It is almost 10:30 a.m. at the NorthJersey.com office in Woodland Park, New Jersey. The coffee is freshly brewed and the morning meeting is about to take place. Staff members are discussing the most viewed stories on the website and innovative ways to attract digital traffic. Local news reporter Kristie Cattafi stays behind at her cubicle as she conducts phone interviews and research for her next story.
“As a reporter, it’s never just clocking in from 9 to 5,” Cattafi, a Montclair State University 2010 alumni and former editor-in-chief of The Montclarion, said. “Nowadays, you have to do everything. You have to do research, go to meetings, know what is going on within the state, plan ahead, shoot videos and take photos.”
Cattafi is no stranger to the unpredictable hours, strict deadlines and difficult climate of being a journalist. She was a reporter for The Record since 2011 before joining the NorthJersey.com team – a newspaper publishing company owned by Gannett that features many publications like 201 Magazine, the Herald News and more.
Her colleague at NorthJersey.com and former Montclarion Opinion Editor Robert Aitken had kind words to describe her.
“Kristie [Cattafi] is a tough writer,” Aitken, who is currently a sports writer for NorthJersey.com, said. “Her grit became our grit and we never wanted to waste a page with content that didn’t matter.”
— Sean Oates (@seanoates) September 4, 2018
Aitken graduated from Montclair State with an English degree and a concentration in journalism back in 2011. He joined the campus media organization originally for a hobby, which shaped his major and career.
Aitken first met Cattafi when she joined the staff. He explained how she was the first one within the staff to be thrown out of a Student Government Association (SGA) meeting. It was the first shot that initiated independence between them and The Montclarion. Cattafi and the staff were determined to make The Montclarion stand on its own.
“The SGA pulled their funding, and it felt like the staff and I were forming our own business or nonprofit,” Cattafi said. “So we hit the ground running, and we were a community.”
She first joined The Montclarion during her sophomore year at Montclair State. During her time at the publication she went from staff writer to assistant news editor and was editor-in-chief by fall 2009.
While she was involved with The Montclarion, Cattafi won multiple awards. She was awarded the Pelican award, which is given to students who provide outstanding service to The Montclarion. She also won first place from the New Jersey Press Association for her investigative piece on Calcia Hall. For two weeks, Cattafi found information on online maintenance complaints that caused classrooms to have scorching and freezing temperatures. She had spent days in Calcia Hall interviewing faculty and students. She also helped The Montclarion earn the National Freedom Award at the College Media Convention in Austin, Texas for achieving their independence from the SGA.
James Carolan, former digital content manager of The Montclarion, raved about the good times him and Cattafi had running The Montclarion.
“Kristie loved controversy and big stories,” Carolan said. “It definitely affected how she lead the team. It is easy to write off a school paper as a bit of a fluff publication but Kristie, for better or for worse, always wanted something hard hitting on that first page.”
Carolan reminisced about when Cattafi led the newspaper.
“A lot of the time in 2010, we got it,” Carolan said. “Kristie treated The Montclarion with the seriousness of any other major publication, and it really reflected in the good work we did.”
Even though she feels proud of earning her degree, Cattafi is humbled by the lessons she learned while working at The Montclarion. Her journalistic skills and instincts have been shaped by what The Montclarion has taught her.
“Majoring or minoring in journalism is great, but you could never get the same experience as a reporter from working with The Montclarion,” Cattafi said. “Everything you need for an actual job is there. It has led me to many professional opportunities, including internships and scholarships.”
She noted that the clips she gathered from The Montclarion “gave her an edge” in her career.
The Montclarion, in her own words, had been “passion-driven.” Cattafi reminisces about how the staff would crash on the office couch at 4 a.m. on production days in the Student Center Annex. She remembers going out with the staff after the Thursday critique meetings, including Katherine Milsop. Milsop eventually became the editor-in-chief two years after Cattafi and considers her a friend.
“Kristie was an excellent editor-in-chief,” Milsop said. “She’s a natural reporter with a passion for news, and she always pushed us to find good stories.”