Tag Archives | First Amendment

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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Awesome, folks! SPJ Region 1 rocked

We had an awesome two-day spring regional conference in Philadelphia this past weekend that lived up to our theme of “For the Love of Journalism.”

The conference was a sold-out event that attracted more than 130 people to Temple University where they heard 20 sessions and 32 speakers. We had members from almost every state in the region and one person from as far away as Denver, Colo.

An event of this magnitude requires many people to make it a reality.

Today, I’d like to offer a thank you to those folks

Let’s start with Regional Director Jane Primerano and Keystone SPJ President Pat Trosky, who were wonderful partners during the nine-month process that included many meetings to plan, design and execute the conference.

Next, a big thank you to New York Deadline Club President and NJ SPJ board member Claire Regan who designed a beautiful book that helped people navigate the conference and who crafted a conference flyer and logo.

A special thanks to Deadline Club volunteer Melissa Heule who helped run our conference website.

Thanks to Keystone board members Susan Schwartz and Carol Crane, who did everything from setting out chairs to editing the stories of a group of 14 Temple University journalism student volunteers.

A special thanks to NJ SPJ Vice President Miriam Ascarelli, for coordinating those volunteer students, serving as their editor and helping organize a very successful pizza party/newspaper swap for student journalists graciously hosted by the staff of Temple News.

14 students helped out

We were fortunate to have those 14 student volunteers who did everything from reporting, writing and recording the conference session to helping with registration and cleaning up afterwards.

Thanks to New Jersey chapter Treasurer Elizabeth Oguss for tracking our finances and to chapter Secretary Emily Kratzer for overseeing registration and sending out the emails that helped build our audience.

A big thank you to NJ SPJ board member Robert Bugai for soliciting, collecting and assembling our conference “goody bags.”

Thanks to NJ SPJ board members David Levitt, Ron Miskoff and Nick Hirshon for introducing some of our sessions.

Thank you to SPJ National President Rebecca Baker for moderating one of our sessions and helping present our Mark of Excellence winners.

Thanks to incoming SPJ national President Alex Tarquino for introducing one of our sessions.

Thanks to deputy Regional Director Chris Vacarro who helped with the MOE brunch and to New England chapter President Jordan Frias who helped guide students to the brunch.

Thanks to all our speakers who gave up a lovely spring weekend to lead sessions that demonstrated our love for journalism – especially our hackathoners, who spent more than six hours over two days crafting a document on newsroom diversity (more on that later).…

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SPJ Region 1 Conference April 21-22

For the LOVE of Journalism

Celebrate your love of journalism and learn new skills for two days in the city where Freedom of the Press got its start.

The Society of Professional Journalists Regional 1 Spring Conference will take place April 21 and 22 at Temple University in Philadelphia. Visit our website www.spjr1c.org/ or use our hashtag #LoveJournalism.

The theme of the conference is “For the Love of Journalism,” reflecting both our passion for our chosen profession and a growing public appreciation of how the role of a free press serves in a democracy.

Going to Philly!

We are in Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love” where so many of the founding principles of our free press took root – from Benjamin Franklin’s “Poore Richard’s Almanac” to the Constitution and the First Amendment.

We’ll celebrate that history and help chart our own future by offering useful training in multimedia and social media skills that you can put to immediate use in your newsroom or classroom.

Our focus during the Saturday, April 21, sessions at Annenberg Hall will be on the skills you need to know to be a better journalist – including the latest Google tools, KipCamp’s “Dirty Dozen” useful journalism apps and making the jump from print to digital.

We’ll also help you stay current with important stories such as covering sexual harassment and covering the medical and recreational marijuana business.

Click here to register for the two-day event.

Click here to register for just the Sunday event.

Conference details are here.

First Amendment legal advice

A First Amendment lawyer will be available to help with free consultations on any press freedom issue you may be encountering. And we’ll take a close look at legislation aimed at expanding press freedom for high school students.

On Sunday, April 22, that focus will broaden to some of the bigger challenges facing journalism today.

We’ll start the day with our Mark of Excellence awards brunch at the Philadelphia Media Network building, where our keynote speaker will be Bill Marimow, vice president of strategic development for the PMN, which includes The Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com.

On Sunday afternoon, we’ll have a panel discussion on the future of journalism in Philadelphia.

We’ll hear from reporters who’ve covered Bill Cosby’s sex assault trial and we’ll hear from Signe Wilkinson on how she draws her Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoons.

Just for fun

The weekend will also include some activities that are just for fun – including a walking tour of historic sites in journalism in downtown Philadelphia and, for those who arrive early, a Friday night ball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies.

For more information on other things to see and do click here.

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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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Suppressing the Rights of Parents and Criminalizing Journalism

A Statement from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists

Late last week a judge in Trenton made an important ruling, upholding the free speech rights of parents and journalists. At this moment, however, that ruling is under assault from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office. Very soon a gag order could be re-imposed.

We don’t use the word “assault” lightly. Since the judge’s ruling, the Attorney General’s office has made non-stop appeals to the trial judge, the Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court. They’ve been shut down each time. For most of us, after three strikes, you’re out. But the Attorney General’s office has unlimited resources, if the governor wants it to, and it is wasting taxpayer money by repeatedly appealing the ruling.
It is a complex case, but it boils down to this: A parent disagreed with findings in a state report about their child and family. The parent lacked the money to hire a lawyer, but sought to get The Trentonian newspaper to cover the matter in court. The Trentonian sent reporter Isaac Avilucea to the courthouse, where the parent gave him documents related to the case, documents which the state then claimed were illegally obtained.
The state then sought an extraordinary prior restraint order against the newspaper and threatened Avilucea with criminal charges. Avilucea stood firm and the state backed-down on the criminal threat, but a prior-restraint order was in effect from late October until late March. After a lengthy series of hearings, a Mercer County judge ruled that that Avilucea obtained the report legally and lifted the injunctions against him and The Trentonian. That should have ended things but the state now seems obsessed with spending tax money to suppress free speech in this case.
We wonder what the state is trying to hide. At this point, the state itself has made the child’s identify clear to anyone who looks at the matter. Why is the state so fearful of further reporting?
The New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) is very much an interested party in this case, having sought and obtained money from our national organization to help fund Mr. Avilucea’s defense.
He is a member of our organization and the recipient of our signature “Courage Under Fire” award. Since the events in the courthouse last October, he has been diagnosed with testicular cancer and he is about to enter a fifth round of chemo-therapy. Continued actions against him seem pointless and even cruel. At this point he is entering a clinical trial to which his doctor has referred him. Isaac observed his 28th birthday last week.
As sobering as this situation is, there are equally serious legal and moral issues at stake:
  • Should a parent be barred from sharing a report, from a taxpayer-funded agency, with a journalist?
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