Marilyn Pryor wins prestigious award for religious journalism

Former Wel-com editor, Marilyn Pryor, has won a major award for excellence in religious journalism.
The award was announced at the recent Australasian Press Association Conference in Melbourne and presented to Marilyn’s husband, Geoff, and her famil

Former Wel-com editor, Marilyn Pryor, has won a major award for excellence in religious journalism.

The award was announced at the recent Australasian Press Association Conference in Melbourne and presented to Marilyn’s husband, Geoff, and her family in a ceremony on 20 September.

The president of ARPA, Robert J Wiebusch, gave the following citation on announcing the award in Melbourne on 10 September.

The Gutenberg Award, first initiated in 1983 as a trophy for the publication winning the most awards, was reintroduced in 1985 as a presidential award recognising excellence in religious communication. It can be awarded either to a publication or to a person. It has been my practice over the years to consult with others, particularly members of the executive, in narrowing down the field of ‘candidates’ for any given year. I certainly did this again this year, particularly because of the uniqueness of this year’s winner.

This year the award goes to an individual. For some years this person served as editor of a significant denominational publication ó a publication that regularly gave good coverage to denominational matters, but also took up social and ethical issues affecting the wider community.

This year’s winner also made a significant contribution to the wider church and community √¢ÀÜ≈°√¢‚Ä∞¬• particularly on issues relating to the beginning and end of life. In this regard, her profile as editor of a church publication gave her both a visibility and a status in the wider community which was highly respected. She was also an excellent role model for people of her own cultural background in New Zealand.

Tonight’s award is made posthumously, as Marilyn Pryor sadly passed away some months ago after suffering a debilitating illness. While it is sad that Marilyn is not with us tonight to receive this award in person, the award is made in recognition of the unique contribution she made to the religious press and to society.

I would ask Errol Pike, the New Zealand vice-president, to accept this award on behalf of Marilyn, and to arrange an appropriate occasion when the shield and parchment can be presented to Marilyn’s husband, Geoff.

Geoff Pryor responded to the citation as follows:

The family would like to record its thanks to Archbishop John for taking time out of a no doubt busy schedule to present this Award made to Marilyn.

When Errol Pike relayed the news of this Award to me on Monday night 12 September, I, and in turn, the rest of the family, were overcome with emotion. We were completely overwhelmed by the generosity and consideration of that decision. We sincerely thank all members of ARPA for this beautiful gift.

That night I asked myself: what is it about the journalists of the ‘religious’ press? What makes them so different? Clearly, they are different from the daily-press journalists. The latter are ultimately driven by net profit and dividends and consequently seek out what is immediately saleable. Sensationalism, scandal, political instability, calamity and terrorism tend to be repetitive without instilling much sense of direction, cohesion or resolution.

By contrast the ‘religious’ journalist is ultimately responsible to the bishop. The journalist’s objective is not necessarily the canonisation of the bishop so much as ‘to make his paths straight’ as thebBishop straddles the political and pastoral squares of his chess board. The journalist working alone or in a small team is more of a John the Baptist than Joan of Arc in this context.

The role of the ‘religious’ journalist is not that of the theological ethicist, forever refining the definition of ‘good’ and ‘obligations’. But the journalist’s job is just as complex. It is to search out and convey in simple terms what is significant and what gives a sense of community and journey in the current circumstances. This involves the journalist in an intimate relationship across a broad spectrum of the congregation. The fields of enquiry stretch from the school fete to the fate of populations.

So what is it that quickens the heart of the journalist? It may be the moment when, perhaps unexpectedly, the journalist sees deeply into a situation from a Christian perspective. The joy of that comes when the journalist senses that this insight is accepted and shared. It does not always take an award to do that. Sometimes it is simply an intuition. Then the journalist’s effort is transformed from personal achievement to the journeying of a community.

It is not the framed award alone, it is the growth of faith and comradeship that goes with it that is at the heart of this sort of journalism.

The Gutenberg Award recognises the breakthrough made in 1455 in bringing the printed word to the world. It is a celebration of endeavour rather than of technology.

By December 2004 the debilitating effects of motor neurone disease on Marilyn were clearly visible. I will not detail those symptoms but suffice to say that Cardinal Tom Williams described Marilyn’s efforts in publishing the December issue of Wel-com as ‘nothing less than heroic’.

Although by then she had lost the use of her voice she raised over $5,000 to fund an orphanage in Georgia, Russia, and had drafted 10 chapters of her next book about the abortion battle. Three days after sending Wel-com to the publisher she was admitted to the hospice.

So the family view this posthumous Gutenberg Award as a recognition of endeavour in line with tradition. The particular thrill for the family is that it is bestowed on Marilyn by her journalist mates!