Hehl wins four awards from NJPA contest

Honors include three first place awards, one third place award in investigative reporting, first amendment writing and more

UNION COUNTY — The New Jersey Press Association, which includes both daily and weekly newspapers throughout the state, recently announced that Union County LocalSource staff reporter Cheryl Hehl captured four awards in their annual newspaper contest.

Worrall Media, the company that publishes Union County LocalSource, as well as papers in Essex County, said Hehl earned three first place awards for Investigative Reporting, First Amendment writing and Coverage of Government, in addition to a third place award in the public service category.

Hehl earned a first place award in the investigative category for a comprehensive, in depth look into “A legal way to reign in spending.”

This investigative article, which took four months to complete using the Open Public Records Act, analyzed and compared what municipal attorneys in 14 towns in Union County actually are paid after all their extra hours and charges are tallied. This investigative piece revealed that municipalities are often paying double, triple or more than what taxpayers and elected officials believe, due to poorly drafted contracts.

Hehl also won first place in the investigation category last year, the first time it was included in the weekly division contest, which is judged by an out of state press association.

In addition, Hehl picked up a first place award in the Coverage of Government category for “Scanlon hired by the county.” Using the Open Public Records Act, this reporter revealed freeholder Deborah Scanlon stepped down from the board and was immediately hired by the county at a high salary.

The final first place award was in the First Amendment Category for a series of articles about a Roselle Park business owner who opened an establishment under one description, but operated as something different altogether. Using the Open Public Records Act, Hehl delved into how this occurred, producing records that showed the owner misrepresented the business from the beginning and broke land use laws as well.

A third place award picked up by Hehl was in the Lloyd P. Burns category for Public Service. This series of articles was titled “’Til death do us part.” This series came about after a Union man murdered his intimate partner, dismembered her and then dumped the body parts in Newark. The articles delved into the psychological reasons why men murder their significant others and how family and friends can determine if a relationship of someone close to them could end violently.

Hehl, who began her journalism career in 1989 at a weekly newspaper, has been the recipient of 25 previous NJPA awards, winning in a variety of categories including responsible journalism, first amendment, public service, education, business and column writing.

She also received the statewide Rutgers Journalism Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Reporting of New Jersey Issues in 1999 for an article exposing the actual financial costs taxpayers were bearing for a redevelopment project in Cranford.