Here are the winners of the 2022 Excellence in Local News Awards

Check out these examples of outstanding local NJ reporting from the last year

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

Due to the (still) ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we will once again be foregoing a celebratory awards luncheon for this year’s winners, but each of the winners will still receive an award certificate and a $100 gift card for the work they did in 2021.

As we mentioned in our call for submissions, we decided to structure this year’s awards differently than we have in previous years. In the past, we’ve put out calls for submissions focused on reporting and news-related activities in a handful of distinct categories with specific criteria. Last year, for example, we gave out awards in the following seven categories: engagement, investigative reporting, collaboration, journalism innovation, business sustainability, campus reporting, high school journalism, and overall journalistic excellence (partner of the year).

But after lengthy internal deliberations and several conversations with some of our NJ News Commons members — specifically our ethnic and community media partners — we decided to do away with specific categories and instead accept submissions on a much more broad, open basis, with no specific categories.

That’s right, this year we simply asked members of the NJ News Commons to submit their best work, their most challenging endeavor, or any project they worked on over the last year that they’re proud of — and tell us why they think it deserved to be recognized.

All we wanted to hear was what they worked on and why, in their own words, they think their work deserves an award. Then staff at the Center reviewed the submissions and selected 12 entries and individuals to receive awards. Congratulations to the winners! You can learn more about each awardee below.

Without further adieu, here are the 2022 awardees for general excellence:

Edgar Aquino-Huerta and Kendra Prat — CATA, The Farmworker Support Committee (El Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas)

Edgar Aquino-Huerta and Kendra Prat of CATA provided excellent first-person accounts of how local journalists and community organizers, facing language and cultural barriers — and challenges surrounding immigration status in the U.S. — can make big differences in the community.

Aquino-Huerta and Prat not only produced quality reporting about the issues surrounding paid sick leave and driver’s licenses for New Jersey’s undocumented immigrants and farm workers, Aquino-Huerta went above and beyond and even got certified as a notary in order to make sure members of the community could obtain their licenses.

Rifat Islam, Anika Maskara, Srija Patcha, Maya Rozenshteyn, Leon Wu, Taylor Calise, and Krystal Knapp — VaccinateNJ

Rifat Islam, Anika Maskara, Srija Patcha, and Maya Rozenshteyn worked with Krystal Knapp of Planet Princeton to create VaccinateNJ in the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, when vaccines were hard to come by and figuring out when and how to book an appointment felt like a full-time job. Information provided by the state and counties about vaccine locations was also very limited and poorly organized — it wasn’t updated regularly or even clickable.

So Knapp created a Google spreadsheet and started listing every vaccine location in the state, along with availability, how to make an appointment (some sites only accepted phone calls while others only took appointments online), and eligibility information.

The spreadsheet was accessed more than 2 million times and was later imported into a table as part of Vaccinate NJ. Volunteers updated and corrected the database regularly, and Princeton University students Rifat Islam, Anika Maskara, Srija Patcha, and Maya Rozenshteyn created an app interface to help display the information in the database. Both the original Google spreadsheet and the database were also made available to any news organization in the state that wanted to embed it on their sites.

Developers Leon Wu and Taylor Calise collaborated with Planet Princeton on the project after starting their own separate efforts, realizing it made more sense to work together. Wu created the Vaccinate NJ website and Calise converted the spreadsheet into a database that Princeton University students then used to create their app. Wu and Calise both worked with and mentored the students, who created the app as part of a course on programming for the social good.

Skylyr VanDerveer — TAPinto Elizabeth

Skylyr VanDerveer watched her childhood home flood in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, so it was important for her to be able to provide accurate and impactful coverage to those who looking for shelter or aid when Hurricane Ida hit New Jersey at the end of August 2021. In Elizabeth, N.J., the sheer amount of rain caused already vulnerable areas of the city to succumb to flooding and four people died there in an apartment building.

VanDerveer tirelessly covered the storm and its aftermath for TAPinto Elizabeth — and not just the devastation the storm caused, but also the cleanup efforts, aid and shelter availability, and the overall recovery of the city. Her coverage was a vital resource for local residents and victims of the storm.

Chloe Tai, Hayley Slusser, and Madison McGay — The Daily Targum

Chloe Tai, Hayley Slusser, and Madison McGay write for the Daily Targum at Rutgers University. (Disclosure: I graduated from Rutgers and wrote an awful column for the Targum back in 2012–13.) In September, they published a blockbuster special report that found the university did not spend the bulk of the $365 million in COVID-19 relief funding it received from the state and federal government.

