Paul Nichols — an appreciation

                                       Photo: courtesy Nichols family

                                    Photo courtesy Nichols family

Paul Nichols planned to have a special frame made for his recent “Courage Under Fire” award. He scarcely had the chance. Less than five days after the NJ-SPJ award ceremony on June 12, he was found dead of natural causes. Paul Nichols was 49 years old, leaving two children. That is tragic and upsetting, yet this appreciation will not be about how wonderful he was.

It’s become commonplace to say that the job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The people who can do this on a regular basis, however, tend to have sharp edges. It is not an easy life, nor was it easy to be the one-man-band publisher and chief correspondent of the Bergen Dispatch

Many journalists like to hear that their award sailed through the approval process, but Paul welcomed the chance to answer questions about his story. He wanted to educate his fellow journalists.

On the one hand, Paul stood up to a Bergen County Superior Court judge who issued an order amounting to prior restraint—bizarrely on a story that was already posted—based on a law that had long ago been repealed. Yet defying any court order is risking jail for contempt as well as legal fees that can bankrupt a small newspaper or website. Fortunately, a federal court quickly agreed with the Bergen Dispatch. (Paul Nichols would want to thank attorney Paul Clark of Jersey City, who worked on a pro bono basis.) The Bergen Dispatch’s reporting was expanded upon by the Washington Post.

Seems like a natural for a journalism award, right? Yet Paul’s story was about the NJ Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS, which has since been renamed) — and he knew that system well because he himself had been jailed on numerous occasions as a “Deadbeat Dad.” We are not speaking ill of the departed, not by Paul’s own standards. He wrote quite a few stories about his involvement with the system, in which he says the words “Deadbeat Dad” can be enough to make due process of law simply evaporate. He spoke to us about a world in which “hearings” are held in jail cells, where people are re-arrested even after their sentences have been vacated and where sheriffs issue press releases about arrests that have not yet taken place, against people who have not been in court.

Of course, nothing is black and white. In granting Paul Nichols a Courage Under Fire award, the NJ Society of Professional Journalists had to wrestle with issues of the right to privacy vs. the public’s right to know; the proper amount of disclosure on individual articles for something that is generally public knowledge; and the objectivity of specific articles written by an acknowledged advocacy journalist, in a situation where advocates may be the only ones who know what’s going on.…

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Winners feted at brunch in Newark

Frank_LoMonteMore than 70 people from news organizations all over the state attended this year’s NJ-SPJ Excellence in Journalism brunch and program at the Maize restaurant in Newark yesterday to celebrate the winners of our annual contest. Keynote speaker was Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. LoMonte spoke about the need to strengthen press rights for high school and college students, who, in this age of job cuts and retrenchment, are often doing the work that the professional media used to do.…

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NJ-SPJ contest winners, announced!

For more information, contact Miriam Ascarelli
Mobile: 862-576-1256

A reporter’s unflinching look at her own cancer treatment, rendered in a podcast in her own voice. The continuing fallout from the Bridgegate scandal. The disturbing grip that heroin continues to have over too many New Jerseyans.

Those stories are among the many outstanding pieces produced by Garden State journalists in 2015 that will be honored June 11 at this year’s New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists annual Excellence in Journalism Awards program and brunch at the Maize Restaurant at the Robert Treat Hotel, 50 Park Pl., Newark. The keynote speaker will be Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. A complete list of our winners can be found here. Click here to RSVP.

This year’s contest included more than 50 categories, from headline writing to photojournalism to investigative reporting. It covered the entire spectrum of the industry: print, digital, radio, television, magazines, newsletters and photojournalism.

Standouts include The Chemo Files, a podcast produced by reporter Debbie Galant and her son, Noah Levinson. The series won first place in the podcast category. Beautifully told in a first-person narrative, it chronicles Galant’s eight-month ordeal with chemotherapy and never loses sight of the personal while taking on such topics like the science behind her treatment and the taboo behind the words “breast cancer.’’ The series can be found on, an online magazine Galant founded and publishes.

Other top winners include:

MATT KATZ of WNYC is this year’s New Jersey Journalist of the Year. Katz was selected from among all of our winners because his tenacious reporting on Bridgegate and Gov. Chris Christie set the standard for coverage of an important statewide and national story that promises to continue to dominate headlines.

Katz’s work is best described by his boss Nancy Solomon, managing editor of New Jersey Public Radio, who says his stories demonstrate “his dogged determination, investigative skills and a passion for transparency and open records.’’ Katz’s output in 2015 included not just the stories he did for WNYC but also a book on Christie. A sampling of his radio reports can be found here, here and here.

CHARLES KRATOVIL of the hyperlocal website New Brunswick Today is the winner of our Stuart and Beverley Awbrey Award for community service by a local publication. The Awbrey honors the weekly or local online publication that goes beyond standard reporting of local events, instead seeking to inspire communities to better themselves.

New Brunswick Today is being honored for a series of stories it called Watergate — except unlike the original               Watergate, this one involves actual water. The mainly web-based independent news operation (it publishes a monthly print edition) engaged in a relentless inquiry into the operations of New Brunswick’s water treatment plant, ofttimes putting itself at odds with city officials.…

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100+ students attend annual “Meet the Press” event

meet the pressMore than 100 students attended today’s annual NJ-SPJ/Public Relations Society of America “Meet The Press” panel at Rutgers University’s Piscataway campus. The five media panelists were: David Levitt, Bloomberg Business News;  Gema de las Heras, “A Tu Lado” consumer producer for Univision (WXTV 41 New York); Tom Bergeron, editor, NJBIZ Magazine; Josh Cornfield, New Jersey news editor, Associated Press; and Walt Kane, investigative reporter, News 12 NJ

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