Working in the Time of COVID

The old Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times,” takes on new meaning right now.
I doubt if any of us, making our plans for a Regional Conference at Hofstra and awards presentations and the other spring chapter events could have envisioned Zoom-meeting with our colleagues and discussing how to proceed with an SPJ season in this strange new normal.
Journalists as a rule don’t do well in isolation. We prefer noisy newsrooms to basement offices with a cat on the keyboard. And while polar bear pajama pants and Johnny Cash t-shirts may be comfortable, they lack the sort of professionalism we became used to. The decline of newspapers already forced many of us to convent a corner of the dining room to a freelance “office,” but now, virtually all of us are solo workers.
Since the average journalist is an extrovert, possibly ADHD and usually over-caffinated, this is bound to cause some over-thinking of the problem.
Far be it from me to give advice on how to get through these interesting times. We all have to fine our own way through them — I have discovered bourbon to be an essential . However, as Regional Coordinator for Region 1, I’m hear to listen.
The RCs are working on some things right now.
We are surveying our chapter leaders who are in turn surveying members to find out if regional and local governments are behaving themselves and not taking advantage of these troubled times to reduce transparency.
We have altered our Chapter Grant program to award funds for virtual events.
We also also looking into ways of assisting some of our members who are furloughed in these times.
I have been remiss about keeping the blog going, but I promise to post regularly to keep members updated on all of our efforts on their behalf.

Sorry, Pogo, Not This Time

At first it was almost a joke. Those of us who were too young to have made Nixon’s enemies list figured we had another chance with Trump.
But it soon became obvious there was nothing funny about it.
The first few times Trump bandied about the words “fake news,” we assumed everyone, including his rabid followers, would realize he was just yelling “is not!” like a child who doesn’t want to believe a blistering comment by the neighborhood bully.
But, his rhetoric became more vicious. Then he used that term.
“Enemy of the People,” a Stalinist phrase. A code for those Stalin, and other dictators, wanted “removed,” to use the delicate word, from their field of vision. Harking back to one of the most monstrous dictators of the 20th Century is not a joke.
And to apply that epithet to the Fourth Estate, the only profession protected by our Constitution, is even more unsettling.
James Madison was not fan of the press, but he was smart enough to know the new experiment that he did love needed the protection of the law because the new nation, that Great Experiment, needed a check, a watchdog, on its new government.
We’ve aggravated other presidents. All of them at one time or another. It’s our job to do that because it’s our job to publish the truth and often, the truth hurts.
Sure, we make mistakes. We’re human. But, we correct them and move on. And we take our Code of Ethics as seriously as any doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath. It’s what we live by.
We seek truth and report it.
That’s what we do.
At the inception of the environmental movement the brilliant Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo the Possum, had his favorite marsupial describe the problem, “We has met de enemy, and dey is us.” Not this time, Pogo. We are not the enemy. And we shouldn’t have to remind possums, or people, of that.

We’d Rather Be in Philadelphia

Former National President and current NJPro Prez John Ensslin.

Matt Katz of WNYC tells a great Chris Christie story

Jodie Gil and Mike Savino of Connecticut.

Former National President Irwin Gratz.

Roiy Gutterman comes down from Syracuse U. for every Regional to share his wisdom.

Students at the legal panel.


Former National President Keven Z. Smith speaks on current apps for journalists.

Region 1 volunteers put together another terrific conference April 21 and 22 in Philadelphia.

Philly’s chapter was discontinued several years ago and it has been a personal crusade of mine to bring it back. I’m not sure if the Regional alone can accomplish that, but we did attract city journalists and students, so I think we are on track at least to bring in a number of active members to Keystone Pro.

Speaking of Keystone, I want to thank Pat Trosky, Keystone Pro president, for her planning expertise and hard work. Pat is a wiz at finding the perfect venues and arranging catering and the multiple details that nobody thinks about when they attend a regional. And NJPro President John Ensslin had the idea to do a two-day Saturday and Sunday regional rather than the traditional Friday night/Saturday event. It gave us room for more sessions. John’s contacts brought in some terrific speakers.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Denise Ensslin who corralled the student volunteers and held down the fort at the Annenberg Hall Atrium. I know I will leave out some volunteers but thanx to Miri Ascarelli, Melissa Francis, Claire Regan, Tricia Couture, and the great cadre of student volunteers, especially Evan the sports editor who managed to teach the “grown-ups” how to work a recalcitrant copy machine.

