NJSPJ President John Ensslin shares two very good pieces of news!


First, Miriam Ascarelli, our immediate past president and the all-around heart and soul of this chapter – has been named the winner of this year’s SPJ’s Howard Dubin award for outstanding pro chapter member.

Those of us on the SPJ New Jersey board were thrilled to hear this. We all have been quietly lobbying the SPJ National Board on Miriam’s behalf since April. We’re glad they listened to us.

What they heard is what folks in New Jersey have known all along: that Miriam is an exceptional SPJ leader who skillfully led the chapter through some major challenges over the last two years. We talked about her dedication to SPJ’s mission and her compassion for others, including her students at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

This is a very distinguished award named after Howard Dubin, a true gentleman and one of SPJ’s elder statesmen.

Miriam won for outstanding member among large pro chapters. The winner for small chapters was none other than Hagit Limor, a former SPJ national president, for her recent work with the Cincinnati chapter.

So congratulations Miriam on the well-deserved honor.

Flemington landmark recognized

The other good news is this:

The SPJ national board of directors has agreed to add the Union Hotel in downtown Flemington to its registry of historic places in journalism.

The Union Hotel was headquarters for reporters and photographers from around the world who converged there in January 1935 to cover the Lindbergh kidnap-murder trial. Legendary columnist Damon Runyon was among the reporters who covered what was then considered “the trial of the century.”

You can read more about the hotel on this website of the Friends of Historic Flemington.

Last summer, the SPJ New Jersey board voted to designate the Union Hotel as one of the first two locations on the New Jersey list of historic places in journalism. The other landmark was the T. Thomas Fortune house in Red Bank, home to a pioneering African-American journalist.

Kudos to Regional Director Jane Primerano, who has advocated for the Union Hotel designation for several years.

This marks the first time that a New Jersey site has made the national registry since SPJ started the list in 1942. It’s an impressive collection of sites – with locations such as Ben Franklin’s first newspaper office and Edward R. Murrow’s old CBS studio.

Here’s a link to the entire list.

Flemington meeting, walking tour

At some point later this year, we’ll have a formal ceremony with the unveiling of the SPJ Historic Sites in Journalism plaque.

But meanwhile, if you’d like to see what prompted this honor, join us in Flemington for a walking tour on Saturday, Aug. 26.

The SPJ New Jersey board will hold its regular monthly meeting at 11 a.m.…

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NJ-SPJ Courage Under Fire winner feted at awards brunch

NEWARK  — In accepting his Courage Under Fire Award from NJ-SPJ, Trentonian reporter Isaac Avilucea said he at times compared the protracted legal battle over a prior restraint order to the TV series “Batman and Robin,” with him as Robin and his attorney, Bruce Rosen, of McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli, as the “Caped Crusader.”

Rosen, who served as keynote speaker for the June 25 Excellence in Journalism brunch, told the audience that he found himself having to adapt to Avilucea’s social media style, as the 28-year-old kept the public constantly apprised of his views of the legal machinations via Tweets and Facebook postings. Rosen, a former journalist himself, found that problematic in trying to keep his legal strategies close to the vest.

In the end, “Batman” and “Robin” prevailed when, in March, state Superior Court Judge Lawrence DeBello threw out the prior restraint order, which had stood for five months. (Last week, Avilucea put the state on notice that he is planning to sue the state for malicious prosecution and defaming him in court. For more on that, click here.)

“I’m a very transparent person,” explained Avilucea. “Nothing should be locked down,” alluding to the case, in which the state Attorney General’s office sought a prior restraint order. Throughout the ordeal, Avilucea said he felt an obligation that if he allowed his rights to be “disenfranchised” every journalist in the state would have to live with what would have become a precedent-setting prior restraint.

He thanked Trentonian editor John Berry and several colleagues, then moved on to the other battle he was waging simultaneously; the one for his life. Avilucea is receiving chemo and other transfusions to fight testicular cancer. He was diagnosed and treated for cancer in 2014, but it returned, affecting also his lymph nodes, lungs and vital organs. “I planned on winning both fights through sheer strength,” he said. The outcome is positive there, too, with cancer markers down and some normalized, he reported.

“This prior restraint fight I thought was going to be my legacy,” Avilucea recalled. “And I didn’t want my legacy to be that of a Benedict Arnold, a traitor, someone who sold out journalism, not just for myself but for other reporters across the state.”

NJ-SPJ also awarded Courage Under Fire Certificates of Merit to Rosen and Avilucea’s Trentonian colleagues: editor John Berry and reporters Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, David Foster, and Penny Ray.

