Tag Archives | Courage Under Fire

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 (NJ.com & 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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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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What you need to know about this year’s contest

It’s contest season again!

Notice there are two options this year: one from New Jersey SPJ, the other from Keystone SPJ.  Here’s the lowdown:

  • The NJ SPJ contest opens on Tuesday, Jan. 2. Because of a sharp decrease in contest entries, our contest has been scaled down to include only our four signature awards: Courage Under Fire (for journalists who, despite strong opposition, defend the principles of a free press), the Barto (our “rookie of the year” award); the Awbrey (for local journalism that goes above and beyond); and the O’Brien (for investigative journalism that digs deep through effective use of public records). For an overview of the contest, go here. to submit work, go here.  Our contest closes March 1. Questions? Contact our contest coordinator Heather Taylor at heather.taylor.spj@gmail.com or call (609) 250-2582.
  • The SPJ Keystone Chapter 2018 Best in Journalism Contest is already open and is comprised of about 30 categories; entries can be submitted  until Feb. 26. As our members know, we had hoped to run a joint contest with Keystone but there were logistical issues, so we are elated that our friends in Pennsylvania expanded their contest to include submissions from New Jersey. The contest may be accessed through this link: https://betternewspapercontest.com/2018SpotlightAwards Any questions or concerns should be directed to Pat Trosky at pattrosky@gmail.com or spjkeystone@gmail.com.

To enter the Keystone SPJ journalism contest, you’ll need to set up a new open call login. NOTE:  Keystone uses Better Newspaper Contest (BNC) to manage its submissions (as we did up until this year), but if you entered a BNC contest in New Jersey or elsewhere, that login will not work in the Keystone contest. This is true for individuals and for companies.

You can create your login in one of two ways. Go to the Keystone SPJ website ( https://keystonespj.wordpress.com/) and click on the url at the bottom of the announcement OR go directly to the contest page using this url:  https://betternewspapercontest.com/2018SpotlightAwards

Once you’re on the Keystone BNC page, you’ll see the open call contestant login on the lower lefthand corner of the page. Click that.

Once on the Open Call Contestant page, look to the lower right corner and create an open call account. Fill in the info and submit. Pat Trosky, president of the Keystone chapter, will then get an email to approve you. When she does, you can then log in and set everything else up.


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Paul Nichols — an appreciation

Paul Nichols planned to have a special frame made for his recent “Courage Under Fire” award. He scarcely had the chance. Less than five days after the NJ-SPJ award ceremony on June 12, he was found dead of natural causes. Paul Nichols was 49 years old, leaving two children. That is tragic and upsetting, yet this appreciation will not be about how wonderful he was.

It’s become commonplace to say that the job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The people who can do this on a regular basis, however, tend to have sharp edges. It is not an easy life, nor was it easy to be the one-man-band publisher and chief correspondent of the Bergen Dispatch

Many journalists like to hear that their award sailed through the approval process, but Paul welcomed the chance to answer questions about his story. He wanted to educate his fellow journalists.

On the one hand, Paul stood up to a Bergen County Superior Court judge who issued an order amounting to prior restraint—bizarrely on a story that was already posted—based on a law that had long ago been repealed. Yet defying any court order is risking jail for contempt as well as legal fees that can bankrupt a small newspaper or website. Fortunately, a federal court quickly agreed with the Bergen Dispatch. (Paul Nichols would want to thank attorney Paul Clark of Jersey City, who worked on a pro bono basis.) The Bergen Dispatch’s reporting was expanded upon by the Washington Post.

Seems like a natural for a journalism award, right? Yet Paul’s story was about the NJ Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS, which has since been renamed) — and he knew that system well because he himself had been jailed on numerous occasions as a “Deadbeat Dad.” We are not speaking ill of the departed, not by Paul’s own standards. He wrote quite a few stories about his involvement with the system, in which he says the words “Deadbeat Dad” can be enough to make due process of law simply evaporate. He spoke to us about a world in which “hearings” are held in jail cells, where people are re-arrested even after their sentences have been vacated and where sheriffs issue press releases about arrests that have not yet taken place, against people who have not been in court.

Of course, nothing is black and white. In granting Paul Nichols a Courage Under Fire award, the NJ Society of Professional Journalists had to wrestle with issues of the right to privacy vs. the public’s right to know; the proper amount of disclosure on individual articles for something that is generally public knowledge; and the objectivity of specific articles written by an acknowledged advocacy journalist, in a situation where advocates may be the only ones who know what’s going on.…

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You’re invited! We’re talking Charlie Hebdo & NJ arrest at our free speech forum this Thursday

Courage Under Fire graphic_large

Editor’s note: Comedian Aman Ali was planning to participate in Thursday’s panel; unfortunately he had to cancel due to a last-minute work conflict. 

We agree with First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams: the murders at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo are  “the most threatening assault on journalism in living memory.’’ Thus we have decided the best response is to engage, and so we have organized Courage Under Fire, a forum on free speech at home and abroad, to be held this Thursday, Feb. 12 from 7-9 p.m. at the NJ Historical Society, 52 Park St., Newark.

Our forum, which is free, will revolve around two topics:

  • The free speech issues raised by the debate in American newsrooms over re-publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that many Muslims found offensive. We have speakers with strong opinions on both sides of the issue, including Aman Ali, a comedian/storyteller that many people know from HBO and NPR; Seton Hall Law School professor and author Thomas Healy; and Bruce Rosen, a top New Jersey attorney who frequently appears in New Jersey Supreme Court and other courts on media law issues.
  • The arrest of a New Jersey news photographer who refused to surrender his video camera to police last month, an event that went viral on YouTube.  The journalist himself, Andrew Flinchbaugh, will be present as will as his ACLU attorney, Ed Barocas, who has dealt with this sort of issue several times in New Jersey, as legal director for the NJ-ACLU. We’ll take a look at Flinchbaugh’s video (the camera was rolling throughout the entire confrontation) and talk about what journalists and citizens need to know about the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment issues that are raised by the incident.

To register and to learn about our speakers, click here. Hope to see you there!


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