Reminders: Red lines in Journalism

In response to a confrontation that took place Aug. 3 at a newsworthy event in New Brunswick, where a private security guard took a journalist’s camera and later grabbed him in the hotel lobby and led him to the street, the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) believes it is essential to remind the organizers of public events about the importance of observing legal and professional protocols on which all journalists depend for their safety and livelihood.

The events of Aug. 3 involve a speech by CNN journalist April Ryan at the 4th Annual NJ Parents Summit, an event to which public registrants had been invited. During Ryan’s speech, a man identified as a bodyguard assigned to Ryan took down the tripod from which Charlie Kratovil, the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, had been filming, seized his camera, and later physically removed Kratovil from the venue.

Kratovil had been invited to cover the event by a public-relations firm working with the organizers, had gone through the registration system and RSVP’d his attendance, did not conceal his video-recording activity, and had no outward indication that videography was prohibited in the venue. (Journalists had been freely admitted to cover other events during the Summit, including shooting video.)

Details of the specific event are disputed, and may be sorted out in the coming weeks by the legal system, as Kratovil has stated that he will press assault charges. Nevertheless, the larger issue of journalists’ ability to safely cover events of public interest and importance is a recurring one of great importance to the SPJ and its members.

As a first principle, it is never under any circumstances permissible for a person aggrieved at being photographed or videotaped to lay hands on the journalist, or attempt to take away the journalist’s equipment. This is a bright-line rule from which all journalists benefit, and which must be observed and enforced rigorously. Even in the event of a trespass (and Kratovil, a registered guest, was not a trespasser), the only proper recourse is to notify law enforcement, not resort to “self-help.”

Moreover, “ground rules” about the use of recording equipment at events to which members of the public are invited should be clearly spelled out, in advance, to all attendees. To the extent that recording is to be restricted, such restrictions should be uniformly enforced — or unenforced — among all attendees, regardless of their media affiliation.

While journalists may have no special rights superior to members of the public, they do not have fewer rights than others.  A no-photography policy should apply to everyone. Nor should the perceived viewpoint of a news organization be regarded as grounds to deny admittance to a member of the media; people who make news do not have a license to dictate how and by whom they are covered.…

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R.I.P., John Ensslin

Update: A celebration of the life of John Ensllin will be held Sat., Aug. 17 from  3-6 p.m. at the Nassau Inn, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton.

Please R.S.V.P. to Mary Anne Greenberg (John’s sister) at

This is a short post to let our members and supporters know that John Ensslin, beloved friend, colleague and journalist extraordinaire, died this morning. John was a  former national president of SPJ who we were lucky enough to have on our local chapter board. He recently finished a two-year stint as president of the New Jersey SPJ chapter, but he was much more than that: He was the rudder of our chapter, always steering us in the right direction with wisdom and generosity. He will be sorely missed. Our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Denise, and to his family.

To learn more about John and his impact on journalism, read this beautiful tribute written by a colleague at Colorado Politics, where John had been working since last spring.

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News release: Home of crusading journalist named national historic site in journalism


Miriam Ascarelli, president of the NJ chapter of SPJ,

Gilda Rogers, vice president, T. Thomas Fortune Foundation, 732-383-5483

Red Bank home of crusading black journalist T. Thomas Fortune named historic site in journalism by the Society of Professional Journalists

The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation are pleased to announce that the Red Bank home of T. Thomas Fortune, one of the most influential black journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has been named a National Historic Site in Journalism by the Society of Professional Journalists.

“We were so happy to hear this news, and we hope this national designation will help the people at the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation with their invaluable work of resurrecting the legacy of an important black journalist who, sadly, has been largely forgotten,’’ said Miriam Ascarelli, president of the New Jersey’s SPJ chapter. “This is one of those under-reported stories that needs to be told.”

Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, one of the leading black newspapers of his day. He used his newspaper as a vehicle to speak out against lynching, black disenfranchisement and other injustices and to nurture important black voices like those of Ida B. Wells and W.E.B DuBois.

“I’m thrilled that finally T. Thomas Fortune is getting the accolades that he so well deserved, including this national honor, said Gilda Rogers, vice president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation.

Fortune also had a home in Red Bank, N.J., where he lived from 1901 to 1910. Fortune’s work created one of the most inclusive middle-class communities for immigrants and African-Americans, defying the prevailing era of racial segregation nationwide, said Walter D. Greason, a Monmouth University professor of education and the president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation.

“Fortune’s vision of a multi-racial democracy inspired thousands of people around the United States in the creation and the expansion of towns like Red Bank between 1881 and 1920,’’ Greason said. “Before the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance, his words laid the foundation for the world we know today.”

Over the years, Fortune’s Red Bank home – which he called Maple Hall – gradually fell into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down.

Maple Hall was saved from the wrecking ball in 2016, thanks to the efforts of local activists and developer Roger Mumford, who came up with a plan to restore the house and convert it to a cultural center and build 31 luxury apartments in the style of the home in the back of the property. The restored home, at 94 Drs. James Parker Blvd., re-opened as the T.

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Letter from the president

Greetings SPJers, Miriam here!

I hope you’re having a productive summer. Here at New Jersey SPJ, ’tis the season for reflection as we prepare for a new year following our annual elections.

As the newly elected chapter president, I am honored and eager to follow up on the good work of my predecessor, John Ensslin. My goal for the next year is to continue serving journalism by focusing on key values of our organization: training, community building, and advocacy. The chapter will be discussing our 2019-2020 calendar at our July 21 board meeting. If you are interested in attending – or just want to send along your thoughts about what you think the chapter should be doing – please email me at

Meanwhile, here’s a look at what else is going on:

Volunteers needed for high school journalism camp

Karyn Collins, director of the Hugh N. Boyd Journalism Diversity Workshop at Rutgers University, is looking for volunteer coaches/editors to work with high school students participating in the annual summer program. The camp runs from July 19-28. Karyn writes: “Any and all help would be appreciated’’ but notes she is especially in need for volunteers to help students develop and edit text and video stories on the afternoon of Sunday, July 21 and at various time slots from Tuesday, July 23 to Saturday, July 27.

To find out more about what time slots Karyn needs to fill, email her at

Three cheers for our Signature Awards Winners!

More than 30 people attended our Signature Awards luncheon at the Maize restaurant in Newark last month to fete the winners of our annual journalism contest. It’s a measure of the quality of the submissions that our colleagues in the Colorado SPJ chapter said it was a difficult contest to judge because so much of the work was so strong.

Click here if you would like to see the list of winners.

Advocacy: New Voices bill, and a link to the

U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Our chapter was proud to join forces with the Student Press Law Center, the Garden State Scholastic Press Association and other advocates who testified before the state Senate Education Committee last month in support of a bill that will beef up press rights for high school and college students in New Jersey.

The bill – part of a state-by-state campaign organized by the Student Press Law Center called New Voices – was unanimously approved by the state Senate committee, paving the way for a vote on the floor of the New Jersey Senate that is expected to take place sometime in September.

To learn more about the New Voices campaign and the New Jersey bill specifically, see this report posted on the Student Press Law Center website.

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