NJ-SPJ contest winners, announced!

For more information, contact Miriam Ascarelli
Mobile: 862-576-1256
Email: prez@njspj.org

A reporter’s unflinching look at her own cancer treatment, rendered in a podcast in her own voice. The continuing fallout from the Bridgegate scandal. The disturbing grip that heroin continues to have over too many New Jerseyans.

Those stories are among the many outstanding pieces produced by Garden State journalists in 2015 that will be honored June 11 at this year’s New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists annual Excellence in Journalism Awards program and brunch at the Maize Restaurant at the Robert Treat Hotel, 50 Park Pl., Newark. The keynote speaker will be Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. A complete list of our winners can be found here. Click here to RSVP.

This year’s contest included more than 50 categories, from headline writing to photojournalism to investigative reporting. It covered the entire spectrum of the industry: print, digital, radio, television, magazines, newsletters and photojournalism.

Standouts include The Chemo Files, a podcast produced by reporter Debbie Galant and her son, Noah Levinson. The series won first place in the podcast category. Beautifully told in a first-person narrative, it chronicles Galant’s eight-month ordeal with chemotherapy and never loses sight of the personal while taking on such topics like the science behind her treatment and the taboo behind the words “breast cancer.’’ The series can be found on MidcenturyModernmag.com, an online magazine Galant founded and publishes.

Other top winners include:

MATT KATZ of WNYC is this year’s New Jersey Journalist of the Year. Katz was selected from among all of our winners because his tenacious reporting on Bridgegate and Gov. Chris Christie set the standard for coverage of an important statewide and national story that promises to continue to dominate headlines.

Katz’s work is best described by his boss Nancy Solomon, managing editor of New Jersey Public Radio, who says his stories demonstrate “his dogged determination, investigative skills and a passion for transparency and open records.’’ Katz’s output in 2015 included not just the stories he did for WNYC but also a book on Christie. A sampling of his radio reports can be found here, here and here.

CHARLES KRATOVIL of the hyperlocal website New Brunswick Today is the winner of our Stuart and Beverley Awbrey Award for community service by a local publication. The Awbrey honors the weekly or local online publication that goes beyond standard reporting of local events, instead seeking to inspire communities to better themselves.

New Brunswick Today is being honored for a series of stories it called Watergate — except unlike the original               Watergate, this one involves actual water. The mainly web-based independent news operation (it publishes a monthly print edition) engaged in a relentless inquiry into the operations of New Brunswick’s water treatment plant, ofttimes putting itself at odds with city officials. Kratovil’s dogged efforts helped raise the profile of an important local issue and helped New Brunswick residents get and stay involved in the matter.

CHRISTOPHER BAXTER of the Star-Ledger/NJ.com is the first place winner of our Tim O’ Brien Award in our state/regional division, for the FOURTH straight year. The O’Brien, which honors the late Tim O’Brien, honors the best work utilizing the state’s Open Public Records Act, a law for which NJ-SPJ and the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government fought for many years and which turned the state’s public records law from one of the nation’s weakest to one if its strongest.

Baxter was honored for a series of articles entitled “National Guard Under Fire” in which he used internal records to expose a “toxic command climate’’ in the NJ National Guard fueled by allegations of racial discrimination and retaliatory actions, as well as four officers charged with drunken driving, including one who was involved in a drunken driving-related accident. His stories can be found here, here, here, here and here.

DANIEL MUNOZ of New Brunswick Today was the first-place winner of our Tim O’Brien Award, local division, for a series of stories about the use of anti-cheating software at Rutgers University. The software costs Rutgers students $32 a class, and uses facial and knuckle recognition technology. A sampling of his stories can be found here, here, here and here.

Our “rookies of the year,” first-place winners of our Wilson Barto Awards are NICHOLAS PUGLIESE of The Record in our state/regional division, and ERICA CHAYES WIDA of The Princeton Sun in our local division.

The Barto Awards are named for the late Wilson Barto, longtime city editor at The Trentonian and founder and the first-ever president of NJSPJ in 1959.

The New Jersey SPJ annual contest is judged by SPJ chapters in other states to eliminate the possibility of bias entering the judging process. There are three exceptions: Journalist of the Year, the Awbrey Award, the Courage Under Fire awards. Those winners are determined by the NJ-SPJ board.

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