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Religion Coverage Honored as Pulitzer Finalist

The religion editor and two staff members at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were among finalists for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for a series of articles investigating alleged child sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Amish and Mennonite communities.

Peter Smith took the award along with staff photographer Stephanie Strasburg and former reporter Shelly Bradbury, who has since moved to the Denver Post, for a series of stories that ran from May to December 2019. 

Smith is also the current president of the Religion News Association, a professional association for journalists who cover religion in the secular and non-sectarian media. 

“Religion journalism is vital, just as local journalism is vital, and both are central here,” Smith told Bobby Ross Jr. of Religion Unplugged. “Our newspaper recognized the importance of this story and committed to investing our time and resources into understanding the problem in its unique cultural context, then reporting and telling the story through word and image.”

Smith, Strasburg and Bradbury also were part of a Post-Gazette team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre, and Smith led the newspaper’s 2018 coverage of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on 70 years of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Having a background in covering the Amish and Mennonite churches helped Smith maintain a respect for the culture even while addressing how aspects of it, including a tradition of forgiveness and reconciliation, can be factors in abuse, he told Ross.

He said Strasburg and Bradbury, whom he called “remarkable journalists,” also immersed themselves in learning about the religion and culture of the churches.

“We all worked together on these stories, but you’ll see that their bylines are atop some of the most spiritually poignant narratives, such as Kay’s, Joanna’s and the Burkholders,” he said. “As we were bringing the project to completion, our editor commented that this is the kind of story we go into journalism to tell.”

Find links to the stories here.

The Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for 2020 went to the staff of the Baltimore Sun for its reporting on the financial relationship between the city’s mayor and the public hospital system she helped to oversee.

The staff of the Boston Globe also was nominated, for exposing socioeconomic inequities among the city’s brightest public high school students a decade after graduation.

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.