Monday, September 15, 2014

New NJ Transit reporter leaves big hole in suicide story

NJ Transit's Secaucus Junction rail station is patrolled by transit police officers. Is that true at the agency's smaller stations? Today, The Record's story on suicide by train doesn't discuss whether more police officers could deter intentional and accidental deaths on the tracks.


You have to give points to Staff Writer Christopher Maag for what is likely The Record's first thorough discussion of whether fences and other barriers can prevent people from committing "suicide by train."

But strangely absent from today's Page 1 takeout is any mention of NJ Transit police officers, and how many stations are actually patrolled to prevent intentional and accidental deaths (A-1).

Maag, the new transportation writer, and just about every other reporter in the Woodland Park newsroom have a heavy burden:

Working with clueless local assignment editors who rarely leave the office and whose knowledge of the world fits comfortably inside one of the office toilets.

Still, The Record has been reporting on deaths at or near train stations for years now. Maybe, the next story will discuss the role of transit police officers.

The bottom line

Sadly, today's story notes "the one measure suicide experts believe would be most effective at preventing intentional deaths by train: Building fences to keep people off of the tracks" (A-7).

Maag goes on to say "that would be a daunting and expensive exercise, requiring the already cash-strapped agency to erect up to 1,000 miles of fence."

That last description of NJ Transit as "already cash strapped" is in keeping with the paper's long-held belief that mass transit should pay for itself or even make a profit.

But that's nonsense, and it fed into Governor Christie's mean-spirited move in late 2010 to stop the building of two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, because they allegedly would cost New Jersey "too much."

That allowed the GOP bully to refuse to raise the low gasoline tax to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund -- secure in the knowledge he could divert hundreds of millions in unused tunnel money to road projects.

Recovering addicts

Today, The Record carries the second part of an investigative report on the lack of state oversight and regulation of numerous homes that "cater to recovering addicts" (A-1).

Leading the front page is another report on Elizita, a Guatemalan teen who entered the United States illegally this summer to join her father, who also is an illegal immigrant (A-1).

The latter story is sure to inflame readers in Saddle River and other wealthy towns where anti-immigrant sentiment is strong.

Local news

You know life is good in Ridgewood and Glen Rock from the lead headline on L-1 today:

"2 towns unite over car break-ins"

The story doesn't say how many of the 20 vehicles were left unlocked.

A second story on the Local front was written by the same reporter, Andrew Wyrich (L-1).

He describes the midgets that raced around the track of Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson as "tiny," and said "some operated with an engine comparable to that of a snowmobile or lawn mower."

Typically, the four-cylinder engine used in a midget race car produces more than 300 horsepower.

But a photo caption with the story describes the cars as "three-quarter" midgets.

That confuses readers. Were two types of midgets racing on Sunday?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Column on highway 'miracle' is no help for commuters

The commute by car through the Lincoln Tunnel, above, and on NJ Transit trains and buses, below, hasn't gotten any easier in the year or more since these photos were taken. In the past decade, The Record has done little to dramatize highway congestion or crowded mass transit, allowing its lazy transportation reporters and columnist to steer coverage. See today's overlong Road Warrior column on a man who picks up litter near highway off-ramps. 

Standing room only on an old rail car pressed into service after Superstorm Sandy.

As especially hellish Friday night commute at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan.


Let's hear it for Benny Gonzales, a disabled Paterson man who picks up litter near highway ramps and returns wallets and other valuables discarded by thieves, as reported today on The Record's Local front (L-1).

But this feel-good column by Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski won't do anything to improve the hellish weekday commute of tens of thousands of drivers and mass-transit users who live in North Jersey.

This month, Cichowski is celebrating his 11th year as Road Warrior columnist. He is perhaps the laziest transportation reporter The Record has ever had.

A close second would be Dan Sforza, the deputy local assignment editor who, as the transporation reporter, ignored NJ Transit's then-new fleet of defective commuter buses.

Their screeching rear brakes and noisy engines awoke people who lived on residential routes, including Queen Anne Road in Teaneck and Grand Avenue in Englewood.

