Local Beat: Best of 2016 from NJ News Commons

Local Beat is the NJ News Commons’ weekly roundup of the best reporting by community news sources. This week, we look back at some of the best local reporting from our partners in 2016.

NBPD CONFISCATES WATER METER FROM NEW BRUNSWICK TODAY OFFICE
The offices of New Brunswick Today earlier this month were raided by New Brunswick police executing a search warrant to seize a water meter that was reported stolen after the New Brunswick Water Utility saw the meter on a live broadcast of the New Brunswick Today Show. Charlie Kratovil of NBToday maintains that the water meter constitutes physical evidence and is part of the newspaper’s investigation of corruption at the water utility. The story has since spurred a range of discussions over the protections afforded to journalists in the course of performing newsgathering activities, as well as the nature of what constitutes sources and newsgathering materials under New Jersey’s shield law.

A SURREALITY TOUR OF ATLANTIC COUNTY
A welcome center in the middle of an expressway, a bicycle path that goes (practically) nowhere, an abandoned racetrack. These are some of the stops on Route 40‘s Surreality Tour of some of the ugliest places and strangest public improvement projects in Atlantic County. Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in urban exploration, decay, and abandonment.

DESTINATION NEWARK: HOW THE VISITORS BUREAU WILL SPUR ECONOMIC GROWTH
Andaiye Taylor of Brick City Live examined the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau’s plans to “market Newark to the world” in an attempt to increase economic investment in New Jersey’s largest city. The plans are ambitious, Taylor explained, and the city government will have to overcome a few hurdles along the way. The article features one of the more visually-appealing page designs we’ve seen all year.

ANATOMY OF A HIGH SCHOOL BIAS INCIDENT
Matt Skoufalos of NJ Pen breaks down a racial harassment incident that occurred over the summer at Haddon Township High School. The incident caused a big stir in the local community, with many pointing fingers at the local school district for its handling of the incident. The school district agreed that the incident occurred, but the victim says the district missed a meaningful opportunity to address her classmate with the necessary counseling.

COVERING NEW JERSEY’S GUBERNATORIAL DARK HORSE
Mark Bonamo of NewarkInc has been covering Democrat Phil Murphy’s meteoric rise to prominence on the gubernatorial stage long before anyone knew Murphy’s name. When all eyes were on Steve Sweeney and Steve Fulop, Bonamo kept his focus trained on Murphy. You can read the full extent of Bonamo’s gubernatorial coverage and follow Murphy’s campaign into 2017 by clicking here.

MAPPING NEW JERSEY ANCESTRIES: 1 IN 5 RESIDENTS ARE IMMIGRANTS
New Jersey ranks third in the nation when it comes to the number of foreign-born residents, and nearly one in every five New Jersey residents is an immigrant. Anthony Ewing of EthnicNJ.com used the latest 2016 U.S. Census data to create and update a series of interactive maps that show the ancestries and migration patterns of immigrants and ethnic groups in the Garden State. Ewing took public data and turned it into a useful and visually compelling resource for N.J. communities of all ethnicities and national origins.

HOPEWELL VALLEY COMMUNITY DISCUSSES ISSUES OF RACE AND DIVERSITY
Hopewell Valley hosted a meeting in October to discuss issues of race and diversity in its community. Angela Jacobs of MercerMe attended the event, the third of its kind, to report on the conversation, which touched on everything from Colin Kaepernick, white supremacists, Donald Trump, and Black Lives Matter.

THE SPRINGSTEEN EFFECT: HOW STORIES ABOUT THE BOSS IMPACT A LOCAL JERSEY ARTS SITE
Jay Lustig of NJArts.net writes about Bruce Springsteen a lot. So much so, in fact, that more than half of the 30 top-performing stories on his website are about The Boss. But Springsteen stories aren’t just about recognizing contributions to New Jersey’s musical legacy, they’re also about economics. Lustig gave us a rare inside-look at the inner workings of a local Jersey arts site and the relationships between local arts coverage and the larger pressures at work in the local publishing industry.

ORIGINAL THEATRE THRIVES ALONG THE JERSEY SHORE
Gary Wein of New Jersey Stage says that despite the distance, many people in Monmouth County work in New York City but “choose to live in the area to be close to the Jersey Shore.” But that doesn’t mean they’re any less cultured than those who live just across the bridge. “Theatres like Two River and NJ Rep,” Wein explains, “are discovering audiences who have the option of going to a Broadway or Off-Broadway show each weekend, but who sometimes prefer seeing professional theatre in their backyard. In this way, they may be changing the role of regional theatres that are located in the shadow of the city.”

YOU’RE NOT GOING TO GET AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN MORRISTOWN. REALLY.
Morristown’s town council brought the man who runs their affordable housing lottery in to explain how the process works, and Morristown Green publisher Kevin Coughlin wasn’t impressed, so he dug in. Coughlin’s story includes a video of the presentation, along with this warning: “Want to enter the lottery for an affordable apartment in Morristown? Watch this video. (*After you have completed your degree in rocket science at Princeton.)” Coughlin goes on to detail several ways that applicants can be rejected and provides a thoroughly critical examination of the housing lottery process as a whole.

ACCUSATIONS OF CORRUPTION IN LITTLE EGG HARBOR
Ocean County Politics detailed the “shocking revelations” of municipal corruption made by Little Egg Harbor Deputy Mayor David Schlick at a township committee meeting in June. Schlick raised questions about tax assessments and suggested that people with political connections in town received special treatment. The article also includes video from the meeting and photos of a particular lot in question, as well as the official paperwork associated with the lot in question.

CHRIS CHRISTIE’S NEXT MOVE MAY HARM SOUTH JERSEY FOR A GENERATION
Joseph Russell of South Jerseyist had some strong words for Gov. Chris Christie after he announced his plans to end the longstanding income-tax reciprocity agreement between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Christie ended up changing his mind, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Russell’s pointed criticism had something to do with it.

THE FUNTOWN PIER IN SEASIDE PARK WILL NOT BE REBUILT
The iconic Funtown Pier in Seaside Park, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy, will not be rebuilt. Daniel Nee of Shorebeat says the only way the pier could be economically viable is if the Seaside planning board allowed owner William Major to build thrill rides up to 300 feet high, three times the legal limit.

HOPE AND HEALTH TOP CITIES’ AGENDA
Susan Haig of CivicStory gave us a recap of this year’s NJ Spotlight on Cities conference in October, when 52 speakers discussed a range of issues in 19 different sessions and panels. Topics ranged from environmental justice to opioid recovery to comprehensive health care. The majority of the conversations were upbeat and hopeful with regard to the future of New Jersey’s urban agenda.

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