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Open records law presentation in Ridgewood Nov. 2

Walter Luers of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government will be speaking in Ridgewood Nov. 2  about the state’s sunshine laws.

The event, at Ridgewood Village Hall, 131 N. Maple Avenue, is free. It runs from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Luers is an attorney who specializes in issues related to the state Open Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act.

Light refreshments will be served.

The event is sponsored by the Ridgewood League of Women Voters.…

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Save Oct. 14 for SkillsFest

Editor’s note: The Oct. 14 Skills Fest has been postponed. We’ll let you know about the new date as soon as it is determined. 

Good news!

SPJ National has awarded a $500 grant to help us stage another Skills Fest event.

Our first Skills Fest in April was a success. We drew 22 students and professional to the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark for a half-day of training on social media and other journalism applications.

Each of the participants either became new members or were about to renew their membership, so we grew out chapter by 20 percent in a single day.

However, there were some costs that the chapter had to pay. The grant from SPJ national will help us cover those costs.

Our next SkillsFest will again be at NJIT on Saturday, Oct. 14. Please save the date and watch for details on our guest speakers.

A chapter grows at William Paterson

The NJSPJ board with William Paterson University students. Photo by Robert Bugai.

Our most recent board meeting took place on Sept. 16 at William Paterson University in Wayne where we were graciously hosted by the Communications Department.

We met with their chairman, faculty and several print and broadcast students who recently became SPJ members.

The University agreed to pay for the students’ membership fees in hopes of establishing a student chapter on campus.

We offered to do what we can to help them in that effort.

Welcome to our newest board member

During our September meeting, the board voted to add Nick Hirshon to our board of directors.

Nick is an associate professor at William Paterson who will be serving a campus advisor to our new SPJ student chapter there.

He is a former New York City journalist and Deadline Club member who has written for the New York Daily News and other publications. He also has written books on the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Forest Hills, the Queens neighborhood that hosts the U.S. Open.

Nick has a Bachelor’s in journalism from St. John’s University, a Master’s in journalism from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in mass communication from Ohio University.

We welcome Nick to our board and look forward to working with him on the new student chapter.


I made some mistakes in my previous president’s message on our other new board member, Claire Regan.

Claire continues to serve on the board of the Deadline Club, where she is vice president for special projects. She has also chaired their scholarship committee for about 10 years.

And Claire co-chaired last year’s spring regional conference with Region 1 Director Jane Primerano.

She is also a regular contributor to the Staten Island Advance, where she previously served as an editor.…

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Remembering Fran Burns

Fran Burns (third row, second from right) during her days at the Hudson Dispatch.

Fran Burns (1948-2017)

I loved to hear Fran’s stories.

We old newspaper ladies tend to ramble on about predatory politicians, clueless editors, catastrophic malfunctions in new-and-improved technology, but Fran put her own spin on her tales: her days at the Hudson “Disgrace,” from churning out obits to covering the Statehouse. Then at UPI, fielding the questions: “Does UPI still exist?” and “I thought they went out of business years ago?”

But she had earlier stories, too. Her college years at St. John’s College, the one in Annapolis, MD. It sounds like a place for late-night debates on God, politics, baseball, all the important things.

Fran spent some years as a cab driver and then as a self-described Trotskyite forklift operator, but she loved journalism which is best described as an addiction rather than a profession.

She became involved in the New Jersey Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a high-falutin’ (and somewhat redundant) name for a group of like-minded ink-stained wretches. Even in this era of electronic wizardry, there are those of us who bask in the aroma of newsprint, thrive skating on the edge of a deadline, survive on a diet of caffeine and, in Fran’s case, nicotine and love every minute of it.

Fran was president of the motley crew in the early 2000s and remained on the board after her tenure at the helm. She was known for a series of freelance programs. She invited editor and freelancers to a panel discussion/speed dating/melee. Many of us got jobs or at least gigs out of those panels. Because Fran knew everyone, she was a great matchmaker.

Fran handled her illness like she handled everything else: with humor and spirit. She continued to work, editing for NJ Spotlight, as long as she could. She cracked jokes about how, after years of smoking, it wasn’t lung cancer that got her. She ventured to New York City in April to the SPJ Regional Conference and for a UPI reunion as well as to Maryland for a college event.

The last time I saw Fran was after an SPJ meeting in August. I ended up trading stories with her until much later than I thought I would, but she wasn’t slowing down or tiring at all. Surrounded by books and not a few journalism awards, Fran was as sharp and funny as ever. I’m glad I will be able to remember her that way.…

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Dash-cam videos, new SkillsFest

Hello SPJ members! I hope you’ve all had a good summer and enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

Your SPJ New Jersey board had a very productive summer. Here are a few things we’ve been working on.