A Go Fund Me page, established to cover Avilucea’s medical expenses, can be found here.…

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Winners, announced

May 19, 2017
Contact: Miriam Ascarelli, NJ-SPJ president
Mobile: 862-576-1256; email: prez@njspj.org

They’re on National Football League fields from coast to coast, and in college football stadiums as well. What could go wrong? Plenty, an NJ Advance Media/Newark Star-Ledger investigation found.

“The 100-Yard Deception” describes in-depth the problems with FieldTurf, the gold-standard in artificial turf installed on 1,428 fields throughout the U.S., and 164 in New Jersey. Most were paid for with tax dollars. Many of them tore apart, and were deteriorating faster than expected. The series by Christopher Baxter and Matthew Stanmyre, is the winner of the New Jersey Society of Journalists first place Tim O’Brien award for meritorious use of public records requests, in the state and regional category.

The O’Brien was created by NJ-SPJ following the 2002 enactment of New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, which modernized for the first time the laws pertaining to public access to public records, a law that, for more than a decade, our organization lobbied for.

The judges said the articles exhibited “exceptional, in-depth national and local reporting that helps taxpayers, schools. Unearths a company with seedy business practices.”

Anne Forline of the South Jersey Observer, a website she herself started, won the first-place O’Brien award in the local journalism category for series of stories she did on the creation of a borough administrator’s position in the town of Bellmawr, which a sitting councilman was to receive. “This enterprising reporter saw a need for transparency in local government and did what was necessary to fulfill it,” one judge wrote.

In the online category, Sergio Bichao of NJ101.5 won a first-place O’Brien award for a story on bias complaints received by the town of Wyckoff, even after the police chief was fired after he was found to have violated a state directive prohibiting racial profiling.

These were among more than 130 awards won by New Jersey journalists as NJ-SPJ announced its annual Excellence in Journalism awards. (Click here for winners list.) Still to be announced are the organization’s Journalist of the Year award, the Courage Under Fire Award, and the Stuart and Beverley Awbrey Award for public advocacy by a local grassroots publication.

The winners will be feted at a June 25 awards brunch at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark. Attorney Bruce Rosen, who represented reporter Isaac Avilucea of The Trentonian fight a legal battle against the state Attorney General’s Office over prior restraint will be the keynote speaker; Doug Doyle, news director and sports podscaster at WBGO, Newark’s public radio station, will be the master of ceremonies.

Tickets for the awards brunch are $20. To RSVP, click here.

Among the other awards announced today are the organization’s Wilson Barto awards, given annually to the state’s “rookies of the year” for distinguished work by a first-year reporter.…

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The Trentonian and Avilucea notch a big press-freedom win

Journalism scored a big victory for the role of an informed public in a democracy this week when the New Jersey Appellate Court rejected the efforts of the NJ Attorney General’s office (AG) to reinstate a gag order against The Trentonian newspaper and reporter Isaac Avilucea.

This is an important case involving drugs brought to school by a 5-year-old child, drugs which appear to have been planted by an adult. At issue was a child-custody report, which the state claimed Avilucea had obtained illegally and wanted suppressed on the grounds that it was protecting the child’s privacy. However, from the beginning, the newspaper never published the child’s name.

The AG lost the case in Superior Court in March, but since then has been filing non-stop motions to keep the trial court judge’s order from going into effect. In this latest ruling, the Appellate Court could have simply checked the box “denied.” Instead, as Avilucea’s attorney Bruce Rosen pointed out, it issued a strongly worded seven-page decision that bolstered the basic principles of press rights by writing, “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” In effect, the court said “you have no case whatsoever – zip, zilch, zero – no matter how we look at it.”

The “prior restraint” ban stood for five months. Avilucea was under tremendous pressure to settle. He stood his ground and, after a fact-finding hearing, state Superior Court Judge Lawrence De Bello issued a ruling in March that found that Avilucea had obtained the report legally.

It has been a challenging time, for all, especially for Avilucea, an NJ-SPJ member. He went into treatment for testicular cancer a few weeks after the prior restraint order was issued. (Avilucea is 28 years old. His GoFundMe page is here).

In this week’s decision, the high court cited numerous cases supporting press freedom, which refreshes those past decisions as the opinion of the Appellate Division in 2017. We hope this means the AG’s office will accept the ruling and stop using taxpayer money on endless appeals.

NJ-SPJ thanks Rosen, The Trentonian’s lawyers Eli Segal and David Bralow, the SPJ Legal Defense Fund Committee Chair Hagit Limor and the committee, SPJ President Lynn Walsh, SPJ Ethics Chair Andrew Seaman, SPJ Region 1 Director Jane Primerano, NJ Foundation for Open Government’s John Paff. NJ-SPJ members Bob Schapiro and Miriam Ascarelli attended the court proceedings in support of Avilucea.…

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