You don’t have to have a lawyer on staff, or pay hefty legal fees, in order file a suit under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). If a government agency is failing to provide public documents — or if the documents you receive are overly-redacted — and you feel that you’ll need to go to court to get them, there are members of the NJ bar who will take such cases on contingency. These attorneys will take the risk, and file with the court for their legal fees if your case prevails.

“If I think it’s a good OPRA case, I’ll take it,” says Walter Luers, a Clinton-based OPRA lawyer who has represented both New Brunswick Today and Planet Princeton. Luers does insist that a prospective client have a written denial of their request. He will also cover the filing fees. (more…)



Imagine, says Waldo Jaquith, director of the U.S. Open Data Institute, that weather data was treated like much other government data. Say you had to file a Freedom of Information Request to get it, and when you did get it — weeks later — not only was the storm you were interested in long gone, but you got it as a PDF?

Luckily, in 1870, Congress established The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce, which would ultimately become the National Weather Service. As a result, weather data is free and plentiful. (more…)

Ben Lesser, investigative reporter and trainer. Credit: Debbie Galant/NJ News Commons

Local Beat is NJ News Commons’ weekly roundup of the best and most topical reporting from local news sites around New Jersey. 

On Planet Princeton this week, editor Krystal Knapp reported the story that a Drexel student who died of meningitis had the same strain of the disease as the Princeton outbreak and had mingled with Princeton football players at a Drexel mixer. The story was picked up by The Trentonian.

Knapp got the scoop by attending a meeting at which the Princeton Health Officer reported to the Princeton Health Commission — a service that local outlets provide as larger media outlets cut back on local reporting. (more…)

Podcast Art NJ News Commons

Ben Lesser, investigative reporter and trainer. Credit: Debbie Galant/NJ News Commons

Ben Lesser, investigative reporter and trainer. Credit: Debbie Galant/NJ News Commons

Joe Amditis

Joe Amditis, a co-founder of Muckgers and a regular at our monthly peer-to-peer mentoring group, showed up the other day with incorporation papers, courtesy of Legal Zoom. In this short video, he explains exactly how easy it was.

Open Data NJ

The NJ News Commons and Hack Jersey are proud to present an Open Data NJ summit on May 15, 2014, to get journalists, government officials, watchdogs and citizen activists to work together to make data about the state universally accessible.

We’ll be listening to leaders in the field of open data, discovering efforts in NJ to make government data more accessible and learning best practices for both collecting and publishing public data. Government officials will learn how to safely manage the process of sharing data, what can go wrong when it isn’t shared, and be exposed to new tools and technologies for public engagement such as CKAN, eSCRIBE, Socrata and

We’ll also discover what happens when journalists have to fight for timely and appropriate release of information as North Jersey Media’s Jennifer Borg discusses her company’s recent lawsuit against the Office of the Governor and Paul D’Ambrosio talks about the Asbury Park Press’s successful lawsuit against Raritan Borough for not providing public records in electronic formats. That battle may end up costs Raritan Borough $542,000.


Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.30.01 PM

More than three dozen potential independent news publishers met at Montclair State University for a day of training on “how to start a news site” on Tuesday. The event was the kickoff of the NJ News Commons’ new round of Grow and Strengthen, a project to incubate news sites in the state. Applications for grants and support to start a news site are now online.

Presenters included digital media consultant and entrepreneur coach Joe Michaud, CUNY School of Journalism Professor Jeff Jarvis, Baristanet founder and NJ News Commons Director Debbie Galant, Center for Cooperative Media Director Ju-Don Marshall-Roberts, David Lackey of The Alternative Press, and Ken Katzgrau and John Crepezzi of Broadstreet Ads.

Enjoy Marshall-Roberts, Galant and Katzgrau’s presentations here: (more…)


Local Beat is NJ News Commons’ weekly roundup of the best and most topical reporting from local news sites around New Jersey. 

As New Jersey progresses into spring, more town, county and school district budget stories are making headlines.Most budgets are a source of angst. Red Bank Green reports that a reduction in the state-mandated amount that towns must allocate to public libraries has caused layoffs — and subsequent outrage — in Red Bank.  (more…)


On Friday, March 7, NJ News Commons offered a training to help news organizations and journalists throughout the state dig deep to uncover stories that lie beneath the surface — offering tips and techniques on organizing time, and learning how to use data, public records and interview techniques to get to the truth.

Ben Lesser, an adjunct at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a former investigative reporter for both The Record and the New York Daily News, led the training. See Lesser’s training slide show is chock full of sources of data, from where to look for campaign donations to finding prisoners. (more…)

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 10.50.02 AM

Snow may still blanket the state, but spring has sprung at NJ News Commons, where a new crop of events, trainings, services and grants are sprouting like crocus flowers:

UPDATE: Applications for Grow & Strengthen Spring 2014 are now online. Deadline April 11.

- NJ News Commons will be administering another round of our successful Grow & Strengthen grants — micro-grants for start-up news and niche sites in New Jersey. Grant applications are not available, but anyone interested in finding out more or applying should plan on attending our free How to Build a News Site training on March 11 (register here) in Room 311, Schmitt Hall, Montclair State University. Read more about the grant program here.


Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 10.19.08 AM

Local Beat is NJ News Commons’ weekly roundup of the best and most topical reporting from local news sites around New Jersey. 

Reporting a suicide is always difficult business. As Krystal Knapp notes on Planet Princeton, suicides in private homes are generally not reported but those that take place in public are — such as the suicide of a 23-year-old man from the roof of a public parking garage in Princeton earlier this week.

In an editor’s note, Knapp explains why she does not name the victim and asks readers if they would like to participate in a forum on suicide prevention and mental health. (more…)