Friend of the court

This past weekend the board voted unanimously to join in an amicus or “friend of the court” brief in a lawsuit filed by John Paff versus Ocean County.

John Ensslin

Paff is an officer with New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, an open records advocacy group with which New Jersey SPJ holds a permanent seat.

He sought a copy of a police dashboard video from a 2014 incident in which a police dog attacked a woman who allegedly failed to stop in a vehicle pursuit.

Here is a link to a story about the case.

As one of our board members wrote, it is a relatively easy decision to join this case as a “friend of the court.”

To a person, our board believes it is important that police dashboard camera footage be a public record.

A step back in time

Our board had a productive meeting on Aug. 26 in Flemington. We met in perhaps the most elegant surroundings of any meeting in several years: the Doric House next to the Hunterdon County Historical Society Library.

The library had a wealth of materials about the 1935 Lindbergh kidnap-murder trial which took place in the courthouse just down the block and across the street.

For me, the highlight of the collection was a document signed by all the reporters who covered the trial, including one “Damon Runyon.”

Later Regional Director Jane Primerano led us on a walking tour to the now defunct Union Hotel where Runyon and the press corps stayed during the trial.

A new board member

During the meeting, we voted to confirm the appointment of Claire Regan as the newest member of our board.

Claire is a former editor for the Staten Island Advance who now teaches journalism at Wagner University.

She is a former member of the New York Deadline Club’s board of directors where she served on their scholarship committee. She helped Jane organize the most recent Region 1 Spring Conference in New York City.

Claire is a gifted graphic designer. She designed the beautiful medallions that the Deadline Club uses for their Hall of Fame. She also helped our chapter with designing brochures when New Jersey last hosted the spring regional conference in New Brunswick.

She fills the unexpired term of Maureen Nevin. Thanks, Maureen, for your service.

We’re a non-profit (again)

Our chapter received some good news recently from the Internal Revenue Service. We have been approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)6 organization.

What this means for us is that we no longer have to rely upon the national SPJ’s tax exempt status.…

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NJ SPJ plans for the coming year

John Ensslin, chapter president

Hello NJ SPJ members,

 A budget plan, a by-laws overhaul, a possible two-state journalism contest and talk of a Journalism Hall of Fame emerged from a very productive retreat by the board of the Society of Professional Journalists New Jersey chapter on July 16.
We met for just over four hours at the home of Russ and Susan DeSantis to craft an overall plan for the year ahead.
Here are some highlights:
  • Board members discussed creating a budget that would pursue an austerity plan while trying to build up a reserve for next year.We anticipate a good year financially – particularly because we’ll be co-hosting the Regional Conference this spring in Philadelphia.However, such opportunities only come along every four years, so building up a reserve this year will help create some stability next year.
  •  We decided to attempt a top to bottom rewrite of our bylaws. I’ve appointed a committee chaired by NJ SPJ board secretary Emily Kratzer to come up with specific recommendations. This will likely be a slow process that may take up most of the year, so stay tuned. 
A two state contest?
  • The board also explored a possible merger of our journalism contest with that of the Keystone chapter in Pennsylvania. We’re only in the most preliminary discussions and there’s no done deal.However our contest this year experienced a sharp decline in the number of entries. A possible merger with Keystone, which has a similar-sized contest, could help create a more competitive field.We’ll spend the rest of this summer working on the details. No matter what happens, we will continue with our signature honors – the O’Brien, Barto, Awbrey and Courage Under Fire awards.
So again, stay tuned.
New Jersey Journalism Hall of Fame
Our chapter is planning to do the first ever New Jersey Journalism Hall of Fame.
We’ll be turning to our chapter’s former presidents to help us develop a list of potential candidates.
But you can help too. If there is someone you would like to nominate for this honor, send your recommendations along to me. My email:
With the exception of the bylaws overhaul, I expect all three of these matters may come up for further discussion at our Aug. 26 meeting, which will take place at the Doric House Museum in downtown Flemington. See details below.
The 11 a.m. meeting will be followed by a walking tour of the Union Hotel property, which recently won designation as one of SPJ national’s historic sites in journalism and the first in New Jersey.
Let me know if you’d like to take part in the tour.
Board member sought
We currently have a vacancy on our board. If you would like to be considered for the post, please let me know.
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