Huge layoffs coming at North Jersey Media Group

The bad news many have been dreading since this summer when the Gannett Co. Inc. purchased The Record and the dozens of community newspapers that comprise the North Jersey Media Group came to pass yesterday with the announcement that 426 employees will receive pink slips by the end of the week. About half of those being laid off are expected to be rehired for new positions created as part of a restructuring, meaning the net job loss will be about 200, the company said.

Gannett bought the North Jersey Media Group in July from the Borg family, which had owned the NJMG for more than 80 years.…

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Sept. 20: Free Forum on NJ open records and open meetings laws

Our friends at that New Jersey Foundation for Open Government will be hosting a discussion on the state’s open records and open meetings laws from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 228 High St., Perth Amboy.

The event is free, and will feature open government advocate John Paff and Walter Luers, a New Jersey attorney who specializes in public records cases. Light refreshments will be provided.

To register, click here.

For more information, send an email to info@njfog.org or call 732-992-6550.…

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NJ-SPJ starts Garden State Registry of Historic Sites in Journalism

registry logo_centeredAt NJ-SPJ, we value journalism history, so, in the spirit of our national organization’s program recognizing historic sites in journalism, we have decided to create a registry of historic sites in journalism dedicated to the Garden State.

We’re kicking off our project by naming three sites to our registry: the Red Bank home of T. Thomas Fortune (1856-1928), who, in the late 19th and early 20th century, was one of the most prominent African-American journalists of his day, and The Union Hotel and Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse in Flemington, both important because of their connection to the 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping trial.

All three sites are in the New Jersey as well as National Register of Historic Places. The Historic Hunterdon Courthouse was restored in the late 1990s and is now used for special events such as re-enactments of the infamous trial, but both the Union Hotel and the T. Thomas Fortune home are in disrepair.

Of the three, only the Union Hotel — the quintessential grand Victorian hotel and which, together with the courthouse gives Main Street in Flemington its identity– is in danger of disappearing. That’s because the Flemington Borough Council has granted a redevelopment contract to a developer who wants to tear down four historic buildings, including the hotel, to build large, modern buildings and a parking garage.

The T. Thomas Fortune home was saved from the jaws of death in July when the city of Red Bank approved a plan by developer Roger Mumford to rehabilitate the home and convert it to a cultural center and build 31 luxury apartments in the style of the home in the back of the property. The project is expected to be completed by the spring of 2018, according to a report in the Asbury Park Press.

Fortune lived in Red Bank from 1901 until 1910. He called his home Maple Hall, and the house is located at 94 Drs. James Parker Blvd.

Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, the most widely read African-American newspaper of its day and known for its strong stance against lynching, discrimination, mob violence, and disenfranchisement of blacks in America. In 1892, when a white mob destroyed the Memphis newspaper owned by journalist Ida B. Wells, Wells found a new home on the pages of The New York Age as Fortune began publishing Wells’ investigative articles that documented how lynching was used as a means of social control.

Over the course of his career, Fortune wrote over 20 books and hundreds of editorials. He was a long-time advisor to Booker T. Washington, and the ghost writer and editor of Washington’s first autobiography, The Story of My Life and Work. Fortune’s involvement in two strong African-American advocacy organizations helped lay the foundation for the NAACP and other civil rights organizations that followed.…

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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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