Tai, Slusser and McGay, along with a team of editors at the Targum, spent six months tracking what Rutgers did with all that assistance — one of the largest aid packages awarded to any school in the country. They reviewed government disclosure reports the university filed, interviewed dozens of students, faculty, and administrators and examined hundreds of purchase orders and financial records obtained either through public records requests or from a Rutgers source.

The result is an example of investigative student reporting that involves data journalism, interviews with officials and requests for government documents and is one of the few shining examples of accountability reporting on New Jersey colleges and pandemic relief funding.

Steven Rodas — TAPinto Camden

Most news sites did a series of stories focusing on the rollout and availability of COVID-19 vaccines in Camden, but the work of Steven Rodas at TAPinto Camden in particular stood out.

Rodas didn’t just list the facts and statistics about how many vaccines were or were not distributed, he also provided useful, community-focused, and actionable information to help residents of his community access and obtain vaccines and accurate vaccine-related information. His stories were based on the information needs of Camden residents, and were consistent and clearly reported.

Matt Kadosh — TAPinto Westfield

Matt Kadosh worked tirelessly over the last year through his reporting for TAPinto Westfield to bring awareness to the issue of hate crimes and antisemitism after multiple incidents of swastikas were reported in Westfield schools and parks over the past three years. The town has since taken substantive action to help mitigate such crimes in the future. Kadosh’s reporting also stands out because he highlights solutions and focuses on positive outcomes.

After the hate crimes resurfaced once again this winter, Kadosh compiled a list of all TAPinto Westfield’s coverage of hate crimes and antisemitism dating back all the way back to 2011 in an effort to help identify patterns of the crimes and highlight public responses to them.

Maricarmen Amado — New Jersey Hispano

Reporting for her story, “COVID-19 thrusts NJ Latino undocumented immigrants into uncertainty,” Maricarmen Amado built trust with her sources: undocumented immigrants. When the risk of deportation for undocumented immigrants is imminent, revealing their presence, their names and their faces bears journalistic and social responsibilities. And this is what makes the reporting excellent as covering undocumented immigrants can be difficult and complex. Most undocumented immigrants usually trust their voices to immigration activists, rather than engaging with reporters. Yet, Amado went to the streets of Glen Rock, inside a Peruvian restaurant in Passaic, and at a parking lot behind a Catholic Church in Paterson, NJ, to tell their stories during the coronavirus pandemic.

Aleksandra Słabisz — Nowy Dziennik

While the correlation between immigration and health has been well documented during the coronavirus pandemic, many of these reports are mostly centered on the Latino immigrants — and yet relatively little is known about white immigrants, a group whose population has become increasingly diverse in New Jersey. In the story, “Pandemic lays bare widening inequalities for Polish immigrants in New Jersey,” Aleksandra Słabisz presented a tale of two groups of Polish immigrants — documented and undocumented. She examined a disproportionate number of undocumented Polish immigrants who have been excluded from federal and state government aid, thrusting them deeply into poverty.

And here are the (four!) 2022 NJ News Commons Partners of the Year:

Neill Borowski — 70and73.com

Over the last few years, Neill Borowski has built 70and73.com into a fantastic resource of news and information in South Jersey, covering the area where routes 70 and 73 intersect. Borowski has a long track record in journalism in South Jersey, has built a solid hyperlocal business and is an active member of the NJ News Commons.

Jongwon Lee — The Korea Daily

Jongwon Lee is a journalist and attorney who previously worked with The Korea Daily and Yonhap News Agency. He’s been active with the Center and NJ News Commons especially over the last two years as an ethnic media fellow, a translator and a speaker at our events. He has introduced Korean journalists in New Jersey to engage and participate in the Center’s journalism efforts. Representing one of the victims’ family in the Atlanta shooting, Lee developed a reporting guide for journalists who cover hate crimes. He also collaborated on a story about anti-Asian hate crimes with NorthJersey.com.

Krystal Knapp — Planet Princeton

Krystal Knapp runs Planet Princeton, one of New Jersey’s top hyperlocal news sites. In addition to running her own business, Krystal is a frequent mentor and coach to other news entrepreneurs in the state, helping colleagues with a wide range of issues, most notably how to navigate Wordpress. She is currently serving as a CUNY Entrepreneurial Creators program mentor to Tennyson Coleman, a fellow New Jersey journalist.

Clyde Hughes — Front Runner New Jersey

Clyde Hughes has developed Front Runner New Jersey into a leading news website for the Black community in South Jersey over the last few years, all while also working a separate full-time job. He has been active in his role as a reporting fellow with the Center and as a partner of the NJ News Commons. He is also an advisor to the South Jersey Information Equity Project.

Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact him at amditisj@montclair.edu or on Twitter at @jsamditis.

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.

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