Remembering the Union Hotel

SPJ, NJSPJ mark

hotel’s historic role

SPJ New Jersey celebrated a special event in Flemington where we unveiled a plaque that marked the Union Hotel’s entry on SPJ’s national historic sites in journalism registry.

About 35 people attended the ceremony June 30th  when we presented the plaque to the Hunterdon County Historical Society Library in downtown Flemington. Hear the ceremony at Studio SPJ.

The Historical Society has agreed to serve as temporary custodian of the plaque until the future of the Union Hotel is resolved.

The hotel served as a media hub for journalists who came from around the world to cover the Lindbergh baby kidnap-murder trial which took place at the courthouse across the street in January 1935.

Among the journalists covering that trial were:

  • Arthur Brisbane, one of the best-known editors of his day who worked for the Hearst Newspapers
  • H.L. Mencken, the well-known journalist, satirist and social critic from Baltimore.
  • Dorothy Parker, the wisecracking writer from Long Branch who became part of the famous Algonquin Hotel roundtable writers.
  • Walter Winchell, the newspaper and radio gossip columnist who wrote for the Hearst papers.
  • Damon Runyon, the journalist whose stories about characters in New York City were collected in his book “Guys and Dolls.”

SPJ New Jersey recognizes that the Union Hotel has seen some hard times since 1935 and that it’s not what it was when these journalists came to town.

We also note that there has been a fierce debate over the future of the hotel and its redevelopment.

Our role is not to weigh in on the details of that dispute.

But our plaque says loud and clear that this site represents a significant chapter in the history of American journalism.

We hope that in some fashion the site is preserved for future generations to appreciate.

Special thanks here to Patricia Millen, executive director of the historical society, for taking care of our plaque and making this event possible.

Remembering the CapGazette

The dreadful murders of five people within the Capitol-Gazette newsroom in Annapolis last week has left many of us shaken and sorrowful.

We greatly admire the “Hell Yes” persistence of their colleagues who published their paper while working through their grief.

SPJ New Jersey shares that grief.

At our board meeting in Flemington, we voted to donate $100 to the GoFundMe campaign that was set up to help the families of those whose lives were lost.

It is the least we can do to honor their memory.…

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Tribute to shooting victims

We pay tribute to the community of journalists who serve us and we mourn the deaths of GERALD FISHMAN, 61; ROB HIAASEN, 59; JOHN MCNAMARA, 56; REBECCA SMITH, 34; and WENDI WINTERS, 65; who died June 28 at work at the Annapolis Capital Gazette. We also remember ALISON PARKER and ADAM WARD, employees of CBS affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke, Va., who died Aug. 26, 2015; and Teaneck-born Don Bolles, who died June 13, 1976.

To donate to a Go Fund Me campaign that helps victims’ families, click here.

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Plaque unveiling is June 30

The Union Hotel named a Historic site in Journalism by NJ-SPJ, SPJ

Join us in Flemington at noon Saturday, June 30 when the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists unveils a plaque commemorating the role of the Union Hotel as the hub of world-wide media coverage during the Lindbergh kidnapping trial in 1935.

The plaque commemorates the hotel’s role in housing an international press corps that converged on Flemington for the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was tried and convicted for the kidnapping and murder of the infant son of aviator Charles Lindbergh. Reporters covering the trial included Arthur Brisbane, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Damon Runyon, and Walter Winchell.

The Union Hotel is the first site in New Jersey to be added to SPJ’s National List of Historic Sites in Journalism.

The Society’s Historic Sites in Journalism program honors the people and places that have played important roles in American journalistic history. The program began in 1942.

The plaque will be unveiled at the Hunterdon Historical Society Library at 114 Main St. in Flemington. The Historical Society has agreed to take temporary custody of the plaque until the future of the Union Hotel becomes more clear.

All are welcome to attend this free event.

For further information, contact John Ensslin at 973-513-5632.

Other historic sites

Other historic sites include The Pennsylvania Packet in Philadelphia, the first successful daily newspaper in the United States and first to publish the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, Freedom’s Journal in New York City, the first Black newspaper published in the United States and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

 …

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Award winners improve NJ

From left, Nicholas Muscavage, Stephen Stirling, Karin Price Muller, Susan Livio and Christine O’Brien at the NJ Society of Professional Journalists awards lunch June 16, 2018.