We had two super keynoters. Matt Katz, superhero of Chris Christie coverage, spoke on his transition from print to radio. Bill Marrimow of the Philly Inquirer told some great stories of his career at a brunch in the spacious and airy public room of the newspaper.

Workshops concentrated on tools we need to keep up with the times. We brought in former SPJ National President and Ethics Guru Kevin Z. Smith, director of the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism with his Digital Dirty Dozen new apps for journalists. Vix Reitano presented one of her Google Tools sessions, Roy Gutterman, our favorite lawyer, once again combed the murky corners of libel law. Frank LoMonte, another favorite attorney, gave a program on student press rights and the New Voices bills in New York and New Jersey.

One of the most exciting events was a two-day Hack-a-thon designed to bring in diverse voices. It succeeded in bringing up diversity issues and bringing together people who are committed to diversity. It was conceived of and run by two of SPJ’s rising stars, Keem Muhammad and Kim Chin. It’s so exciting when our young members take the initiative,

The 2019 Regional is in the capable hands of the New England Chapter, specifically NE Chapter President Jordan Frias with a committee consisting of former National President Irwin Gratz and two students from Roger Williams, Brett Johnson and Kayla Ebner. Which doesn’t mean they won’t need the imagination and energy of volunteers from all over New England and the region. We owe our series of great regional conferences to our ability to collaborate.

The Times They are a-Changin’

As all members in good standing know, the SPJ Board is shrinking.
We are going from a cumbersome 23 members to a sleek nine members. Think F-350 down to F-150. Faster, tighter turning radius, better gas mileage. It’s not all coming at once, however, 2018-2019 is a transition year.
Some of the Regional Directors, soon to be dubbed Regional Coordinators will leave the board, including me. Because my tern is up in September, I go off the board. Those RDs with terms that extend through September 2019 will stay on the board for another year.
The RDs/RCs will stay in touch with the board and will continue to meet at least once a year as a caucus. We will also communicate via Slack and hold Zoom meetings when necessary. The rank and file membership should not really notice much of a difference. We are still here to serve you. We will share ideas and continue to work for the chapters and unaffiliated members in our regions.
The new board will function more strategically and will inevitably find it easier to get things done. The committee/community system will remain in place.
One thing that will never change is our need for volunteers. The board is looking for at-large directors. And, each of the 12 regions will still need RCs to run. I have decided to run for one more term and I have the deepest bench of all the regions, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about what you can do to serve your fellow journalists.
Notice, I’m not saying to serve the organization. That’s because the organization is us. We have opportunities for service for members of any interest and all talents.

Getting Better All the Time

Region 1, as I have said before, represents one out of every six SPJ members nationwide so it stands to reason we should have some of the most active and enthusiastic of those members.
Jordan Frias, our New England Pro president, has arranged for several screenings of the NYT documentary “Obit.” We are even working on a northern NE showing.
Even more exciting, we had a Google Training in. . .drumroll please. . .upstate New York! There is life in the former Black Hole of SPJ!
Brett Hall pulled that rabbit out of the hat. Brett was a superstar as a student member and is continuing that trend as a pro. He single-handedly arranged the Google event in Syracuse.
We have a new student chapter at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ. Nick Hirshorn, a former member of the Deadline Club board and now a member of the NJPro board, is the advisor.
Plans are also in the works for a student chapter at Montclair State University, also in New Jersey, under the advisement of Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Tom Franklin. (the photo of the 3 firemen and the American flag). For years the only student chapter in the state has been at Rutgers, so NJPro is very happy about this.
NJPro and Keystone are working on a Regional conference April 21 and 22 in Philadelphia. This is the first even there since the Philly Pro Chapter was dissolved. The Regional will be a full day Saturday and Sunday. Of course, we will have a Friday evening event of some kind for the old timers who are used to having their Friday night reception.
The regional will offer a KipCamp and Google training, plus a program on diversity to which we will invite members of the community for their input into how we can do a better job. I’m planning a session on covering casino gambling, a much-neglected issue. And, as per national prez Rebecca Baker, one on sexual harassment. Anybody with great ideas, please contact me or post a comment. Thanx.

Back from EiJ and Looking Forward

buskerThe difference between NYC and NOLA is apparently the decor around their buskers.


