Community journalism on Long Island lost one of its advocates last month with the death of Lee Lutz, a former editor of Setauket-based Times Beacon Record Newspapers.
In honor of Lutz and his career, some who knew him want to provide opportunities for aspiring journalists in the area.
John Tsunis, owner of the Holiday Inn Express in Stony Brook and chairman of Gold Coast Bank, met Lutz 35 years ago and, almost immediately after hearing of his death, thought of establishing a journalism scholarship in Lutz’ name.
Tsunis said he approached Leah Dunaief, publisher of TBR Newspapers, who suggested the scholarship be paired with a summer internship at TBR.
The $4,000 scholarship will be given to a journalism student at Stony Brook University.
The Holiday Inn Express and Gold Coast Bank have each committed to contributing $400 a year for the next five years, Tsunis said, and Fred Romito, a board member of the bank and owner of East Islip Lumber, has agreed to the same.
Tsunis said the scholarship requires 10 sponsors to contribute $400 each, and other organizations have already expressed interest.
Lutz, who was 62 when he died after a battle with cancer, chose journalism as his second career. When Tsunis met him, Lutz was a surveyor. Lutz was also the executive director of Suffolk County's campaign finance board.
Tsunis said Lutz had a widespread reputation for being a “gentleman” and “a very ethical man.”
Tsunis remembers meeting him again after he had closed his surveying business to pursue journalism, and said he was shocked when he heard about his death.
“He was one of those people that, over time, you think back and remember,” he said. “I had a very good feeling about Lee.”
Howard Schneider, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, said the scholarship will be an important opportunity for the students and the community at large.
“This is terrific for local journalism,” he said. “It will encourage students to report locally and learn how to cover communities. He took a nontraditional path to journalism. And he seemed to do it with such a passion and interest at that stage of his life.”
Schneider said one student -- likely an upperclassman -- will be chosen annually based on prior experience, level of expertise and financial need. He said many summer journalism internships are unpaid, so the scholarship will provide a student with financial needs with an important opportunity.
“There’s a real payoff here,” he said.
Interested sponsors can contact Tsunis at his law office at 631-582-4000.