Reporter newspapers win statewide awards Two stories cited for investigative reporting; Mullins wins new reporter of the year

The Reporter newspapers won major awards in two annual statewide newspaper contests announced last month – including an “investigative reporting” award for a story that was ultimately picked up by NBC news, and a prestigious honor for best new reporter in the state.

The results were announced for two separate contests – one from the NJ Society for Professional Journalists, and the other the 60th annual competition run by the Garden State Journalists’ Association – in May.
Both organizations are composed of individuals working in the press throughout the state. Members of the press in surrounding states judged the contests.

The Reporter newspaper group, based in Hoboken, produces weekly papers in Hoboken, Bayonne, Jersey City, Weehawken, Union City, West New York, North Bergen/Guttenberg, and Secaucus.

Al Sullivan and Michael Mullins, staff writers for the newspaper group, won awards in both contests.
Staff writer Mark Bonamo also won a top award for enterprise reporting for his story on corruption in Hudson County, and the staff won for last year’s series of feature articles called “What’s That Building.”

‘I’m a fortunate writer’

In the Society of Professional Journalists contest, Michael Mullins won the prestigious Wilson Barto Award for First-Year Reporters. There was only one winner in the state for weekly papers, and one for dailies.

“This is the first time I’ve ever received an award for writing, having never had any work published prior to joining the Reporter,” Mullins said last week. “I’m not a good writer in my mind, at least not yet; rather, I’m a fortunate writer who has been surrounded by good writers for the past year, who have taught me the trade and guided me in the direction that has led to my receiving these awards.”

Mullins added, “Every accolade I receive in my life is a product of the love shown and sacrifices made by my parents, without whom I would be nothing.”

Also notably, Mullins won second place in the Garden State Journalists’ contest for investigative reporting for a story he did on the proliferation of stray pit bull terriers and dogfights in Hudson County. After that story appeared last September, Mullins was contacted by a producer from NBC news, who aired their own version of the story just this past month.

Investigating corruption

Also in the Society of Professional Journalists’ contest, Mark J. Bonamo won first place in the enterprise reporting category, a category for newsworthy stories that might otherwise not be covered in the course of regular reporting. He wrote a story called “Politics in Shades of Gray” about the history of corruption in Hudson County, and ways to solve the continuing problem. That story appeared in September and October in various editions of the newspaper. To read it, see sidebar.

Amazing features

In the very competitive feature-writing portion of the Garden State Journalism awards, Al Sullivan, who covers the Bayonne beat, attained first place for a story he wrote in December for the Bayonne Community News entitled “Gone but not forgotten.” It was subtitled “Members of Ohab Sholem temple leave a legacy.”

The story detailed the closing of a 90-year-old temple that was a cornerstone to the Jewish Community of Bayonne. The death of the treasurer of the congregation, Aaron Kessel, this past October, as well as the dwindling Jewish community of Bayonne, helped contribute to the congregation’s demise.

In addition, in both contests, the Reporter’s series of feature articles called “What’s That Building,” which ran last year, won honors. The series told the history of buildings that Hudson County residents see every day but never know the stories behind.

For instance: the Weehawken Library was once a beer baron’s 17-room mansion, and a woman and her children manned a Bayonne lighthouse for decades.

The contributors to the series were Sullivan, Mullins, Bonamo, and the following staff reporters: Jessica Rosero, who covers the West New York and Union City beat; Ricardo Kaulessar, who covers Jersey City, and Jim Hague, the sports columnist who also covers Weehawken and North Bergen.

In the Garden State Journalists’ Association contest, Sullivan won third place in series writing for his specific story in that series. The story, which was entitled “A lonely light and love story,” chronicled the life of Catherine Walker, who used to man (or woman) the lighthouse known as “Kate’s Light.” The lighthouse is visible by Staten Island Ferry riders and warns of the dangers of the Kill Van Kull east of Bayonne.

Sullivan said that when the Reporter began the Bayonne beat in early 2004, they were considered outsiders. Sullivan, who had covered Secaucus before that, had to rethink the manner in which he conducted journalism. “The big issue is to have an impact on a community,” Sullivan said. “Awards [show that we] are pointing in that direction.”

At the Garden State Journalism Awards dinner at the Chart House restaurant in Weehawken last month, 32nd District Assemblywoman Joan Quigley noted that Sullivan has aced the challenge of reporting on Hudson County politics.

“The ultimate goal of every responsible journalist is to present information with absolute accuracy, immediately, and objectivity in an exciting, entertaining or instructional manner,” she said. “This goal is difficult to achieve as a reporter, moreso as a columnist, and even moreso as an editor. Sullivan has accomplished all of this in Hudson County, among the unlikeliest of places for such an achievement.”

Helpful accomplishments

There is only one other statewide journalism contest in New Jersey – the prestigious New Jersey Press Association contest, which was announced in February. As noted in a previous article, the chain won for two articles in that contest. Diana Schwaeble and Tom Jennemann won second place in features for a series called “Home Sweet Hoboken,” and Ricardo Kaulessar won third place in interpretive writing for a story about how four Hudson County towns continually have late budgets.

Lucha Malato, the co-publisher of the newspaper group, said last week, “Our staff works hard at what they do. I’m happy to see that these three prestigious associations chose to honor them for their quality work.”

David Unger, the chain’s other co-publisher, added, “It’s a high honor to have your work recognized by your peers. We recognize the great responsibility we have to report the news of our communities fairly and in an interesting way.”

The chain’s editor-in-chief, Caren Lissner, said, “The stories that won awards required a lot of persistence, research, and an eye for ongoing issues in the community. It serves the public good when journalists work so hard on these stories.”

The Reporter staff can be reached at

Read the stories!

Want to read the Reporter’s investigative stories on dogfights and corruption? Or some of the award-winning features? Here are the links:

“Politics in shades of gray” by Mark J. Bonamo

“Where are all these pit bulls coming from?” by Michael Mullins

“A lonely light and a love story” by Al Sullivan

“Gone but not forgotten” by Al Sullivan