Sally Stapleton, an award-winning editor, photojournalist and newsroom leader, has been tapped to direct global religion coverage for The Associated Press, overseeing a new team that will report on faith and its influence throughout the world.
The appointment was announced Friday by Sarah Nordgren, AP’s deputy managing editor for sports, business, entertainment, health, science and religion.
As global religion editor, Stapleton will lead a team funded by a $4.9 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. to the Religious News Foundation. The AP will work with Religion News Service and The Conversation to improve understanding of developments in the world of faith and analyze their significance.
Stapleton, 61, was managing editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2017 until April of this year and led that newsroom’s transformation to a digital-first operation. The staff of the Post-Gazette received the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting for its coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue hate-crime massacre .
“Sally is the right kind of leader for this important launch of a new AP coverage team,” Nordgren said. “She has a record of producing top-level coverage on religion, and she understands how to produce and present great multi-format content for readers around the world.”
Stapleton served on the board of directors for the Associated Press Media Editors organization for the past three years. She previously was managing editor of The Day in New London, Connecticut, where she oversaw website and mobile transformations. The Day’s website won the New England Newspaper Association’s website of the year three times during her tenure.
From 1990 to 2004, Stapleton worked in a variety of photo leadership positions for the AP, including deputy executive photo editor, overseeing all aspects of AP’s photo operation.
During that time, she oversaw two photography teams that were recognized with Pulitzer Prizes. One involved Rwanda genocide coverage in 1995, the other the simultaneous U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1999. Before joining the AP, Stapleton held photo and news graphics. editor positions at The Boston Globe, the Miami Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Stapleton received a master’s degree in photojournalism and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She speaks Spanish and French, and for the past 15 years, she has led The Great Lakes Media Institute, which provides journalism training in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
The grant from the Lilly Endowment for the AP’s new religion team represents one of the biggest investments in religion news coverage in decades. The initiative will create a joint news desk to produce multi-format coverage of major faiths, with a focus on illuminating the religious practices and principles that underlie current events and cultural movements.
To help build the initiative, the AP will hire eight religion journalists, and the Religion News Service will hire three. The Conversation will add two editors. The organizations will also hire additional business staff to help administer the grant. Each of the three organizations will retain editorial control of its content, which will be labeled and distributed by the AP.