The winners are …

Plumbers in New Jersey crooked? It’s a negative stereotype, but one reporter’s work exposing exploitative business practices won her the Awbrey Award for community journalism.

Karin Price Mueller was one of the winners of our Signature Journalism Awards who spoke eloquently about their work during our lunch on June 16. We gathered at the Maize Restaurant at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark.

Her “Bamboozled” column, which runs in the Star-Ledger and at NJ.com, garnered these comments from members of SPJ’s Alaska chapter, which judged the contest:

“Her research and writing, including excellent use of significant community input, led to direct results. ‘Bamboozled’ fairly demonstrated the questionable practices of one of New Jersey’s largest plumbing companies. And it helped victims win refunds and apologies, while keeping other community members from being ripped off. I would imagine her effort especially helped improve the lives and finances of vulnerable residents, especially those with low incomes.”

The O’Briens

In introducing the Tim O’Brien Award, for best use of public records, his daughter Christine O’Brien recalled her late father’s love of getting into a story, digging for facts and the spirit of the newsroom.

The judges gave first place to Sean Sullivan and Stephen Stirling of the Star-Ledger and NJ.com, for a story about failings in New Jersey’s medical examiners’ offices. Their comments were:

“Even in this worthy field, one entry stands out: Death and Dysfunction, by Sean Sullivan and Stephen Stirling of The Star-Ledger and NJ.com. This work displayed tenacity in applying open records requests, skill in writing and presentation, and solid results that rippled through the Office of the Governor, Attorney General, Department of Health and elsewhere. It will affect millions of citizens. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once proclaimed, ‘Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.’ These journalists have added an emphatic ‘Amen’ to that observation.”

Second place went to Susan Livio, of the Star-Ledger and NJ.com. The judges said: A heartbreaking story of human frailty and failure, ‘The Last Good Night,’ (is a) more circumscribed but no less compelling story, notable for its solid foundation, unusual access and gripping narrative.

Third place went to David Matthau and Sergio Bichao, of New Jersey 101.5, for revealing that doctors can still practice after criminal sexual offenses, with the judge saying “That surely was shocking news to patients all over New Jersey.”

The Barto

The Wilson Barto Award for Rookie of the Year went to Nick Muscavage of the Courier News in Somerville.…

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Re-balancing press rights for students

For as long as there have been student newspapers, there have been administrators with their own ideas about what should and should not be printed and disseminated in their schools. The First Amendment rights of student journalists were at the forefront of conversation at a panel at SPJ’s region 1 conference focusing on new legislation designed to strengthen student press rights. Titled “New Voices: Freeing the Campus Press,” the session featured Frank LoMonte, Katina Paron and Emily Masters.

LoMonte, the director of a think tank on government transparency at the University of Florida, began the session by pointing out that it is extremely rare that the free speech rights of protesters and other interest groups are curtailed by the government or by any government official. However, in high school newsrooms and even some college news organizations, student journalists are routinely censored or restrained in what they can cover, what quotes they can use, and especially how they can depict the school’s image.

Often schools will stop stories from being published through prior review, and it is required that the principal read every issue before it is printed and censor anything that he or she sees fit, panelists said. The stories and content that they choose to omit are generally thought to show a negative image of the school to alumni, parents, or students coming in the school in subsequent years. 

The rules

At the most basic level, just how First Amendment protections apply to student journalists depends on whether their school is public or private. Because the First Amendment is designed to protect individuals from government actions and private schools are not considered to be arms of the state, the First Amendment does not apply to private schools; instead, students at private schools are subject to the rules and regulations of the institution. In contrast, public schools are considered to be an arm of the state, so First Amendment protections apply.

For years, the level of First Amendment protection for public school students working on school-sponsored publications stemmed from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a 1969 case involving three high school students who wore black armbands to school as part of a peaceful protest of the Vietnam War. The case went all the way to the  Supreme Court and established the standard that school officials could not censor student speech unless they could show it would cause substantial disruption to school activities.

The free-speech balance was changed in 1988 with another Supreme Court case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. This case involved students at a high school outside of St. Louis who wanted to write about social issues like teen pregnancy. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of school officials to censor student speech, establishing a new standard for all student journalists in public high schools, namely that school officials can censor speech if they can show an “educationally reasonable basis’’ for the censorship.

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