A featured imaged showing the 2020 Excellence in Local News Awards badge and logo.
A featured imaged showing the 2020 Excellence in Local News Awards badge and logo.

Announcing the winners of the 2020 Excellence in Local News Awards

Winners to be honored at ceremony and luncheon in New Brunswick on March 5

Joe Amditis
Feb 17 · 7 min read

The Center for Cooperative Media is thrilled to announce the winners of the third annual NJ News Commons Excellence in Local News Awards.

We will honor the seven winners during an awards ceremony and luncheon on March 5 at Harvest Moon Brewery in New Brunswick, where each will be presented with an award certificate and $100 prize for work they did in 2019 in the fields of local news innovation, collaboration, investigative reporting, campus reporting, sustainability, and engagement. We will also present the award for Partner of the Year.

The judges for this year’s contest were Kristine Villanueva of the Center for Public Integrity, Mark Berkey-Gerard of Rowan University, and Miriam Ascarelli of the NJ Society of Professional Journalists.

The award categories are based on key areas of focus for NJ News Commons members, a network of more than 280 news organizations and freelancers across New Jersey. The NJ News Commons is the flagship project of the Center for Cooperative Media.

Now, let’s get to the winners!

Engage Local

This award goes to a journalist(s) or news organization that relied heavily on community engagement or similar practices as a major source or aspect of their reporting.

Winner: TAPinto Paterson publisher and editor Steve Lenox has spent his time getting out into the Paterson community — all six wards — not just reporting on what was happening or who was making things happen, but getting to know the people, places, and organizations of New Jersey’s third-most populous city. Without ignoring the fact that crime, poverty, homelessness, overcrowded classrooms, and other issues are very real parts of everyday life for some in Paterson, much of Lenox’s work has focused on changing the narratives that have existed for too long when it comes to the city that the people of Paterson call home. Through it all, Lenox has dedicated his time and reporting to actively engaging with members of the community.

Collaborate Local

This award goes to a journalist(s) or news organization that leveraged the power of cooperative or strategic partnerships to take their reporting beyond what would have been possible on their own.

Winner: The NJ Sustainability Reporting Hub is a statewide media collaborative that seeks to amplify news and information about environmental sustainability in New Jersey. The project is coordinated by a creative team with the extensive input and participation of nonprofit leaders, journalists, news editors, and academics from around New Jersey.

Participating newsrooms include The Record; The Press of Atlantic City; WBGO, The Nubian News, Cape May County Herald, Village Green, Green Philly, and New Jersey Hills Media (15 weekly newspapers across North and Central Jersey). To date, NJSRH fellows have produced 39 multimedia stories, which are hosted at at SRHub.org — with 50 more anticipated by mid-February.

Investigate Local

This award goes to a journalist(s) or news organization whose investigative reporting efforts had a demonstrable impact on the community they serve.

Winner: Planet Princeton received a tip about illegal dumping at a municipal facility in Princeton. Planet Princeton reporter, editor, and publisher Krystal Knapp developed sources, followed dump trucks and employees, and collected video and photographs that showed that the illegal dumping was taking place. Using the state’s Open Public Records Act, she discovered that an official from the NJDEP had concerns about what was happening, but the NJDEP didn’t follow up properly. Planet Princeton had to sue the county and municipality for withholding records about the dumping, and they recently won their public records case.

As a result of Knapp’s reporting: A top employee in Princeton was fired, two employees and one contractor have been charged with bribery, the sewer department site has been closed down, the department has been disbanded, and the contractor is no longer working in Princeton or using public employees and other public resources that are funded by the taxpayers. The clean up cost of the site is still not known, and this story will continue in 2020.

Innovate Local

This award goes to a journalist(s) or news organization that used new and emerging technologies or strategies to enhance and improve the value and impact of their reporting efforts.

Winner: NJ Flavor officially launched in November 2018 as a site that features stories about food in New Jersey, with articles about everything from restaurant openings, to seasonal recipes using local ingredients, to personal stories by and about people who work in NJ’s food businesses. NJ Flavor has both its own site, NJFLavor.com, and its stories are syndicated across 50 independently owned TAPinto news franchises. This allows NJ Flavor to reach a much broader and already established audience, while also providing free, relevant stories to those TAPinto sites and their local news readers. Those news sites also sometimes contribute their stories to NJ Flavor, allowing other sites in the network to benefit from them.

Sustain Local

This award goes to a journalist(s) or news organization that found innovative and effective new ways to address revenue and sustainability issues.

Winner: TAPinto.net developed an alternative to advertising inserts and coupons — dedicated “e-blasts.” The e-blasts were marketed as an exclusive opportunity for businesses that want to send targeted messages, marketing, and advertising to newsletter subscribers of specific TAPinto sites, which the advertisers can select individually.

Through TAPinto’s proprietary e-blast system, TAPinto owners and publishers can take the same artwork they use for print inserts and email it to thousands of subscribers in just a few simple steps. Businesses can also tailor the email to their marketing efforts by customizing the subject line, headline, color scheme and even insert their own logo into the masthead of the emails.

Outstanding Campus Media

This award category is for a journalist or campus news organization whose reporting efforts had a demonstrable impact on the college or university community they serve.

Winner: The Whit at Rowan University covered the aftermath of a series of student deaths on campus. The stories that student reporters published focused primarily on the steps that Rowan University administrators took to deal with the fallout from the tragic situation that unfolded on campus and among the Rowan community following a spike in student deaths.

The stories they produced attempted to balance the anger of a student body that felt it had been let down by the school administration with the institutional support it received from the Wellness Center staff, while also covering the funding and procedures. Student reporters highlighted unique perspectives from students, faculty and administration officials in order to paint a full picture of a tumultuous week at Rowan University.

Partner of the Year

This award goes to a journalist or news organization that showed overall excellence in their work in 2019.

Winner: Route 40 News was one of the founding members of the Stories of Atlantic City restorative narrative collaboration. Their reporting on Atlantic City served as the main catalyst for the project, and they remained one of the most active and engaged partners throughout the years-long reporting collaboration. Route 40 has also been a consistent collaborator and eager participant in other CCM activities and projects.

Publishers Elinor Comlay and Bill Sprouse have frequently lent their insights and expertise to other NJ News Commons partners and members of the NJ news ecosystem. They consistently produce high-quality local reporting that continues to evolve and change with the industry. Through their tireless reporting and community engagement, they have taken a small, independent news startup and turned it into a powerful voice for Atlantic City residents and South Jersey more broadly. For that — and many other reasons that we don’t have the space to list here — Route 40 News is the 2020 NJ News Commons Partner of the Year.


If you would like to congratulate any of the winners listed above, or you just want to spend some time hanging out with other members of the NJ news ecosystem, we urge you to join us for lunch on us at Harvest Moon Brewery in New Brunswick, NJ on March 5 for our ELN awards ceremony and luncheon.


Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media. You can reach me on Twitter at @jsamditis or via email at amditisj@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

Center for Cooperative Media

An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair…

Joe Amditis

Written by

Joe is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and the host of the WTF Just Happened Today? podcast.

Center for Cooperative Media

An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair State University

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