Here are our 2019 contest winners!


The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists announced the winners of its annual NJ SPJ Signature awards competition yesterday at a celebratory lunch at the Maize restaurant in Newark. The contest was judged this year by members of the Colorado Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The judges provided comments on the first-place honorees.

Here are the winners:

Stuart and Beverley Awbrey Award

Since its creation in the 1990s, this award has sought to honor both hard-hitting investigative journalism that is public-spirited as well as more “uplifting” efforts such as creating care packages for soldiers overseas or helping a handicapped child get an education. The Awbrey pays tribute to Beverley Awbrey and her late husband, Stu, who ran The Cranford Chronicle from 1978 to 1988. The Awbreys believed their 100-year-old weekly was more than a livelihood; they saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the civic life of Cranford.

  • First place: Jaimie Winters of the Montclair Local for “Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment.” The judges were impressed with the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment series of stories because they spoke to the community’s need to be involved in such matters that affect their lives. Comprehensive stories about the development plans from start to finish.
  • Second place: Thomas Franklin of TAPinto Newark for “Despite Newark’s Sanctuary City Status, Undocumented City Resident Turned Over to ICE.”
  • Third place: Al Sullivan of The Hudson Reporter for stories outlining various conflicts related to immigration issues in Hudson County.

Tim O’Brien Award for Best Use of Public Records:

The award honors journalists specifically for investigative work based on public records requests. This award pays tribute to Tim O’Brien, whose investigative reporting, first at The Star-Ledger and later at The New Jersey Law Journal, exemplified the qualities of courage, thoroughness, integrity, persistence and quiet idealism that we seek to honor.

  • First place: Audrey Quinn of New York Public Radio for “For New Jersey Jails, Suicides and Overdoses, but Little Oversight.” The judges said Quinn’s series on jail deaths in New Jersey is a testament to the power of public records in informing the public about what is happening in governmental institutions, including jails. A comprehensive, well-done series.
  • Second place: Carla Astudillo, Craig McCarthy, S.P. Sullivan, Stephen Stirling, Yan Wu, Erin Petenko, Disha Raychaudhuri, Blake Nelson, of NJ Advance Media ( & The Star-Ledger for “The Force Report.”
  • Third place: Erin Roll of The Montclair Local for “Absenteeism in Montclair schools.”

Best Grassroots Journalism

  • First place: Rebecca Panico and Mark Bonamo of TAPinto Newark for multiple stories: “Governor Murphy: ‘I drink Newark’s water.’’; Newark City Council Members are mad they didn’t get front row seats at Sotomayor event’’; ‘’5 major issues Newark Public Schools inherited from state-controlled Leadership’’; “McGovern’s summer renovation closing party celebrates change’’; and “Hip-Hop manager turned developer becomes part of the West Ward’s revitalization’’.
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NJSPJ endorses bill that will boost student press freedoms in the Garden State

The New Jersey SPJ chapter was proud to join forces with the Garden State Scholastic Press Association and other advocates who testified before the state Senate Education Committee this week 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 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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Awards lunch keynote to focus on legacy of African-American journalist T. Thomas Fortune

For Immediate Release

Keynote address at NJ SPJ’s awards lunch will focus on legacy of T. Thomas Fortune, a crusading 19th century black journalist from Red Bank, NJ

The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to announce that Dr. Walter Greason, historian and professor at Monmouth University, and president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation will be the keynote speaker at NJ SPJ’s annual Signature Awards Luncheon June 22.

The event, to be held at Maize Restaurant in the Robert Treat Hotel, Newark, runs from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.   Tickets are $30 each and can be purchased here.

The luncheon will fete the first, second and third place winners of NJ SPJ’s annual Signature Awards journalism contest. The names of winners – whose work was published across various platforms, be it print, audio or video — will be announced at the event. Also to be announced will be the names of NJSPJ’s Educator of the Year and Reporter of the Year.

In addition, reporter Isaac Avilucea and editor John Berry, both of The Trentonian, will be honored as our two recipients of our prestigious Courage Under Fire award: The newspaper published several exclusive stories that the mayor and his administration were trying to keep under wraps. One administration official reported a burglary to police and suggested —in a supposed ‘joke’—that the reporter could be a suspect.  The paper stood by Avilucea, first with the staff un-earthing contradictory statements from police sources, then by filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit to obtain bodycam footage. In the end, the “burglary” was revealed not to have ever occurred.

