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We’re hosting!

Yes, you heard it right. We’re stepping up to the plate to host this year’s regional. The place? The School of  Communication and Information on the lovely Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick. The dates? April 12-13. Right now we’re busy planning workshops, booking venues and hammering out a million other details. Stay tuned for more information.

And, of course, if you’ve got an idea or if you want to help, contact chapter president Jane Primerano at…

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Kickstarting new ventures

The New Member Task Force of SPJ-NJ has been very busy this summer. We’ve had three events with very sizable turnouts, focusing on three goals:

  • Making SPJ-NJ a more useful organization for mid-career journalists… people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
  • Holding more activities in northern NJ.
  • Establishing new student chapters.

Seventeen people attended the “new member” meeting we held in Montclair in June. That meeting created some exciting possibilities. There was general consensus that SPJ-NJ must revitalize its website.

To that end, I am pleased to announce the New Member Task Force has spun-off its first committee. Miriam Ascarelli, who attended the June meeting, has now been named the chairperson of the SPJ Website Committee. If you’d like more information, you can contact Miriam at mascarel@ADM.NJIT.EDU.

Now to the Montclair meeting… It can be summarized in two words: Excitement and frustration.

People are frustrated with recent trends in journalism but excited about the opportunity to do something about it. When presented with a wide range of possibilities of what SPJ can become in our state, the overwhelming consensus is that we should promote quality journalism.

At the Montclair meeting, several people offered concrete suggestions:

  • There was general enthusiasm for the idea that SPJ should establish a speakers’ bureau, so that members can volunteer to go into schools in their community. To that end, I and other members will be going to Stony Brook to learn about their news literacy program. You can get general information at
  • There are some hyper-local and alternative news websites in NJ that are making money and paying their reporters. Some of the people who work at those sites were at the meeting. One site in particular is eager to share its business model with fellow journalists. SPJ wants to use its connectivity to make it a little easier to advance quality journalism in this manner.
  • There were many suggestions regarding journalistic ethics, with specifics on how SPJ can help the public identify quality journalism.
  • There were suggestions about increased activism. Representatives from the National Writers Union were present at the meeting, as well as several NJ-members, talking about the “Pay the Writer” campaign. SPJ is not a union, but we certainly support the idea that professional journalists should be properly paid for their work. SPJ is already active in supporting First Amendment concerns and government transparency. SPJ is considering doing more in the near future. If you care about a particular cause that you feel most professional journalists would support, please contact me. I will pass along your suggestions to the board.

There were suggestions in other areas that are worth noting:

  • SPJ is a very large organization that is in a position to negotiate discounts for its members.
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alter book signing

FDR and his mistress

A goal of the NJ SPJ Pro Chapter for the past couple of years has been to enter into partnerships with other organizations.

We got the chance to do that on April 27 when we joined with the Friends of Rutherfurd Hall and the Allamuchy Township Board of Education to present author and journalist Jonathan Alter speaking about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the elegant country house that was once the home of Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, FDR’s mistress.

The house, Rutherfurd Hall, constructed by Winthrop Rutherfurd in the early 20th Century, it is now owned by the Allamuchy Board of Education and it serves as a school, museum and event venue.

Although he constructed the mansion for his first wife, after her death, Rutherfurd married Lucy Mercer, former social secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alter brought those figures to life to an audience of about 150 people in the chapel that was created when the old country house was used as a nursing home for retired nuns.

Alter’s book, The Defining Moment, about the early days of FDR’s first term, didn’t mention the affair, but Alter, like most Roosevelt scholars, is interested in the intricate interactions of this complicated threesome.

“She was not Rielle Hunter,” Alter said about Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. She was also no Nan Britton (Warren G. Harding’s mistress who had a child, author of the book The President’s Daughter.) She was not Kay Summersby or Judith Campbell Exner or Monica Lewinsky, Alter insisted. Mercer was a class act, “she took her secrets to the grave and, different from other mistresses and famous men, they were in love,” Alter said.

Also a class act was Eleanor who never shared a bed with Franklin after she learned of the affair, in 1918, but stuck with him.

She discovered the affair when FDR, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, returned from a trip to Europe. He was ill and because this was in the midst of the Spanish Flu pandemic, he was rushed to their home on East 65th Street. Eleanor was unpacking her husband’s bag when she discovered letters from Lucy.

The discovery, and how she handled it, created the Eleanor Roosevelt the world came to know, a strong woman with her own causes and a great leader. Alter compared it to Theodore Roosevelt becoming the TR the world knew after the death of his first wife, Alice, when their daughter was born and the death of his mother the next day. That sent TR west and he returned with the persona that led him to the presidency. Eleanor, daughter of TR’s brother, Elliot, was Teddy’s favorite niece.

