IMPORTANT! Contest changes

Contest_Feedback_graphicTO OUR CONSTITUENTS:
We are proposing some significant changes to our annual New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists contest this year, and we would like your input. We intend to make two major changes to the contest categories.
Here’s the summary:

1) WE INTEND TO COMBINE THE DAILY NEWSPAPER AND ONLINE-ONLY AND STATEWIDE WEEKLY SECTIONS INTO ONE SECTION, SO THEY WILL ALL COMPETE AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. This means there will now be two master categories — Local and Non-local — for the written-word portion of our contest. Whether you write for a primarily print publication or an electronic one will be rendered meaningless.
2) WE INTEND TO ELIMINATE ALL CATEGORIES THAT DO NOT INVOLVE THE TELLING OF STORIES. This means we will no longer make awards for headline-writing, page or website design, or cartooning. This is intended to streamline the awards, reduce their number, and with hope, increase the value of those awards we do make.
The complete list of proposed categories can be found by clicking here.  Do take a look. We really do want your feedback, so please email your reactions to
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Under this category, entries from the Star-Ledger and Record and Gannett dailies will compete against the New Jersey Law JournalNew Jersey Jewish News, NJBIZ, New Jersey Newsroom and NJ Politicker, and the like. Our thinking is that the traditional dividing line between print dailies and their digital counterparts now has almost no meaning, and as time moves on and electronic devices become more and more the primary way of receiving news, that old distinction will fade away completely. A few years ago, we eliminated the distinction between print weekly newspapers and locally oriented websites, and this has worked out well.


Your category will be determined by your publication, and not the focus of your story. That means if the outlet that published your intended entry covers the entire state, a large region of the state, or goes beyond the state, your entry will be considered under a NON-LOCAL category.

If your publication is a local print weekly or website that covers only a single town, a cluster of towns, or a county, then your entry will be considered under a LOCAL JOURNALISM category. For example, if you cover a homicide or a gas explosion in a town for that town’s hyperlocal website, or a blog that concentrates on that town and a few other adjacent ones, that’s a LOCAL JOURNALISM entry. The same story, in the Star-Ledger, the Asbury Park Press or NJ Spotlight, is a NON-LOCAL entry.


1) COURAGE UNDER FIRE:  In honor of journalists who exhibit strength in defending the principals of a free press, open records, open meetings and transparent examination of public servants doing their jobs.
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Learn to podcast

black background_podcasting workshop_revised_v 4Join us Sun., Nov. 15 for an NJ-SPJ workshop that will teach you the basics of podcasting and also focus on what content works best for this medium. The workshop, to be held from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, is being organized in cooperation with NJIT’s student newspaper, The Vector.

Agenda: You will create your own podcasting platform and produce a 15-minute program. You will need your smart phone. Trainers are: John Ensslin of The Record, Paul Brubaker of “The Backgrounder” podcast, and Brandon Robinson, co-host of the “Brown and Scoop” podcast. The workshop will be held in NJIT’s Student Mall computer lab (Rooms 36 and 37), located below the NJIT parking deck,154 Summit St., Newark. The cost is $10 at the door but free for NJIT students and NJ SPJ members. Seating is limited to 50 people, so register by email to – information at973-513-5632.  Listen to a podcast on Studio SPJ previewing our podcasting workshop here.

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Behind a bank of cameras and glass panels, NJTV news anchor Mary Alice Williams interviewed her guest as we watched from the walkway at 2 Gateway Center during our NJ Society of Professional Journalists’ tour on Oct. 22.

Somewhere in the depths of the Agnes Varis Studio in Newark, a person guided the robotic cameras to pan or to zoom in or out.

We went into the studio and production areas, including the control room, guided by Phil Alongi, executive producer for NJTV news. We saw the multi-split screens which received feeds from servers, the rows of computers for staffers who provided the prepared segments and the sound room, isolated for quality audio.

Williams’ interview was being recorded for a segment of that evening’s news. After the interview, she told us that she regards viewers as citizens with aspirations and that the station covers New Jersey news as if it was national news. She said the team likes to cover the environment, health, politics, education, the economy and the arts, which can make a huge difference in the quality of life and economy of a community.

Chief political correspondent Michael Aron told us he sees NJTV’s role as facilitating dialogue between Republicans and Democrats. He’s covered New Jersey politics since 1978, first for New Jersey Monthly magazine, then television. As he noted, “If you’re a journalist, New Jersey never lets you down.”

