By Steve Sears
William Paterson University’s Society of Professional Journalists (WPSPJ) student chapter was in November named 2020 National Campus Chapter of the Year.
WPSPJ not only bested 95 other chapters in the country, but they also dethroned the well-known E.W. Scripps School of Journalism of Ohio University, the reigning champion from 2016 – 2019.
In addition, WPSPJ beat out some much larger schools, and it follows on the heels of the WPSPJ previously being named in the 2018-2019 school year as Outstanding Campus Chapter in the northeastern United States.
Dr. Nick Hirshon, Assistant Professor of Communication as well as Advisor for the group, who himself won the 2019 David L. Eshelman Outstanding Campus Adviser Award from the Society of Professional Journalists after starting the chapter in 2017, learned of the award the Thursday prior to Thanksgiving.
John Conlow, chapter President, adds, “It (the win) means a lot. We’re a small state school, and we’re beating out these really higher-level schools that are really hard to get into. I think that shows how much of a good journalism program we have and how much dedication the students have. I’m just so happy for this organization and for attending William Paterson and meeting Dr. Hirshon, who’s really good. I have a lot of connections from him because he always has internship opportunities. He’s really dedicated to it.”
As Hirshon explains, the journalism culture on the campus is not just something that you learn in a class and then go home. “You need to have this community, this camaraderie between student journalists,” he says of SPJ. And, per Hirshon, now more than ever is the most important time. “And we’re living in a time when journalism is constantly under attack. Whether that is from financial models that have caused newspapers to layoff lots of people or looking at political pressure for journalists and accusations of fake news. So, you have students who are interested in exploring journalism, but there’s a lot of things that might give them pause. And I want to show that there’s a lot of exciting aspects of journalism. People who are committed to their jobs, and it can be a really fun rewarding profession.”
The Society of Professional Journalists, which has over 7,000 members in the United States, recognized WPSPJ for 18 projects and programs during the 2019-2020 school years, including its Reality Check discussion forum, trips to shadowing a professional theater critic and a basketball announcer, and more.
And then the pandemic came along. “Our chapter is built on in-person. The programming that I’ve run – the lecture series on campus, going out to shadow journalists in the field – we can’t do any of that.” Still, Hirshon and the group kept rolling. “There’s just a camaraderie that comes from being in the student organization and being able to see each other on a regular basis and form friendships that’s much more difficult to do virtually. So, I have continued that lecture series online. Our students really need us.”
Christin Rodriguez, Vice-President of WPSPJ, says the win means everything. “I think William Paterson University and the students are so hard working, and the people in the SPJ are so hard working, and coming from such a small school and having the opportunity to beat out all of these other schools that do have big names, it is incredible and a testament to William Paterson and the type of people that attend William Paterson, and of course to our advisor, Nick Hirshon. He is incredible and has helped us every step of the way. He is a vital part of WPSPJ’s success and the future of WPSPJ.”
Also, the fact that the chapter was awarded the national honor after just three years is a testament to its worth. “Some of the schools that we were up against are very large, well-resourced journalism programs,” says Hirshon. “You know, we’re up against Ohio University and DePaul and Florida and lots of other schools. So, the fact that we were in the running is, I think, very impressive, as is the fact that we actually won the designation.”