South Jersey Observer (SJO), the Bellmawr based local news website edited and published solely by Anne Forline of Bellmawr, was named the 2017 recipient of both the Tim O’Brien Award and also the Awbrey Award by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ). These awards are considered highly prestigious honors in Garden State journalism.
The Awbrey pays tribute to Stu and Beverley Awbrey, who ran The Cranford Chronicle from 1978 to 1988. The Awbreys believed their 100-year-old weekly was more than a livelihood; they saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the civic life of Cranford.
Stu, who died in 2004 at the age of 66, wrote: “We asked ourselves: Isn’t a newspaper a public trust as well as a private enterprise? Don’t its proprietors have a responsibility to the community to serve as a means of communication and as a forum for opinion? Our answer was `yes’ to both questions.”
In their time, The Chronicle’s circulation and advertising both rose – demonstrating that committed community journalism could be both noble and profitable. Citizens took up a collection to help the paper successfully defend against a libel suit.
In an age when so many news outlets are struggling, we hope this award will serve as a reminder of why journalism matters. (Emphasis supplied)
About the Tim O’Brien Award
The Tim O’Brien Award is awarded annually for the best use of Open Public Records Law. SJO won in the local journalism category for work that was posted in 2016.
This award honors the best reporting that uses the N.J. Open Public Records Act to expose issues of public significance. The award is made jointly by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, a non-profit, non-partisan group that advocates for government transparency and free access to government information, and the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Among the judging criteria are: significance of the issues to the audience for which the reporting was done; impact of the reporting, if any; creativity and ingenuity shown in finding and using public records to document matters of public importance; persistence needed to overcome obstacles to release the records, if any; integrity and honesty in presenting results.
This award pays tribute to Tim O’Brien, whose investigative reporting, first at The Star-Ledger and later at The New Jersey Law Journal, exemplified the qualities of courage, thoroughness, integrity, persistence and quiet idealism that we seek to honor.
One of the judge wrote the following comment: “Anne Forline of the South Jersey Observer, a website she herself started, won the first-place O’Brien award in the local journalism category for [a] series of stories she did on the creation of a borough administrator’s position in the town of Bellmawr, which a sitting councilman was to receive.”
One judge wrote: “This enterprising reporter saw a need for transparency in local government and did what was necessary to fulfill it. Congrats in starting SJO.”
2016 First Place Win
In 2016, Anne won first place in NJ-SPJ’s Health and Science Writing category with the story: “Bellmawr’s A.J. Gonzales is World’s Newest Superhero.”
A judge’s comment read: “This article was a great way to use a personal story to bring a very serious issue to light. You were drawn in with this great story of a cute kid, but at the same time you learned about his very rare disease and the battle both doctors and his family have trying to fight it. ”
(All background information on the Awbrey Award and Tim O’Brien Award is credited to NJ-SPJ.)