When the problem was brought to Sforza's attention, he shrugged, and went back to researching stories on "highways of the future."

Fuzzy reporting

Today, Cichowski incorrectly calls the grass near ramps for Routes 19 and 80 "medians." 

He refers to Gonzalez's litter patrol and honesty as "a 21st-century miracle."

Of course, a real miracle would be Cichowski acting as an effective commuting columnist -- without committing hundreds of errors.

Front page

Page 1 today doesn't have a single hard-news story from any town, Bergen and Passaic counties or the state.

'GWB affair'

On the Opinion front, Carl Golden, a former press aide to two Republican governors, writes about the current Republican governor and what the writer refers to as "the GWB affair" and "the GWB episode."

Golden calls them "a reference to all manner of alleged or genuine misbehavior -- abuse of government power, political retribution, conflicts of interest, insider deals, personal financial gain, ethical breaches and involvement of administration staffers in campaign work" (O-1).

But as you would expect with a longtime GOP loyalist, Golden doesn't venture an opinion on Christie's involvement in the Fort Lee lane closures last September.

Golden shares this flaw with other opinion columnists for the Woodland Park daily, including Charles Stile and Mike Kelly. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Travel editor betrays her readers with another free trip

When an employee of Babe's Taxi in Fort Lee complained about the huge traffic jam caused by closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September, a Port Authority police officer told him to write a letter to Governor Christie. The exit to the company's garage, above, is on Hudson Street, which normally provides three lanes leading to upper-level tollbooths, below.


Jill Schensul, the perpetually jet-lagged editor of The Record's Travel section, went on another free press junket in search of what might seem like a local story.

Her gushing Sunday cover piece -- delivered with today's paper -- describes an all-expenses-paid trip to a shipyard that is building Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Sea, "which will sail to its home port of Cape Liberty in Bayonne in November" (T-1).

Traffic jams

Schensul should have stayed home and done some reporting on Cape Liberty, which was a traffic and logistical nightmare when I dropped off and picked up cruise-ship passengers this past summer.

In Bayonne, vacationers don't have direct access to the ship.

Instead, they are processed in a shed and then taken to the ship on shuttle buses.  

To drop off or pick up passengers, a long, double line of buses, cars, vans and taxis enter the port and must take a slow, circuitous route to the shed that can consume close to an hour.

What a great start to a vacation: Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Schensul's free trip was to a shipyard in a small German town, raising questions about whether this same yard built warships during World War II.

Why this tremendous amount of publicity for Royal Caribbean? 

With 2,090 staterooms, the new ship will surely be a zoo at sea, complete with hundreds of bratty children. What is the appeal of that?


The Travel section also publishes an embarrassing correction -- to fix captions on two selfies from Venice that were "inadvertently" switched last week (T-1 and A-2 of today's paper).

Apparently, an Arabic family -- the Sayeghs of Paterson -- were given a Jewish couple's names -- the Kapplemans of Saddle Brook, and vice versa. Sweet.

Production Editor Liz Houlton, who is paid six figures to prevent such mistakes, must have been on vacation.

Last week, no one seemed to notice or care three names were under the couple's photo and two names were under the photo of a family of three.

Today's paper

Editor Marty Gottlieb leads today's paper with another report on Port Authority police officers at the George Washington Bridge "scrambling to deal with a traffic nightmare caused by ... lane closures that clogged Fort Lee's streets last September" (A-1).

Governor Christie is mentioned in passing:

"Christie has denied any involvement [in] or prior knowledge [of] the lane closures," reports Staff Writer Shawn Boburg, swallowing whole the legal whitewash that will cost taxpayers $7 million-plus.

Dumb and dumber

On the Local front, Staff Writer John Brennan reports what the headline calls "signs of activity" on the American Dream retail-entertainment complex, including painters covering the ugly checkerboard exterior (L-1).

Now, readers are waiting for test results showing signs of brain activity in the former sports reporter's head.