Even after the incident, Trenton’s mayor continued to insist that Avilucea be removed from the City Hall beat.  The Courage Under Fire award is intended to send a message—to those in NJ and in Washington, DC—that SPJ will not allow public officials to dictate which journalists they will allow to cover them.

Greason’s keynote will focus on a little-known piece of Garden-State history: the legacy of  T. Thomas Fortune, one of the most prominent African-American journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, one of the leading black newspapers of his day, and was known for using his newspaper as a vehicle to speak out against lynching, black disenfranchisement and other injustices.

Fortune also had a home in Red Bank, NJ, where he lived from 1901 to 1910.

Over the years, that home – which Fortune 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.…

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President’s Message

Hi folks,

This will be my final message as president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The vagaries of a journalism career have taken me back to Denver, where I am now a reporter for Colorado Politics.

It has been an honor to serve as president of our chapter and I feel that I’m leaving it in the good hands of a capable and dedicated board of directors.

SPJ NJ Board election

Speaking of the board, it is time for our annual chapter election. We’ll be electing officers and two board positions in June.

Miriam Ascarelli has agreed to serve one final year as chapter president.

Board members Nick Hirshon will run for vice president and Melanie Anzidei will run for secretary.

Lew Wheaton, who did a great job this year as contest coordinator, has agreed to run for chapter treasurer.

He would replace Elizabeth Oguss, who served in that role for three years and leaves with our profound thanks.

Emily Kratzer is stepping down as secretary, but she has agreed to run for a seat on the board.

And I will continue to serve – albeit remotely – as past president.

Also continuing to serve are our board members elected last year to a two-year term. They are: Robert Bugai, David Levitt, Jane Primerano, Claire Regan and Bob Schapiro,

If you are a dues-paying member of our chapter, you are eligible to run for any of the open seats.

The board seat would be for a two-year term.

At minimum, it requires attending a two-hour monthly board meeting held at various locations throughout the state.

Board members and officers are also called upon to attend and assist with our major projects, such as the annual journalism awards program and our New Jersey Journalism Hall of Fame event.

If you are interested in running for a seat on the board, please contact Miriam, who will be serving as our elections chair.Miriam’s email:

Chapter members will receive an email ballot in early June. Please take a moment to fill out that ballot and send it back.

Saving The Targum

We were all dismayed to read recently that The Targum, the independent student newspaper for Rutgers University, is in financial trouble after failing to win enough support in a student referendum.

In response to this situation, our board has released the following statement:

“The New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists wishes to express its support for the student journalists of The Targum at Rutgers University.

“We are concerned that the recent student vote puts in jeopardy the future of the second-oldest student newspaper in the United States.

“Our chapter calls upon the University to do what it can to assure the paper’s continued viability.…

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Miriam Ascarelli, VP of NJSPJ, and Dr. Nick Hirshon, adviser for WPSPJ.

NJ and WP SPJ initiate awards

Hobart Hall filled for awards ceremony, induction 

Rising journalists and established professionals lent an air of excitement to the first William Paterson University SPJ Awards Ceremony and New Jersey SPJ Journalism Hall of Fame event.

The student chapter honored its friends of WPSPJ: NJSPJ President John Ensslin, theater critic Ruth Ross and sports reporter Denis Gorman during the ceremony held April 18 in Hobart Hall.

During the ceremony, the NJSPJ inducted Anna Quindlen, John McPhee and Jonathan Alter to its New Jersey Journalism Hall of Fame. Gabe Pressman and Edith Schapiro were inducted posthumously. The inductees were nominated by a panel of former NJSPJ presidents and approved by the NJSPJ board.

The emcees for the evening were Miriam Ascarelli, vice president of NJSPJ, and Dr. Nicholas Hirshon, a journalism professor at WP and the founder and adviser of the WPSPJ.

WP is the host of the New Jersey Journalism Hall of Fame and the NJSPJ plaque bearing the names of inductees will be kept at the university’s Communication Department.

Couldn’t make the ceremony? View it at William Paterson SPJ on Facebook – here.











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