Foundation Rewards Bible References in Media

The Amy Foundation offers thousands of dollars in cash prizes for journalists who put Bible verses and communicate "biblical truth" in stories for secular publications.

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An influence in the media is considered so valuable that some groups are willing to pay for it. The Amy Foundation offers more than $30,000 in prize money every year to journalists who weave biblical Scripture into stories for non-religious publications. While many writers happily compete for the prizes, others question the ethics of the process. NPR's Jason DeRose reports.

JASON DeROSE reporting:

The mission of the Lansing, Michigan, based Amy Foundation is simple, says administrator Mary Spagnuolo.

Ms. MARY SPAGNUOLO (Amy Foundation Administrator): Our goal is to promote the book of truth in the secular media.

DeROSE: Spagnuolo says it's easy to get the Bible quoted in Christian magazines and newspapers, but those are read by people who are already religious. So she says the foundation decided to give annual cash prizes, including a top award of $10,000, for writing about what the foundation considers biblical truth. Spagnuolo says the award is intended to be an incentive for Christian reporters to do outreach to non-believers.

Ms. SPAGNUOLO: Our goal is discipleship. We would like more people to come to know God.

DeROSE: The Amy Foundation has been holding its writing contest for 21 years and now receives more than 1,000 entries annually. Those entries are then judged by a panel to decide first, second and third place along with honorable mentions. Last year's winner was Nicole Brambila, a staff writer at the San Angelo Standard-Times newspaper in west Texas. She wrote a series of articles about abortion.

Ms. NICOLE BRAMBILA: One of the conditions for the contest is that it has some kind of biblical message, and this obviously is the life of the unborn, but also that it has a Scripture and I had a Scripture out of Psalms that was important to the woman I interviewed.

DeROSE: That would be Psalm 139.

Ms. BRAMBILA: `God knowing us even when we're being formed in the womb.'

DeROSE: Brambila, who has also written freelance articles for Focus on the Family publications, says while she doesn't go into stories trying to win the Amy Foundation competition, she keeps the possibility in mind. She's been entering for the last five years and during her reporting for the abortion series, Brambila interviewed a woman whose mother gave her up for adoption after being raped.

Ms. BRAMBILA: As she is visiting and sharing how she shares her testimony, you know, this Scripture came out and then I thought, `Hmm.' I just kind of took that away.

DeROSE: Both Brambila's editor and the San Angelo Standard Times publisher have been very supportive, but she says she hasn't mentioned the prize to other reporters in the newsroom. Still, Brambila says she doesn't see entering the contest as a breach of journalistic ethics. However, the Amy Foundation's offer of money for the insertion of Bible verses is troubling to some.

Mr. BOB McCLORY: I think at first glance it looks like a very good case of conflict of interest.

DeROSE: Bob McClory teaches religion reporting at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

Mr. McCLORY: Journalists certainly can use quotations from almost any source to clarify a story that they're writing about, but if they are receiving a reward or seeking a reward for using quotes from one certain source, then it seems to me it's going to skew their objectivity or their kind of general perception of the situation.

DeROSE: McClory also worries any contest that seeks to promote biblical truth in secular newspapers is debilitating to the integrity of journalism in general. And besides, he says...

Mr. McCLORY: I mean, there are other awards that you can get for good, objective journalism.

DeROSE: The deadline for entering the Amy Foundation's writing contest is January 31st.

Jason DeRose, NPR News, Chicago.

BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. Amen to that. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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