WAYNE, NJ – The William Paterson University (WPU) student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has been named the national Outstanding Campus Chapter of the Year for 2020.  The SPJ website points out that this award salutes “chapters for overall excellence in supporting the Society’s missions, members and the profession.” 

According to an announcement made by WPU, for the last four years in a row the renowned chapter at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University was named for this award. But, for the 2019 – 2020 school year, WPU was chosen from 95 chapters across America including schools that were three times their size.

Outstanding Campus Chapter finalists are:
• Region 1 – William Paterson University
• Region 2 – George Mason University
• Region 3 – Florida International University
• Region 4 – Cleveland State University
• Region 5 – DePaul University
• Region 6 – University of Minnesota
• Region 7 – N/A
• Region 8 – University of Oklahoma
• Region 9 – Colorado State University – Pueblo
• Region 10 – Western Washington University
• Region 11 – California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
• Region 12 – University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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During the national virtual SPJ student summit, when the award was announced, WPU’s series of eighteen programs and projects called “Reality Check” was cited as an example of the exceptional work that put WPU over the top.

The Reality Check series has included a discussion series, and post-discussion dinner with journalists from a range of news media outlets.  WPU student journalists shadowed a theatre critic while she reviewed a stage performance and shadowed a professional basketball announcer during a game at Nassau Memorial Coliseum. They also held on-campus workshops on interviewing and fact-checking.

Here are two examples of the Reality Check series from the WPU campus newspaper, the Beacon:

In 2017, Nicholas Hirshon, an assistant professor of communication at WPU, founded the WPSPJ chapter and has served as its advisor ever since. Within two years, he was honored with the David L. Eshelman Outstanding Campus Advisor Award, and given the national recognition he just helped deliver to WPU, the award was well-deserved.

"Dr. Hirshon has been instrumental in demonstrating to our young men and women the importance of high-quality journalism at a particularly difficult time in our country,” says Loretta McLaughlin Vignier, interim dean of the University’s College of the Arts and Communication. “There continues to be a need for journalistic excellence especially when the value of the fourth estate is being questioned and economically undercut.”

“Journalism is critical in keeping the public apprised of what's happening in their communities and helping them make informed decisions about how to live their lives,” said Hirshon, who is also a former reporter for the New York Daily News. He added that he was “so grateful” to “be able to work with the next generation of journalists at William Paterson.”

Current WPSPJ President, John Conlow of the class of 2021 said, “My involvement in this group has affected me academically by building my knowledge of what really happens in the real world.” He mentioned that attending a news conference after a pro hockey game, as well as a tour of the New York City offices of the investigative news outlet ProPublica, as events that showed him the reality of the work involved in being a professional journalist.

“Being president of a group now recognized on a national level is amazing,” he added.

Congratulations to the hard-working, dedicated student journalists at  William Paterson University.