Even Eleanor’s cousin, Alice, Teddy’s eldest child, didn’t spill the beans, although she knew for years and was no fan of Franklin.…

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John Ensslin elected new SPJ prez

NEW ORLEANS —The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to announce John Ensslin as its 2011-12 president. Ensslin will serve the largest and most broad-based journalism association for a one-year term.

Immediate Past President Hagit Limor gave Ensslin the oath of office at the President’s Installation Banquet Tuesday night, Sept. 27, at the Excellence in Journalism conference in New Orleans . He was elected Sunday, Sept. 25, at an SPJ business session at the conference.

Ensslin accepted his new role by first thanking those who have been close to him during his career, including Limor.

“Watching Hagit handle the issues that arose this year was like having my own graduate course on SPJ leadership,” he said.

Ensslin’s presidency will focus on two major issues: membership and chapter health. In his speech he called attention to SPJ’s slight decline in membership in recent years, attributing this trend to the slow economic recovery, although he said confidently: “My hope is that this will be a year that we take SPJ membership to a whole new level.”

To achieve this goal, Ensslin will encourage every chapter to do a membership drive in the month of March. He will ask each chapter – professional and student, large and small – to hold at least one event aimed at retaining current members or recruiting new members. He recognizes that membership is just one of many areas of SPJ’s work that are important to support, but as he explained, many of those activities are already spearheaded by talented, productive committees.

He believes in the importance of SPJ, asserting in his installation speech: “In hard times, you learn who your true friends are, and you learn about your core values. And one thing these last few years have taught me is the true value of our Society of Professional Journalists.”

Ensslin was a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News for 27 years before moving to the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2009 to be the paper’s legal affairs reporter. He recently moved to Bergen County , N.J. , to cover local government for The Record.

Just as important as Ensslin’s professional experience is his experienced leadership in SPJ. He has served as membership chairman for the Colorado Pro chapter, Region 6 Director — including receiving the honor of Regional Director of the Year in 2010 — and 2010-11 national secretary-treasurer. He said he began thinking of running for president in 2004 when a colleague sitting by him at that year’s President’s Installation Banquet said, “You know, I can see you up there.”

Since then, Ensslin brainstormed all that he would aim to accomplish for the Society. Eventually he realized he had skills that could truly make a difference.…

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NJSPJ remembers Wilson Barto

Former Times of Trenton city editor Wilson Barto‚ 83‚ whose lifelong career in news spanned more than 59 years and jobs at five newspapers‚ died Monday‚ November 1‚ 2010. Barto was the first president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Each year‚ awards are given to first year journalists in his honor. Find his obituary here at

Former NJSPJ board member Seth Mandel remembers:

In his 50 years since helping to found the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists‚ there are two moments of pride that stand out to Wilson Barto involving a debate with an empty chair and a telegram gone perfectly wrong.

The latter incident took place when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the U.S. in 1960‚ and the editor of the Perth Amboy Evening News was fired for running a front-page wire photo of Khrushchev’s plane taking off from Moscow. The editor‚ Nicholas O’Dea Lederer‚ was hired back and then almost immediately fired again this time for not running a photo of Khrushchev’s arrival.

Barto‚ the first president of the NJSPJ‚ called the other officers of the chapter and they all agreed it would be appropriate to immediately send a telegram to the paper’s owner‚ John Barnhart‚ and register their disapproval.

“I sent this telegram to Mr. Barnhart in Florida: ‘Local management unfamiliar with editorial responsibilities wrecking a good daily’‚” Barto recalled.

Soon after that‚ the executive director of the New Jersey Press Association‚ Lloyd Burns‚ called Barto and said that Barnhart was “fit to be tied.”

Concerned about that reaction‚ Barto asked Burns what the telegram actually said.

Burns responded‚ “Local management unfamiliar with editorial responsibilities wrecking a dog daily.”

“Western Union‚ instead of telegramming ‘good daily’ had changed the word and mistakenly ran ‘dog daily’. And it settled the case of Nicholas O’Dea Lederer; he came back and he was there long enough to retire‚” Barto said.

Barto’s other point of pride concerns the 1961 New Jersey gubernatorial election between Richard Hughes‚ a former judge‚ and James Mitchell‚ President Eisenhower’s secretary of labor. The New Jersey chapter of the SPJ then still known as Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) arranged to host a debate between the candidates. Mitchell balked‚ however‚ and the chapter’s membership was split over whether to go ahead with the debate.

Barto called the officers and they agreed they should hold the debate even if Mitchell persisted in his refusal to join Hughes on stage.

“It was one of our proudest moments‚ because Richard Hughes never forgot Sigma Delta Chi‚ ” Barto said. “What we did was gave him good exposure before the press of New Jersey.”

Barto was the first secretary of an SDX chapter in central Pennsylvania centered on Pennsylvania State University‚ in 1954‚ while he was editor of a daily paper in the area.…

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