We are a fortunate bunch in Region 1.
We have a small geographic footprint (ok, I wouldn’t want to walk to Irwin’s house from mine, but, . . ) and a large population. Somewhere around one in six SPJers lives in Region 1. I learned at EiJ16 we also have a very deep bench compared to other Regions,
At the Regional meeting during EiJ16, I appointed Chris Vaccaro of PCLI my deputy RD. Chris has been doing an awesome job with the Mark of Excellence Awards, no easy task. His duties, in addition to continuing with the MOEs, will be to fill in for me in case I can’t make a required RD appearance and any other task that comes up.
Chris is not the only up-and-comer in the chapter. We gave several other young members who will soon step on the ladder. I learned at EiJ this is more true for Region 1 than most of the other regions.
It is also going to be a challenging year for the region.
Having a Regional Conference in Manhattan presents wonderful opportunities for programs and speakers, but it also presents complications, especially financial complications.
We have already lined up a number of programs: drones (which must be inside because there is no point in NYC more than five miles from an airport), legal issues, covering technology, covering real estate, transitioning to teaching and ethics. Irwin Gratz is looking for our MOE luncheon speaker and keystone is working on another panel. PCLI is on a search for swag, so don hesitate to help them out. Everyone should also come up with silent auction items.
As long as we pull together — and we are so good at that — it is going to be a great regional and a great year.

A Great Day for “Spotlight” and Journalism

It was quite late, but there was no way I was going to fall asleep before I heard “Best Picture” announced.
And it was worth the loss of sleep.
“Spotlight” took the Oscar.
The temptation to have a Woodward and Bernstein moment is overwhelming, but we do need to remember times are very different from the “All the President’s Men” days.
Today surveys show journalists are not respected. We’re down around used car salesmen on the list of least trusted professions. That really stings.
Maybe, just maybe, “Spotlight” being recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will wake a few people up. Maybe these people will start to realize there are real, professional journalists in this country. In this world. Real reporters knocking on doors and making phone calls and following leads and doing interminable research to get to the truth. The truth. Facts. Not opinion. Not appearances. Not innuendo. Not what somebody’s Aunt Eloise posted on Facebook.
There are still working reporters willing to fulfill the mantra of true journalism in the words of Finley Peter Dunne: “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
And maybe, just maybe, a few really good, smart, tough young people are among those who saw the movie. People willing to pay their dues by sitting through interminable planning board meetings and slogging through the snow to a plane crash site and taking photos of the mayor’s nephew with his first deer. And maybe, somewhere, there will be a job.
Those thoughts feel pretty good.

Let Me Introduce Myself

I guess it’s about time I introduce myself.
My name is Jane Primerano and I’m your new-ish Interim Region I Director. Appointed to succeed Rebecca Baker as she moved up the ladder to secretary-treasurer.
I’ve been in the news business since dinosaurs roamed the earth. I spent years on the typical newspaper beats: municipal, county, cop-shop. Then environment, historic preservation and agriculture. That’s what I do now, I’m an “independent journalist,” which I still refer to as freelancer, covering agriculture and agri-buisness, equine topics, wine and craft beverages for trade publications. Mostly. Like most freelancers and in the noble tradition of Larry, Darryl and Darryl from the old Newhart TV show, “I’ll do anything for $1,” so I pick up work from other publications which is how I became the foremost expert on fresh-water weed control in New Jersey. Somebody’s got to do it.
I’ve been a member of SPJ since 1983. Not always active, especially while I was raising three kids as a single mother. Around 2005, kids semi-launched, I walked into an NJPro Chapter board meeting. The rest, as they say, is history.
I helped the wonderful David Levitt with the 2006 Regional conference and preceded to move up in the ranks of the board. I served on an informal committee, with Connecticut’s Cindy Simoneau, to help the Deadline Club with its Regional, which was so terrific it earned Rebecca the sobriquet Marvel Girl. I served as NJPro president for three years and ran our own Regional in 2013.
I really hadn’t thought of serving as RD. I was content to be NJPro’s representative to our Garden State Scholastic Press Association, the organization of high school j-teachers. But, I have been a delegate to the national convention several times and have learned a little bit about how the national works. So, when Rebecca asked me if I’d be interested, I realized I was.
So, for better or worse, you’ve got me. At least until September. And, longer if I decide I’ve done a decent enough job and have more I want to do and decide to run for a full term. And, of course, if I win. But that’s all in the future.
We have some important things going on, but I’ll save that for my next post.

RIP Phil from Philly, 1959-2015

Sad news to share … Phil Beck, who was president of the now-closed Philadelphia Pro Chapter of SPJ, died Thursday, July 9, on his 56th birthday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he had been a writer. His funeral was Sunday.

SPJ leaders from around Region 1 shared their remembrances of Phil over the weekend. If you would like to add your own thoughts, send them to and we’ll add them here ….

