WPSPJ hosts New Jersey Journalism Hall of Fame Celebration


Courtesy of Nick Hirshon

Ceara Navarro, Contributing Writer

The William Paterson Society of Professional Journalists hosted the first inaugural induction ceremony that celebrated five decorated journalists inducted into the New Jersey Hall Journalism Hall of Fame on Thursday Apr. 18.

The event was hosted by Miriam Ascarelli, Vice President of the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, and Nicholas Hirshon, William Paterson professor and the founder and advisor for the William Paterson SPJ. Also in attendance was the Dean of the Communications Department, Daryl Moore. The event was held in the Martini Room in Hobart Hall.

The five inductees honored were Jonathan Alter, Anna Quindlen, John McPhee, Gabe Pressman and Edith Schapiro. Also honored were the “Friends of the WPSJP,” who are journalists that have lent their time to the SPJ, either by allowing students to shadow, or by holding workshops the students could attend.

The Friends honored were John Ensslin, president of the NJSPJ, who taught a podcast workshop on the WPU campus; Denis Gorman, a freelance sports reporter and Hobart Hall’s Reality Check speaker, who journalism students were invited to shadow at New Jersey Devils game; and Ruth Ross, a theater critic who journalism students shadowed as she reviewed a play in West Orange.

Alter was the first to be honored. Alter was in attendance and gave a speech after he accepted his award.

“That commitment to chronicling the world around you is what makes this whole profession or craft, or whatever you want to call it, go,” Alter said. “You have to have a great curiosity for the world and the fact that you can be paid to satisfy that curiosity is still a wonder to me. You can be paid to learn.”

“People have been telling stories since they’ve been living in caves,” he said, quoting Gloria Steinem, a feminist activist. “Narrative, storytelling never ends. Never goes out of style. People will always be interested in what’s going on in the world and somebody who can tell them that story. The reporting, writing and thinking are eternal.”

Alter worked as a columnist and senior editor at Newsweek for 28 years, where he wrote more than 50 cover stories. Alter is now a columnist for the Daily Beast and co-host with his wife and their three children of “Alter Family Politics.” In 2019, he co-produced and co-directed the HBO documentary “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.”

Ensslin was the first to be honored as a Friend of the WPSJP. He was introduced by WPSPJ treasurer, Alex Evans. Ensslin has since relocated to Colorado, so he accepted the award with a prerecorded speech.

“Tonight is the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people both on campus and throughout the state,” Ensslin said. “My hope is that tonight’s event becomes a tradition that continues for many years to come.”

Quindlen was the next inductee honored. The secretary of NJSPJ, Emily Kratzer, accepted the award on her behalf.

“Think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived,” Kratzer said, quoting Quindlen’s 2000 novel “A Short Guide To A Happy Life.”

Kratzer also spoke about Quindlen’s career as a Newsweek columnist and about the joys and challenges of modern life.

“Her columns validated family experiences as a topic in the public consciousness, giving readers like me the feeling they had a companion that understood their private trials, tribulations, and joys,” said Kratzer.

Ross was the next Friend of the WPSPJ to be honored and she was introduced by WPSPJ secretary, Yulliet Ruiz.

“My only role models were Brenda Starr and Lois Lane, and they were in the comics,” Ross said. “I did what every smart girl did at that time, become a teacher.”

Ross explained that the only jobs women had back then were nursing, teaching or being a secretary. She had to satisfy her desire to be a journalist in other ways. As a teacher, she taught middle school and high school English for 34 years, as well as teaching journalism classes and overseeing the yearbook committee. Later in her career, she became a professional theater critic and a friend of the WPSPJ.

“So you see, letting the William Paterson University students shadow me as I reviewed a play gave me the chance to be a teacher and journalist,” Ross said. “I may not have become a real journalist, but I am grateful for the opportunity to help other people to fulfill their dreams.”

“Ruth, you qualify as a real journalist,” Ascarelli said as Ross left the podium.

McPhee was the next inductee to be honored. He was absent, but NJSPJ board member, Melanie Anzidei, accepted the award on his behalf. Anzidei spoke at length about McPhee’s career as a writer, author and as a sought-after professor at Princeton University. McPhee is also a Pulitzer winner.

“One professor quoted in The Princetonian [Princeton’s school newspaper] said, ‘Professor McPhee’s course is a national treasure. It helped launch the careers of our nation’s finest writers.’” Anzidei said. “‘Most importantly, John is a kind and giving person, and a generous mentor.’”

John Fiorino, Vice President of the WPSPJ, spoke briefly before awarding Gorman with his honor as a Friend of the WPSPJ.

“It’s not about us,” Fiorino said about the WPSPJ chapter. “It’s about the students that will follow.”

“I’ve been privileged to see the future of journalism firsthand,” Gorman said similarly about the chapter.

In regards to being given his award, he felt that he did not “do anything special” to deserve it.

Gorman left the audience with words of encouragement for the profession of journalism.

“People will tell you what we do is irrelevant, but those people are wrong. They are acting in bad faith,” Gorman said. “An ill-informed society is one that cannot stand.”

Regional director of the North East region of the SPJ, Jane Primerano, introduced Schapiro as the next inductee. The honor was accepted by Schapiro’s son, Bob Schapiro.

Primerano acknowledged that Schapiro, known fondly as “Edie,” would have been torn by the honor of the induction into the Journalism Hall of Fame. Schapiro elaborated on this on his mother’s behalf. The late Schapiro was denied membership into the SPJ twice, once for her gender in the 1950s and, again in 1972, because she was not a journalist. Her career accomplishments, which included being the editor of the Newark News, the largest newspaper in N.J. at the time, were delegitimized and she was called a “lady who lunched.”

“Being a journalist is to have faith that people will do the right thing most of the time if they have fair and accurate information,” Schapiro said. “Being a good journalist is nothing short of trying to save the world or your community.”

Pressman, the final inductee, had his honor accepted on his behalf by his wife Vera Pressman, his son Michael and his longtime producer, Inara DeLeon.

With a career the length of six decades, Pressman was known as “the reporter’s reporter,” and for “inspiring a generation of reporters.”

“It’s very important to shine a light in the darkness,” DeLeon said in reference to Pressman’s dedication to reporting.

Following the ceremony, the president-elect of the WPSPJ, Olivia Biel, and the current President of the WPSPJ, Maria Zuniga, held an auction. The night culminated with the WPSPJ and NJSPJ board members unveiling a plaque with the names of the inductees. The plaque is on display in Hobart Hall.