by Bob Hart
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For the 19th consecutive year, The Leaven emerged a winner at the annual Catholic Press Association convention, held this year in New Orleans, June 2-4.
The newspaper took home seven honors, including first-place recognition for reporting on special age groups — teenagers and young adults — and a second place honor for Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s regular column.
“Youth Reigns,” by The Leaven staff, was honored for Best Reporting on Teenagers, with judges calling it “a stand-out combination of words and pictures that put readers on the scene with context and insight.” Judges also praised the “fine writing and sharply focused reporting.”
Jill Ragar Esfeld topped all entries in Best Reporting on Young Adults, with “Jayhawker Evangelization.” Judges said, “The writer grabs the attention from the start and never lets go. Her vivid descriptions keep readers engaged. She doesn’t shy away from tough questions these Catholic students are asked or the difficulty students have when first explaining their faith to other students.”
“Every year, the awards give us an additional reason to be grateful for our great freelancers — in this case, Jill Esfeld,” said editor Father Mark Goldasich. “Jill came to our attention years ago when The Leaven did a story on her and the Madonnas she painted. Since then, she’s become practically a member of the staff — first as a writer, and now as a writer/photographer. The story that won appeared on the front page, and was both written and photographed by her, so it was especially nice to see her honored for her dual efforts.”
In a brand new CPA category, Best Regular Column by a Bishop or Archbishop, judges praised Archbishop Naumann’s “Life Will be Victorious,” calling it “appropriately named . . . two of the submitted columns focused on the pro- life movement and another was about an experience he had recently at O’Hare airport in Chicago. All focused on celebrating life, in one way or another. Well written.”
“As soon as I realized that the CPA was introducing a new category for bishops’ columns,” said managing editor Anita McSorley, “I knew that I wanted to enter the archbishop’s. The question was, which ones, since we had to submit three. There had been two dramatic events that took place in the calendar year we were submitting for — the appointment of Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the shooting of Dr. George Tiller — and the archbishop had written on both of them, so those were sort of slam dunks.”
“But for the third, I selected one of my own favorites — an account of an experience he shared with some fellow travelers at the airport. I always like it when columnists — and especially priests and archbishops — show their human side. And in this column,” she added, “you really get a glimpse of a side of the archbishop that probably a lot of our readers never get to see.”
The Leaven received two other second-place honors, both for Joe Bollig, in the categories of Best Headline and the special Knights of Columbus Father Michael J. McGivney Award for distinguished Volunteer Journalism.
Other awards were third place for Best Front Page (Tabloid) to Todd Habiger and an honorable mention for Jill Ragar Esfeld in the National Right to Life’s Excellence in Journalism competition, for “An Open Heart.”
Habiger’s recognition in the Best Front Page competition marks the sixth time in the past seven years that he has placed in that category, including four first-place finishes.
“It’s always an honor to do so well in this category because there are so many well-designed Catholic papers out there,” Habiger said. “My goal with design is to make the reader want to pick up the paper and start reading right away.”