Garden State Goof: Is 'Star-Ledger' or 'Record' N.J.'s Top Paper?

By: Joe Strupp When The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., picked up its New Jersey Press Association general excellence award at NJPA's annual dinner Thursday night, editors figured they were justified in taking bragging rights among the Garden State's newspapers.

The state's highest-circulation paper had apparently earned this top honor, which is given to the daily that racks up the most awards in the contest's 21 other categories, by just one point. It is the only category not determined by judges.

But when NJPA officials ran the numbers again on Friday morning, they found they had goofed on their math. The Record of Hackensack, N.J. -- a longtime Star-Ledger competitor -- had actually won the top prize by one point.

"We were alerted by The Record that something wasn't right," NJPA Executive Director John O'Brien told E&P. "Somebody in the office did the math again, and we realized it was a mistake."

O'Brien said he had to make the "tough call" to Star-Ledger Editor Jim Willse Friday morning. "He was not happy," O'Brien said, adding that he did not ask Willse to return the general excellence plaque. "We didn't talk about that. But we created a plaque right away for The Record and got it up to them."

Willse could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. Record Editor Frank Scandale said he was glad that the correction was made, but said it hardly should affect the Star-Ledger's image as an excellent paper.

"It's nice to be recognized as the best paper in New Jersey," Scandale said. "But The Star-Ledger is a great paper, too. What matters is that these papers -- and the Asbury Park Press -- are doing their best work in years."

Scandale also noted that the Star-Ledger still has the right to boast about its Pulitzer Prize, awarded earlier this month, for breaking news reporting on the resignation last year of Gov. Jim McGreevey.

In an e-mail to NJPA members, O'Brien called the goof a "dreadful mistake." He told E&P that the error had been made by a 24-year NJPA staffer, who has the lone task of adding up scores and had never made such an error before. "She is devastated," he said. "She has always done a wonderful job, and she made a basic math mistake."

O'Brien said a new procedure would be implemented for next year's awards, requiring three staffers to check the points. "I blame myself for not having it regularly checked," he said.


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