submissions this year, "which helps keep the competition healthy," and noted the quality of entries also was exceptional.

"Of course, high quality entries are submitted each year," she said. "Baptist Communicators reflect a standard of professionalism and level of artistic talent for which Southern Baptists can be proud."

She also said the awards program—although a highlight for many—was just part of a great program of speakers and activities.

The professional development organization's 62nd annual meeting was built around workshops, networking opportunities and keynote addresses, as well as two mission projects: Some attendees gave a day of labor in the food pantry work of the Telegraph Ministry Center in nearby Oakland, and, others contributed their time and talents while in San Francisco to develop a marketing strategy, logos and website layout for the Nepal Bible Society in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Rash said the program chair, Terry Barone of the California Southern Baptist Convention, and his team "pulled off an informative and fun experience this year in San Francisco.

"The speakers and workshops gave us plenty of ideas to hone our respective crafts," Rash said, adding that networking and fellowship time "allowed us to renew friendships, make new contacts and refresh."

The Baptist Communicators Association offers professional growth opportunities to approximately 300 members primarily from Southern Baptist national entities, state conventions, newspapers and universities.

The 2016 annual meeting is scheduled for April 13-16 at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center in Davis, Oklahoma, described as the largest youth encampment in North America.

The complete list of 2015 award winners, along with partial judges' comments on grand prize winners may be viewed online as a flip book.