Alongi added that when national and international stories break, NJTV tries to find the local tie-in. He cited how the news team talked with New Jersey’s Syrian community during coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Correspondent David Cruz said that his coverage is given depth because he grew up in New Jersey and absorbed the changes here. He described himself as someone with “a healthy distrust of authority and rampant curiosity.”

Alongi gave us some insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the studio and the news operations. Noting that the Agnes Varis Studio used to be a bank, he described the process of changing it for use by NJTV. The broadcast area uses LED lighting, which is cooler than incandescent bulbs, lasts longer and which can change color for visual highlights.

Field reporting is made easier by four LiveU recording-and-transmitting backpacks. The 40-pound packs have batteries that last about two hours. Initially, when several reporters were at the same scene, transmitting became a bandwidth problem. That was solved by using just one of the backpacks for transmitting a broadcast.

Alongi’s description of the newsgathering process was familiar – including how news decisions are made. However, with their special mission in news reporting, the team tries to only do stories that teach the viewer something. For instance, they don’t bother chasing breaking crime news unless they can put those stories into a larger perspective.…

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My EIJ 1.0

EIJ2015JlogoArmed with information I ripped from my copy of “Quill” magazine, a coupon for the airport shuttle bus and the EIJ15 app, I headed to my first Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism (EIJ) 2015 Conference in Florida last month.

During my two-day stay, fellow NJ-SPJ member Jane Primerano (many thanks, Jane!) introduced me to people I knew only by their email addresses, Twitter accounts or bylines. I met SPJ’s Director of Membership Linda Hall and members from other SPJ chapters, including Dana Neuts (Washington state), J. Alex Tarquinio (New York), Sonny Albarado (Arkansas), Andy Schotz (Washington, D.C.) and Luther Turmelle (Connecticut).

The highlight of my time in Orlando? Meeting “60 Minutes” Correspondent Lesley Stahl in the hotel elevator as I walked to the Q&A featuring Stahl and ABC News’ Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.

Stahl and “60 Minutes” have been a fixture in my house (and my mother’s house) for as long as I can remember. It sounds corny (and it is), but Stahl, along with Andy Rooney, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley and Bob Simon felt like family members we saw every Sunday night at 7:00 p.m.

Highlights from the Q&A with Stahl and Thomas:

Lesley Stahl: “Read everything. You have to work harder than you have ever worked. You have to do it over and over again.”

Pierre Thomas: “While there is change in the form of what we do, the basics (of reporting) should not and must not change. We need to develop sources. We need to work those sources and we need to be sure what we’re reporting that we believe (as best we can), it is accurate. We must be consistent because no matter what the platform is, that is what you do. Apply the same standards.”

Session on Comments Sections

While I gathered information and insights from various sessions, the “To Comment or Not to Comment” program resonated with me personally.

As a contributor to a website with an online comments section, I have been on the receiving end of anonymous ad hominem remarks.

During the presentation, Marie K. Shanahan, assistant professor of journalism, University of Connecticut, and Natalie Jomini Stroud, associate professor of communication studies, University of Texas at Austin, and director, Engaging News Project, discussed how newspapers managed uncivil online comments made in the “Comments” section of their websites.

Shanahan and Jomini Stroud found that pseudonyms used by online commenters enabled them to be “bad actors.” While a moderator can get rid of uncivil comments, it takes time. Many news organizations have eliminated their online comments sections and use social media.

Takeaways based on Shanahan and Jomini Stroud’s Research:

Incivility in the comments can affect what people take away from your journalism.…

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Weinberg pulls transparency bills

Legislative alert_158x57Bad news for open government.

Noting there were not enough votes to get the two bills that would update the state’s sunshine laws out of committee, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) took both bills off the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee agenda today.

Weinberg, who said she had spent  “a long two years” working with parties on both sides of the issue to come up with proposed language to update the state Open Records Act (OPRA) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), took the NJ League of Municipalities to task for constantly moving the goal posts during negotiations. “I want to say very publicly they have been bad partners in this endeavor,” she said.

Weinberg thanked her co-sponsor state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville),  the NJ Press Association, the ACLU of NJ, the Municipal Clerks Association, NJ Foundation for Open Government, the League of Women Voters and the editorial staffs of The Star-Ledger and The Record for their support.

The upshot is that the OPRA and OPMA bills are off the table for this year.

Maybe next year?…

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