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Announcing our 2020 Signature Awards winners

For a summary sheet listing the names of our winners in all of our categories, click here. 

Hello friends –

As many of you know, this is the season in which we honor the winners of our annual NJ-SPJ Signature awards luncheon. It’s always an inspiring event since it’s one of those rare opportunities to gather people in the New Jersey journalism community to celebrate excellence in our profession.

Yet, this year, because of the pandemic, this in-person event cannot happen. Even though New Jersey is starting to open up, social distance remains the operative word. That is why we are taking the unprecedented step of announcing our 2020 Signature Awards winners online.

This year’s winners covered a wide range of stories, from a look at activists’ calls to allow convicted felons in New Jersey to vote to a deep dive into bullying in school.

Our most prestigious award is the David Carr Reporter of the Year. This year, the honor went to Dustin Racioppi, of The Record/ for a collection of stories about a patronage scandal at the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. His work is investigative beat reporting at its best. As the judges noted, “Mr. Racioppi’s extraordinary scoop and his continued and sustained coverage of the scandal involving the New Jersey Schools Development Authority is the work that would make the great David Carr, a true master of the craft, proud.”

But I must admit a fondness for one particular category: the Wilson Barto Rookie Journalist of the Year. This year, the Barto went to Scott Yunker of The Coast Star. He submitted three stories, including my personal favorite, a piece about 56-year-old Jackie Morgan-Stackhouse, a Brielle, NJ resident, who has traced her family’s history back to slavery and has helped write the history of African-Americans in Monmouth County. I hope young people, especially, find inspiration in his work.

Of course, there are more. In all, there are nine awards categories and more than 20 winners spanning first, second and third place. if you want to find out about them, open up the Power Point above (links to the winning work are included). I invite you to take a look. (For a summary sheet of all the winners, you can also click here.)

Cheers to all,

Miriam Ascarelli, NJ-SPJ president

P.S. The end of June is also significant because it marks the end of another “year’’ at NJ-SPJ. This year, we will “pass the gavel’’ virtually, so let me introduce our 2020-2021 board. Our officers are: Bob Schapiro, president; Steve Tettamanti, vice president; Sue Toth, secretary; and Lew Wheaton, treasurer. Our trustees are: Melanie Andizei, Liz Birge, Robert Bugai, Emily Kratzer, David Levitt, Claire Regan, and me, the out-going NJ-SPJ president, Miriam Ascarelli.…

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News Release: NJ-SPJ condemns arrest of Asbury Park Press journalist

For immediate release


Miriam Ascarelli, NJ-SPJ president:
Bob Schapiro, NJ-SPJ president-elect:

Asbury Park Press Journalist Targeted by Police

The streets of many New Jersey cities, like those in the rest of the country, are convulsing because people feel they’ve been denied a voice or simply were not being heard. That is why last night’s arrest of Asbury Park Press reporter Gustavo Martinez Contreras, while covering police brutality protests, is especially disturbing for the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ).

“It looks like Contreras was targeted as a journalist,” according to his editor, Paul D’Ambrosio, who spoke with NJ-SPJ. “Gustavo was wearing his credentials and he had been among the cops who arrested him for several minutes.”  D’Ambrosio, who is also the executive editor of, points out that an officer can be heard saying, “F–k ‘em, he’s the problem” on Contreras’ Twitter video in the seconds before Contreras was grabbed by police. (Please see and Twitter @newsguz.) 

NJ-SPJ condemns the arrest. We are gratified that the charge — failing to obey an order to disperse — is being dismissed and that the NJ Attorney General is declaring that “We will…make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Because in America, we do not lock up reporters for doing their job.”  

With all due respect, though, these things will continue to go wrong until the value of journalists and their reporting is understood by all. It only takes one individual police officer to silence the press at any given place, in any given moment. As we have seen with what happened to George Floyd, events on a single street corner carry immense importance. Frankly, there are not that many journalists out on the streets in the first place, covering stories like this, which makes it essential to stand-up for each reporter, every time.

When reporters are silenced, or even detained, the public is denied an accurate picture, which creates space for rumors and resentment to grow. Just prior to his arrest, Contreras’ Twitter video reveals police officers aggressively wrestling two young women to the ground and handcuffing them. Seconds later, they were telling Contreras, “Shit’s over, go home!” and then “Get your f—ing hands behind your back.”  Editor D’Ambrosio observes that it only took a few seconds for things to go bad, even after the Asbury Park police had earlier cooperated with the Asbury Park Press to have reporters covering the protests past curfew.

Ironically, prior to his arrest, Gustavo Martinez Contreras had filmed an exceptional moment when police and protestors took a knee together, in recognition that the death of George Floyd is revealing truths that all must confront with honesty and empathy.

The New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) notes that protestors and police in many cities, most notably Newark and Camden, are working to allow mass protests to continue in a peaceful manner.

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Free journalism webinars on 3/18 and 3/19

As we all try to cope with the uncertainty of an upended world, we wanted to share two free webinars that are being organized this week by our  friends at the Center for Cooperative Media and the Online News Association-NJ:

  • Wednesday, March 18, 3-4:30 p.m.: Free webinar led by Borrell Associates on identifying online advertising opportunities. For more info and to register, click here.
  • Thursday, March 19, 1-2:30 p.m.: Free Ask Me Anything webinar with Steve Stirling, project editor for Columbia Journalism Investigations, on how COVID-19 is impacting New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Stirling, a former investigative reporter for, recently started his own daily newsletter called Coronaviral to catalogue updates and information about the way  Click here for more info and to register.
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March 7 podcasting workshop

NOTE: We have decided to POSTPONE Saturday’s workshop. Given the anxiety about Coronavirus, we are concerned about a high absentee rate, which would undermine the time and effort that it takes to put on the workshop. When the fog clears, we will reschedule. We remain dedicated to providing these kinds of training opportunities to journalists in our area. — Miriam Ascarelli, NJ-SPJ president
Learn podcasting from the pros! Participants in this day-long workshop will emerge knowing how to record and edit audio, how to write a script, and how to promote and distribute a podcast. We’ll also cover what equipment to buy based on your budget. Seating is limited to 30.
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat., March 7
Where: Retro Report, 633 3rd Ave. at East 41st St., NYC
Cost: $75
To register, click here!
Meet our instructors:
Alex Kapelman is consulting executive producer of audio at WIRED and the founder of Podcast Love, a podcast company that helps brands create, produce, and launch successful podcasts. He teaches audio reportage to grads and undergrads at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and was the co-showrunner for Pitch, a narrative podcast about music from Audible.
Kayla Dwyer is a multimedia breaking news and business reporter for theMorning Call in Allentown, PA. For about two years, she was the host and producer of “The Morning Call Podcast,” a weekly podcast that showed the process behind some of the newspaper’s most pressing stories.
Steve Lubetkin is a professional podcaster and managing partner of Lubetkin Media Companies in Cherry Hill, N.J. He is co-author of The Business of Podcasting: How to Take Your Podcasting Passion from the Personal to the Professional. Copies of the book will be available at the discounted price of $20.
Liz Birge is an associate professor of Communication at William Paterson University where she teaches in the journalism program. A former reporter for the Chicago Tribune and the Star-Ledger, her first podcast grew out of an interest in promoting literacy through her Little Free Library.
What to bring: your smart phone, a laptop computer, ear buds, and chargers for your phone and laptop. If you already have a short interview or other audio that you’d like to edit and transform into a short audio segment, bring it! We will also be setting aside time during the workshop to collect audio in mid-town Manhattan to slice and dice into audio segments.
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