Drum roll please. . . here are our 2014 winners!

celebrate_b_and_wThe New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor the very best journalism done in the Garden State in 2013 as we announce the winners in our annual Excellence in Journalism Contest.

All our winners will be honored at a reception Saturday, June 28 at the Yogi Berra Museum, 8 Yogi Berra Drive, Little Falls, NJ.

Our top award winners are:

KATHERINE MILSOP of  The Community News of Fair Lawn, NJ, was the first place winner of our Stuart and Beverley Awbrey Award, which honors a weekly or local online publication that goes beyond mere reporting of local events, instead seeking to inspire their communities to better themselves. She introduced her community to Thomas Buchak, a seriously epileptic 21-year-old caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare, leaving his mom to battle state officials for the services he needs to function and progress. Katherine publicized his plight, spurring fundraising for his benefit, and both state and local community action on his behalf. Her work also very likely benefited other severely disabled young persons in communities well beyond his own.

JOSEPH MALINCONICO of the Paterson Press, was the second-place winner of the Awbrey award. Joe won for a series of stories touching on instances of alleged corruption in Paterson city government. A weeks-late campaign finance report here, a questionable severance package for the outgoing mayor there, a lucrative city employee health insurance contract left unbid for years, the Press kept a watchful eye on the steady drip drip drip of questionable goings on in the Silk City. Paterson probably needs a good forensic auditor, but until they get one, the citizens are lucky to have Joe.

The award is Joe’s second Awbrey in three years. In 2012, he became the first winner of the prestigious award to emerge from New Jersey’s online-only local news community.

The Awbrey Award is named after the husband and wife team that ran the Cranford Chronicle for many years, exemplifying the bond between a local paper and its community.

CHRISTOPHER BAXTER of The Star-Ledger is the first-place winner of our Tim O’Brien Award, daily newspaper category, for the second straight year. Chris won for a series entitled Private Schools, Hidden Riches. “The level of detail and depth involved in this investigation, the personal effort required to obtain and catalogue the information, the care taken to provide as much information to the public as possible, including a searchable online database, and the detailed comparisons in spending oversight for public and private schools, made this report the most outstanding of a terrific set of entries in this category,” one of our judges wrote in describing his work.

COREY KLEIN of The South Bergenite won first place in the O’Brien competition for weekly newspapers and local online publications, for stories entitled Green School Leaks Could Lead to Lawsuit. “Continued follow-up kept residents informed on this important community issue,” one judge wrote.

The O’Brien award is named for the late Tim O’Brien, dogged reporter for the New Jersey Law Journal who distinguished himself by his willingness to probe deeply into government documents to unearth hidden truths. NJSPJ along with the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government fought for many years to change the state’s public records law, once one of the weakest in the country, into one of the strongest.

Our “rookies of the year,” first-place winners of our Wilson Barto Awards, are MARY DIDUCH of The Record, in the daily division, MATTHEW BIRCHENOUGH of the Franklin Lakes/Oakland Suburban News, and SAMUEL ANDERSON of the Paterson Press in the weekly/local website division.

The Barto Awards are named for the late Wilson Barto, longtime city editor at The Trentonian and founder and the first-ever president of NJSPJ in 1959. Barto was famous for mentoring young reporters, helping them cope with the complexities and mysteries of New Jersey government as they encountered it for the first time.

The New Jersey SPJ annual contest is judged by SPJ chapters in other states to eliminate the possibility of bias entering the judging process. The exception is the Awbrey Award, whose winner is determined by the NJSPJ board.

A complete list of our winners can be found here.

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