Dumber still was Road Warrior John Cichowski's Tuesday column on the anniversary of the lane closures in Fort Lee, according to the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers:

"In his Tuesday column, the Road Warrior returns to the scene of the crime and continues to compound so many of his grossly mistaken columns about the closures of tollbooths and access lanes for a local Fort Lee entrance to the George Washington Bridge during the week of Sept. 9, 2013.
"The Road Warrior reported that a Fort Lee resident was 'prescient' when he warned the Road Warrior during that week about impending tragedies that would be caused by the associated traffic jams.
"Yet, The Record and every other credible news source over the past year has reported that there were absolutely no tragedies that were directly caused by these closures."

Also, Cichowski and The Record have repeatedly exaggerated the impact of closing two of three access lanes to the bridge's upper level a year ago.

There are other Fort Lee access lanes to both the upper and lower levels, and the latter, dubbed Martha Washington, was largely unaffected during the week of Sept. 9, 2013. 


More irresponsible reporting by the Road Warrior

Friday, September 12, 2014

To Christie, New Jersey has become an 'afterthought'

The Little Ferry Circle may be history, but construction continues, narrowing Route 46 to one lane in places, above.


Governor Christie's veto of a bill to ban or limit smoking in public parks and on beaches has generated a lot of news coverage and outraged editorials.

But I haven't seen any coverage of Christie also vetoing a bill to allow New Jersey's Medicaid program to pay for abortions, as reported this morning on WNYC-FM.

Today's Page 1 column on the smoking-ban is another rote recitation of the political reasons for Christie's move (A-1).

As usual, Staff Writer Charles Stile can't muster an opinion -- the stock-in-trade of columnists who work for every other newspaper on the planet.

An editorial urging the state Legislature to override the veto also doesn't condemn or, God forbid, even criticize the GOP bully (A-18).

For that, you'll have to read the editorial on, a Gannett company.

Here is an excerpt:
"Gov. Christie’s national ambitions have gotten in the way of good public policy in New Jersey yet again, this time with his veto of a bill that would have banned smoking in public parks and limited it at many beaches.
The proposed ban was overwhelmingly supported by the Legislature, and it’s really nothing more than a common-sense public health measure. There are dangers from secondhand smoke even in open-air places, and the ban would have also reduced litter and fire hazards.
But none of that matters to Christie. He explained the veto with predictable and tired blather about unwanted government intrusions on local jurisdictions — even though he’s perfectly happy to intrude when it suits him.
In the meantime, remember, Christie isn’t governing for any of us, even though that’s his job. He’s governing for himself. You may not mind when you agree with him, but wait until you don’t. Then you may not be quite so content with a governor for whom his own home state is an afterthought."

You can read the entire editorial by clicking on this link:

Christie says no -- to good public policy

13 times 9/11

Ignore Staff Writer Mike Kelly's second lame column in as many days (A-1).

Then, turn to Local for moving coverage of 9/11 anniversary observances in Hackensack and other towns (L-1, L-2, L-3 and L-6).

Why bother?

Staff Writer Elisa Ung gives a lukewarm, 2-star rating to Marmaris Cafe in Edgewater, a Turkish restaurant that served her dry chicken kebabs and gamey lamb shanks (BL-20).

Does the place serve fish or shrimp? Not a clue. Ung confines herself to two food groups -- meat and dessert.

And the restaurant reviewer never grills restaurant owners on the origin of meat and poultry they serve, but when she encounters low-quality food, as she did here, why bother with a full-blown review?

A few paragraphs of warning would suffice, leaving room for an appraisal of a place all of us would want to visit.

Kates Bros.

Joan Verdon, The Record's retail reporter, writes mostly about malls, and big box and luxury stores -- big sources of North Jersey Media Group's advertising revenue.

But on Tuesday's first Business page, she did a terrific job reporting that the 73-year-old Kate Bros. shoe store in Hackensack won't be closing after all.

Like many reporters, Verdon assumes readers are intimately familiar with Hackensack's Main Street.

The address -- 329 Main St., at Berry Street -- is mentioned only in passing near the end of the story.