Announcing the winners of the Dirty Little Secrets student reporting contest
This is what happens when you empower student journalists
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Collaboration is the future of impactful, sustainable enterprise journalism. Collaborative reporting is especially critical in a time when resources are so scarce and publications seem to be locked in constant competition with each other.
With that in mind, the Center for Investigative Reporting applied for a grant from the Dodge Foundation to support a statewide, collaborative investigation of New Jersey’s toxic legacy. Thanks to the support from Dodge, CIR teamed up with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University to assemble a coalition of reporting partners to investigate the lesser-known sources of contamination in the Garden State.
It was a challenging and ambitious project, but in the end our our collective efforts paid off. Our reporting partners uncovered an astounding level of contamination — even for New Jersey. We identified more than 14,000 known contaminated sites scattered across the state, roughly 1,700 of which are located in areas vulnerable to storm surges and sea-level rises. We found abandoned gas stations and dry cleaners, diesel exhaust hazards, underground oil tanks, contaminated fish, privatized clean-up efforts, disproportionate contamination in low-income areas, and more.
We knew from the beginning that this project would be incomplete if we failed to bring the next generation of journalists into the fold. So we reached out to undergraduate journalism and media programs from across the state to let them know about the contest. We also published a call for submissions on the project homepage.
We wanted New Jersey-based news stories in all mediums that answered following question: How are particular environmental issues impacting the health of local communities in New Jersey?
We suggested looking at the health impacts and remediation of toxic sites in New Jersey; the state of our water, air, cities, and food as they relate to human and environmental health; climate issues that have changed or impacted communities; or the preparation for and effects of weather and earth events. We also set up a repository of ideas, topics, and suggestions to help get the students’ gears turning.
Our judges had many great choices and spent a week reviewing the entries. All told, we received eight submissions from four different schools, with 40 different student journalists contributing original work. They covered everything from contamination in the Ironbound to lingering radiation in Middlesex, NJ.
The awards were presented at an event hosted by the Rutgers University School of Communication & Information in New Brunswick on April 20, 2016. You can view the winning submissions and the honorable mentions below.
Third Place: An Atomic Legacy by Mike Jagacki
Mike Jagacki took third place for his report on the lingering radiation and lead contamination found at a field in Middlesex, NJ that was once part of the Manhattan Project and the race to build the atomic bomb. The field was used to test component materials like uranium, thorium, and beryllium more than 80 years ago, but the cleanup process is still ongoing.
Second Place: Why NJ Soil and Water Could Be Making You Sick by Danielle M. Bruno
Danielle Bruno took second place for her investigation into elevated levels of lead contamination in New Jersey’s water and soil. Bruno’s reporting shows that there were more than 3,000 new cases of children under six with high blood lead levels in 2015. The list of communities with the highest concentrations included Trenton, Newark, Jersey City, Atlantic City, and New Brunswick.
First Place: Newark’s Toxic Legacy: An Environmental Tour of the Ironbound by the English 350 Students at NJIT
Coming in at number one was this interactive tour of the environmental contamination in Newark’s iconic Ironbound District by the English 350 students at NJIT. Led by Miriam Ascarelli of the New Jersey Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, the students used the Knight Lab’s StoryMap.JS tool to create this compelling piece of multimedia journalism.
The students of ENG 350 are: Brittany Goulart, Calvin Allemand, Bryan Dixon, Robert Berry, Christian Alexander, Alyssa Armada, Kemoy Williams, Dhaval Patel, Milan Tailor, Ahmed Aladly, James Sofield, Sean Lubreski, Quincy Fulmore Fowlks, Damon Lynn, Nkwuda Lynda Nwankwo, Alex Bradbury-Wallad, Kelly Bedrosian, Jared Levy, Raminder Kuar, Nikola Gogic, Robin Couch, and Cameron Tait.
The Passaic: Up a river without a paddle or on its way to restoration? by Samantha Karas
Paterson First Ward Residents’ Streets, Homes, Lives Ruined by River Flooding by Luis Ari Lopez Wei (Password: Paterson)
A Rider legacy blooms in marsh by Lauren Lavelle
Rutgers water meets EPA standards for lead by Mina Afayee, Ziajah Nellom, Kariss Morales, Alexandra Dalli, Madison Fletcher, Sebastian Joseph, Audra Cohen, and Dani Roth
Rutgers New Brunswick passes clean water tests by Danna Almeida, Bryan Alcox, Gina DeSabatino, Kevin Sugay, Melissa Pasternak, Paloma Gomez, Tyler Conroy, Jessice Koffie, Ed Zaleck, and Gabriel Parsacala