SPJ is a big outfit with thousands of great members who are dedicated to advancing and protecting journalism day in and day out. But sometimes there are parts of the country where this work falls mainly on the shoulders of a few very dedicated individuals. Such was the case in Philadelphia, where for many years Phil Beck was the person who kept the flame burning for SPJ. I know that in the end, the chapter was deactivated because it could not meet the minimum standards SPJ sets for programing and annual reports. But having worked personally with Phil on several projects, I admired his dedication to SPJ.In particular, I remember his invaluable help in going to bat for a Temple University photojournalism student who ran afoul of the Philadelphia police for simply taking pictures while on assignment. Phil was a good guy. I will miss him.

—John Ensslin, former national SPJ president, New Jersey Pro

I first met Phil through SPJ. I can’t remember precisely where or when, but it was surely with a smile and wonderful conversation. Through the years we’d see each other and catch up at Regions or National, and always with a warm hug and as though it hadn’t been a year since we last saw each other. Conversation with Phil ranged from journalism to travel to family. He was an intense listener and offered guidance so easily. More recently we have only kept in touch via Facebook, but he was always there with comforting words or encouragement or just something to make me chuckle. When I heard of his passing it was like a punch to the gut. To not be able to hear his laugh, see his smile, or listen to his stories again leaves an empty feeling in my heart. Phil was one of those people you are so glad to have in your life and his absence will be felt deeply.

—Kara Matuszewski Sassone,  New England Pro

I remember when he needed help with the Philadelphia conference, and me and Carl worked to put it together. He was so genuinely appreciative and kind. He greeted us both with smiles and hugs, and you could tell he just seems so happy for us to be there. He was truly genuine in his appreciation.

—Dominick Miserandino, Press Club of Long Island

To say someone’s smile lights up a room is the ultimate cliche, but Phil Beck’s smile did just that. I remember him walking into the hotel at Ted Scripps Leadership Institute in Indianapolis and grabbing me in his great bear hug, lifting me off the ground. We had a blast at Scripps, convincing the hotel bartender that he couldn’t make mint juleps because we weren’t in Kentucky, he had to make Whiskey Rebellions; posing for pictures getting carded at the duck pin bowling alley, trying to teach Midwesterners how to properly sing “Sweet Caroline” and, oh, by the way, learning how to make our chapters better. On that trip, he almost, almost, convinced me that birds make good pets. Phil from Philly was a lot of fun, but he was also a serious, dedicated journalist. And, he loved SPJ the way we all do. He pretty much singlehandedly arranged a regional conference at Temple and, if he was sometimes reluctant to accept help, well, nobody knew what Philadelphia needed quite so well. My heart is aching today for I have lost a dear friend. And so has SPJ.

—Jane Primerano, New Jersey Pro

I will miss his smile, his motorcycle and his passion for the truth… Especially in journalism.

—Pat Trotsky, Keystone Pro

My favorite memory of Phil was at the 2010 national conference in Las Vegas, my first conference as Deadline Club president. Phil was the only person who would accompany me to Downtown Las Vegas, or Old Vegas, for the tacky (yet wonderful) Fremont Street Experience. Phil, who was roughly the size of a grizzly bear, protected me from getting harassed from street-corner proselytizers, alleyway hustlers, run-of-the-mill drunks and any variety of crooks and con men. Along the way, we cracked so many jokes that my sides literally hurt with laughter afterward. Phil not only was a good journalist and a good friend, he was a Good Man (™, ®, etc). The world is a lesser place without him.

—Rebecca Baker, Region 1 Director, New York Deadline Club

A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Greetings Region 1 SPJ members. It’s been an exciting time for our region, for reasons big and small ….

First, we held a successful regional conference at Hofstra University. Hats off to the Press Club of Long Island and its conference committee for all of their hard work.

We announced the Mark of Excellence Awards winners and celebrated the best in collegiate journalism in Region 1.

We were represented at the SPJ national board meeting in Indianapolis and at the SDX Foundation board meeting by Region 1 Director Rebecca Baker.

We started planning for JournCamp, a day-long journalism training seminar in Midtown Manhattan on Saturday, June 13.

We marked our calendars for Excellence in Journalism 2015 in Orlando, Florida.

And finally, we learned that we are #1. At just over 1,300 members, Region 1 is the largest region in SPJ. Nearly 1 out of 6 SPJ members lives in the Northeast U.S., which as we know, has more major media outlets than any other part of the country.

Let’s get together in NYC this June and/or in Orlando this September and toast to our success!



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