- Date of Incident
- May 20, 2021
- Jersey City Times
- Case number
- Case Status
- Type of case
The Jersey City Times was removed from Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s press list after publishing a May 20, 2021, story critical of Fulop’s claims that his administration had reduced crime in the city. As a result, the local news site stopped receiving media advisories, news releases and invitations to news conferences and other official events, the outlet said.
The Times and its publisher and editor-in-chief, Aaron Morrill, subsequently sued the city, Fulop and his press secretary, Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione, in federal court on Dec. 18, 2023, alleging that the outlet had been denied access in retaliation for the 2021 report.
Morrill told the Times, which has been covering Jersey City news since he founded the site in 2019, that the outlet had a “relatively good relationship” with the mayor’s office until May 2021. “After the story, it was radio silence. We received no media advisories, press releases, nothing.”
The Times noted in its suit that in 2019, Wallace-Scalcione had offered to meet with the outlet and said its reporters “are fantastic to work with.” However, after the May 2021 article, both the mayor and his press secretary were critical of the Times’ coverage. Citing emails obtained via public records requests, the suit quoted Fulop describing the Times as “not a real news outlet,” and Wallace-Scalcione alleging that the outlet had a “political agenda against the Mayor.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to Morrill’s emails asking that the Times be restored to the press list, according to the suit. This continued until Jennifer Borg, a lawyer with Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic who is representing the outlet, sent a protest letter to the city’s attorneys on April 7, 2022.
In the months after that letter was sent, the Times said it began to receive news releases again — often about events after they occurred — but still failed to receive media advisories and invitations to official events such as news conferences.
Attorneys for the Times sent a follow-up letter on July 25, 2023, stating that the city’s actions violated the outlet’s constitutional rights and asking again for it to be restored to the press list. It did not receive a response.
The Times’ attorneys sent another letter to the city on Nov. 24, 2023. Then, on Dec. 14, the city’s attorneys responded, stating that the Times “is already added to the press list for the City of Jersey City and will receive future press releases and media advisories.” However, according to the suit, the Times did not receive an emailed invitation to a news conference that was sent to other news organizations the next day.
The Times said it continued to receive “only sporadic and belated notices of local events” and did not receive “a single invitation to a press conference or event to which other members of the press have been invited.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, accused the defendants of violating the First and 14th Amendment rights of both the Times and of Morrill, who wrote the May 2021 story, and of violating their due process rights and their rights under New Jersey’s constitution.
It alleges that the defendants treated the Times differently than other news organizations that retained access to the mayor’s office and that it retaliated against the outlet based on its critical reporting. It also noted that the city did not publish criteria for the press list.
The suit asks for the plaintiffs to be restored to the press list and that they be provided with the same “information and access” as other news organizations and journalists.
Wallace-Scalcione, in a statement emailed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said the Times “was notified before the lawsuit that they were on the email list to receive all press releases and have been.”
Morrill told the Tracker in an email that two days after the suit was filed he received his first media advisory from the mayor’s office since May 2021, but that it was “unclear” if this would continue.
Morrill also described the detrimental effects of the outlet’s removal from the press list, saying, “It’s impossible to know how many leads for stories might have come from attending the events we missed or how many contacts we might have made.”
He added, “Having to reconstruct a story about the opening of a new homeless shelter or what was said at a press conference from press reports isn’t the kind of journalism we want to do. Being hours and sometimes days behind because you weren’t there hurts us in the eyes of our readers and hurts our site traffic to boot.”