The best of New Jersey journalism

Editor’s note: Several categories were inadvertently left off of our original winners list. The list has since been corrected, and it can be found here as well as in the link embedded in the text below.

For more information, contact NJ-SPJ contest chair David Levitt; email:, or NJ-SPJ treasurer Ron Miskoff, email:; cell: 732-278-1868

The unfolding drama of a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge that lead to the indictment of three of the governor’s former allies. A five-month investigation into the mysterious 2008 death of a young man walking along I-287. A Loch-Ness monster-like snake in Lake Hopatcong that ended up going viral among late-night comedians.

Those are among the stories to emerge from this year’s New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists’ annual Excellence in Journalism contest, where winners tackled the wild, the strange and the controversial, and pushed to compute things that just refused to add up.

The work represents the most important news in the Garden State for the year 2014, the year the stories were produced. The complete list of winners can be found here.

Many of this year’s stories boldly sought truth from those in power. “It goes well beyond Bridgegate,’’ said NJ-SPJ president Bob Schapiro. “In 2014, the sustained attention of professional journalists uncovered danger from the very people who are supposed to protect us. Whether it was an animal shelter suspected of cruelty, a strange death in police custody or a massive traffic jam caused by the agency that is supposed to relieve traffic, full-time journalists were the ones who informed the public of important matters that may otherwise have never come to light.”

Added David M. Levitt, NJ-SPJ contest chairman: “As the allegedly declining state of journalism is bemoaned both in New Jersey and seemingly everywhere, these 100+ winners scream to the world: it ain’t quite so. Great writing and editing remain abundant in the Garden State.”

Our winners represent the gamut of New Jersey journalism, from legacy print, broadcast and radio outlets to small hyperlocal publishers. They will be honored at a reception June 27 at the Maize Restaurant at the Robert Treat Hotel, 50 Park Pl., Newark, followed by a 3 p.m. program next door in the auditorium of the New Jersey Historical Society, 52, Park Place. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

Highlights from this year’s winning entries include:

CHRISTOPHER BAXTER of The Star-Ledger/ is the first place winner of our Tim O’ Brien award for daily newspapers, for the THIRD 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, which turned the state’s public records law from one of the nation’s weakest to one if its strongest.

Baxter was honored for his series, “Who Killed Kenwin Garcia,’’ which in the word of the judges, was an “exhaustively researched” probe into the 2008 death of a 25-year-old Newark man after being apprehended and restrained by State Police in Hanover Township on I-287. The five-month investigation spurred major changes in trooper training and a push by lawmakers for new laws, according a letter from Ledger statehouse bureau chief Thomas Martello.

JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS and MEGHAN GRANT of The South Bergenite won first place in the O’Brien competition for weekly newspapers and local online publications for “Rutherford Releases Transmission From Police Shooting,’’ in which the Bergen County weekly, along with its parent The Record daily newspaper, sued for release of documents and transmissions from a deadly shooting by local police after then trapped a stolen SUV on a Route 3 overpass. One judge called it “amazing work,” and she “commend(ed) the newspaper for standing up for open records and filing suit.”

This is the second O’Brien in a row for The South Bergenite, which won last year for stories entitled “Green School Leaks Could Lead to Lawsuit.’’

O’Brien was a dogged reporter for The New Jersey Law Journal who distinguished himself by his willingness to probe deeply into government documents to unearth hidden truths.

Our “rookies of the year,” first-place winners of our Wilson Barto awards are MINJAE PARK of The Record, ZANE CLARK of Elauwit Media (Moorestown and Marlton Sun), and CARLO DAVIS of The Hoboken Reporter.

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. Barto was famous for mentoring young reporters, helping them cope with the complexities and mysteries of New Jersey government as they encountered it for the first time.

KATHERINE MILSOP, last year’s winner of the Stuart and Beverley Awbrey Award for the most public-spirited project by a weekly newspaper or local online news site for her stories raising awareness of the plight of epileptic Thomas Buchak, is the winner of first place in this year’s public service award for weekly newspapers and local websites. Her winning stories continue to chronicle Buchak’s plight, and can be found here, here and here. She shares the first-place public service award with JOE MALINCONICO, of the Paterson Press, whose reporting on Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ $217,000 fund for his inaugural ball resulted in a refund of $18,650 in campaign contributions.

There was no winner of the Awbrey Award this year. It was the NJSPJ board’s judgment that none of the entries met the required threshold of community advocacy, freshness and distinction required.

The Awbrey honors a weekly or local online publication that goes beyond mere reporting of local events, instead seeking to inspire their communities to better themselves.

The New Jersey SPJ annual contest is judged by SPJ chapters in other states to eliminate the possibility of bias entering the judging process. The exception is the Awbrey Award, whose winner is determined by the NJ-SPJ board.


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