Fall Press Day: Bergenfield wins Write-Off

Andi Mulshine

Nisha Desai of Bergenfield High School won the annual Write-Off competition at Fall Press Day today at Rutgers, beating 17 other contestants and winning a plaque and $100 from sponsoring newspaper The Bergen Record.

notebookDesai is a member of the staff of the Bear Facts student newspaper at Bergenfield High School, advised by Warren Heede. Desai and the other contestants covered the keynote speech of Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Amy Ellis Nutt of the Star-Ledger. Nutt spoke about news coverage of Hurricane Sandy, both as it affected the oceanfront and the forgotten Delaware Bay shore of New Jersey.

The second place award went to Victoria Agrifolio of West Essex High School in North Caldwell, whose adviser is Cassie Lo. Third place went to Cecilia McGuinness of Warren Hills Regional High School in Washington. Her adviser is Mary Ann McKinney. They will receive awards of $75 and $50, respectively.

The girls were among 809 students who attended Fall Press Day at the Busch Campus Center of Rutgers University. Also in attendance were 91 publication advisers representing 56 schools.

Here is Desai’s first-place story:

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Amy Ellis Nutt
of the Star-Ledger shares her experiences
in covering Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath.
gsspa photos

“Everyone has a story to tell and it’s your job to ask them,” is the advice Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amy Ellis Nutt gave to high school journalists during the Garden State Scholastic Press Association’s annual Fall Press Day.

Nut, who is an enterprise writer for the Star-Ledger, addressed 809 students at Rutgers University on Oct. 28 on the trials and tribulations of reporting on Hurricame Sandy, the largest hurricane in Atlantic history.

“Over the next two weeks, we got very little sleep. We were on call 24/7,” said Nutt. The ensuing power crises made reporting difficult, with Nutt and fellow journalists camping out in the newsroom and writing by flashlight. Despite the state of disarray, the vast majority of the state was in, Mutt and her colleagues didn’t cease their reporting.

“We kept reporting from Sandy Hook to Seaside Heights, from Cape May to Ocean City,” Nutt said.

The majority of the coverage was directed toward the barrier islands and boardwalk towns along the Eastern Shore, until a reader brought the town of Grandy’s Beach near the Delaware coast to Nutt’s attention.

Gandy’s Beach, located in Cumberland County, lies at the south of the state. The county, the second poorest in New Jersey, was devastated by the storm, but received very little media attention.

“The Delaware coast is 95 miles of coastline we never write about or talk about,” said Nutt. Intrigued, Nutt began her coverage of an area of the state that had been neglected by both the media and its government.

“No one cared. Not the governor and not the media,” said Nutt. One citizen of “Down Jersey,” what locals refer to the Western shore as, had a similar lament; “Trenton listens, but nothing gets done.”

Although in some towns, 60 percent of the property was destroyed, as a county, Cumberland missed federal guidelines for aid. While Cumberland County is home to the second largest estuary in the county after the Chesapeake Bay, it only received $600,000 in government money a year to the Chesapeake’s $2 million, despite the large volume of industries that call the Western shore home.

To this day, the Western shore is struggling to rebuild. In a recent article, Nutt writes, “Along the Western shore, it’s like Sandy never moved on at all.” While Governor Christie has organized 32 beach and dune projects along the New Jersey coastline, none of them are in Cumberland County. One year on, Nutt hopes to bring attention to Cumberland County.

“There’s no one to help them. There’s no one there who has the governor’s ear,” said Nutt.

Nutt, who spent eight months reporting on Cumberland County, has treasured the experience.

“This is what being a journalist is. It means understanding people’s lives and  their challenges,” Nutt said in her closing remarks.