Fall 2020 President’s Message
“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” ~ Frederick Douglass
We have the storm of COVID, a whirlwind of an election and perhaps, finally, we’re having the earthquake in racial equality for which Frederick Douglas fought. You know that these things are changing journalism, but you may not be aware of exactly what’s changing for journalists in New Jersey.
Here’s what’s different in just the last few months:
- The arrest of Asbury Park Press reporter—and NJ-SPJ Member— Gustavo Martínez Contreras at a Black Lives Matter protest has led the Attorney General to create a working group to examine, “the appropriate balance between free access by the news media to cover protests and restrictions imposed by law enforcement to ensure safety and security.” In the meantime, Martínez has filed a lawsuit.
NJ-SPJ condemned Gustavo’s arrest, in a statement that was published on the Sunday op-ed page of the Star-Ledger.
Two members of NJ-SPJ are serving on the Attorney General’s working group. One is Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, a reporter at The Trentonian and the other is me, Bob Schapiro, the chapter president. (I can be contacted at email@example.com.) In addition, the commission accepted our recommendation of Audrey Harvin, the executive editor of The Burlington County Times and other newspapers in southern NJ. The other people representing the press on the commission are Thomas Cafferty, the attorney for the NJ Press Association (NJPA), and Paul Rotella, President of the NJ Broadcasters Association.
- After a hiatus of several months, the NJPA has just resumed issuing press cards. But big changes are in store. You may already have an NJPA press card in your wallet. On the back you will see the seal of the state police. That made the NJPA “state actors” and involved them in a rather odd lawsuit. Apart from that, there is growing sentiment that the government and law enforcement should not determine who is “press.”
The NJPA invited NJ-SPJ to work with them on the new standards. Traditionally, the NJPA has represented businesses, publications and groups, while the members of NJ-SPJ are individual journalists; quite a few people are involved in both organizations.
As we said, big changes are in the works and they may be announced fairly soon.
- New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) no longer provides a 7-day time limit for obtaining official minutes, public contracts and other materials. If you’re having problems obtaining public records or gaining access to public meetings, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Open Public Meetings and transparency laws in many New Jersey communities have changed.