Isaac Avilucea, one of the last daily newspaper print reporters to provide hyperlocal journalism in a New Jersey city, is leaving The Trentonian on September 9 to cover Philadelphia for Axios.
“It’s been a beautiful ride. I’ve grown as a journalist, but more so as a person covering Trenton. I’ve lived, and I almost died. But I survived,” said the 33-year-old Avilucea, who has twice battled cancer. “Thanks to all for the impact you had on me.”
Avilucea’s coverage of Trenton over the past eight years has been hugely impactful and his departure is viewed as a loss for the state’s capital city even by those he’s battled.
“Isaac and I have a love-hate relationship, “ said Mayor Reed Gusciora, who faced Avilucea’s wrath as recently as today. “He was a good investigative reporter and he did play close attention to city politics, for better or worse.”
Democratic strategist Dan Bryan, who served as Gov. Phil Murphy’s senior advisor and now runs his political action committee and non-profit, heaped praise on Avilucea, an old-school reporter who worked to keep print media relevant.
“Isaac is a hard-nosed journalist who worked his beat hard and knew Trenton like the back of his hand. We may not have always agreed, but that’s beside the point. He’s part of a dying breed, not because of the lack of journalistic talent but because of a lack of investing in quality journalism in our state,” Bryan said. “New Jersey’s media ecosphere will be poorer for his absence.”
Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said that without Avilucea’s reporting “we would not know about New Jersey’s most dysfunctional council, and Trenton voters would not be able to make an informed choice on who to hold accountable.”
“He puts so much time into the work to make sure it’s right,” Rasmussen said. “Trenton undoubtedly goes without too many things, but top-rate local reporting has not been one of them, and he’s done it single-handedly.”
It’s not clear what the future is for The Trentonian, one of two daily newspapers in. The nearly defunct Trenton Times, which is owned by Advance Publications and operated as a weakened branch of the Star-Ledger, has been running on fumes for the last few years.
Avilucea is the newspaper’s only reporter and along with the Associated Press generates nearly all of their content. His departure leaves two opinion writers, L.A. Parker and Jeff Edelstein, as the lone journalists. Parker is expected to retire at the end of the year, and Edelstein may not want to close out his career as a beat reporter covering Trenton City Council meetings.
Rasmussen hopes that the newspaper will replace Avilucea soon – the city’s local elections are coming up in November, with the mayor and the entire city council up — and with someone of high quality.
“It is absolutely essential for representative and informed government in our capital city that Isaac’s shows be filled with someone as fearless as him,” he said