Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Editors don't apologize for swallowing blizzard forecast

The driver of a Ford Mustang turning wide at the snow-covered corner of Euclid and Prospect avenues in Hackensack on Tuesday afternoon. The snowfall was far less than predicted. Drivers of Hackensack's plows don't clear corners.

Who is supposed to clear the sidewalk and curb for pedestrians? Is it the city or the property owner?


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

On Page 1 of The Record today, just about everyone apologizes for wrongly predicting a blizzard with 2 feet of snow or more -- except the media.

The Woodland Park daily jumped on the weather doomsday bandwagon and rode it all the way, but apologized to subscribers for not delivering Tuesday's print edition.

That paper was delivered a day late with today's edition, but one look at Tuesday's front page shows just how stale print journalism can be these days. 

New Jersey highways and Hudson River crossings reopened, and mass transit resumed operation in time for Tuesday's rush hour.

Profit over safety

The big weather photo on Page 1 today is more bad publicity for the cheap lightweight wood construction methods used in the 240-unit Avalon at Edgewater apartment building that burned down a week ago (A-1).

How long will the Virginia-based real estate investment trust allow the burned out skeleton of the Russell building to stand and announce to anyone looking for an apartment, You don't want to live here?

In a letter to the editor, Joyce Huber of Ridgefield said of the cheap wood construction and rapid spread of fire:

"We've become a Third World country if we allow profit to come before safety" (A-12).

That's naive. 

U.S. companies have always prized profit over safety, as all of the defective cars and other products show. They have killed thousands of consumers and made product liability lawyers rich.

First lawsuit

Meanwhile, Robert Loposky and Richard Kemp, two tenants of the so-called luxury apartment building, filed a lawsuit, alleging building owners were "negligent in the construction, maintenance and operation" of the complex, where the fire was started by an Avalon employee using a blowtorch to fix a pipe (L-1).

The first paragraph and sub-headline incorrectly call the suit "a class-action lawsuit" on behalf of the more than 500 displaced tenants who suffered economic loss, because only a judge can certify the suit as a class action.

The first paragraph also refers incorrectly to tenants as "residents."  

Cold cash

Also in Local, a story on L-2 reports wealthy Saddle River residents are allowing their children to attend a school where a malfunctioning heating system forces them to keep their coats on.

I guess that means residents prize clear roads more than they do the health and well-being of children, judging from this Anonymous comment I received from a resident in reaction to Tuesday's post:
"My town, Saddle River, is excellent at plowing and clearing snow and slush. Streets, even those hilly ones, are cleared quite quickly and efficiently. We expect -- and get -- nothing less." 
Of course, this proud Saddle River millionaire and residents of other wealthy Bergen County suburbs are more interested in maintaining "neighborhood schools" with no minority children than they are in working heating systems, even in winter. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snowstorm coverage you never see in your daily paper

My guesstimate is that 6 inches to 8 inches of snow fell on the Fairmount section of Hackensack, above and below, far less than relentless media hype led all of us to believe. On Monday, The Record's front page warned the storm "may dump 2 feet or more."



Editor's note: I didn't receive The Record's print edition today. Instead, I looked at the digital edition. 

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

When I think of how The Record covers big snowstorms, I can't shake the image of one of the paper's obese local assignment editors trying to climb over a snowbank in the Hackensack parking lot many years ago.

Despite the effort, she flopped on her well-padded posterior and injured her back, then stayed out of work for weeks.

The Record certainly has made the effort, but always comes up short, forgetting just how important good snow plowing is to readers.

Broken Record

On Monday, The Record's front page blared:


North Jersey bracing
for The Big One

Today's Page 1 banner headline is similar and doesn't advance the story much:


READY FOR THE WORST

One bright spot on today's front page is a bit of colorful writing from the copy desk and Christopher Maag, who describes how just about all transportation was cancelled.

The headline:


Can't get there from here today 

"If it flies, rolls or floats, don't expect to see it moving today," Maag says in his second paragraph.

That sentence is just about perfect.

Snow clearing

Unless the editors grow a large set of balls, The Record tomorrow will shrink from rating Hackensack and other towns on how well they do in clearing streets, intersections and bus stops.

Nor will the paper go after property owners who shrug at the snow and refuse to clear their sidewalks or pay someone to do the job.

This has been going on for decades, even though uncleared intersections, crosswalks, sidewalks and bus stops endanger drivers and pedestrians.

Hackensack DPW

Some people you hire don't do windows; in Hackensack, property taxpayers can't get the Department of Public Works plows to do corners.

Bus stops along Main Street usually remain uncleared, forcing riders to stand in the street -- inches from passing cars -- or climb over a snowbank to get to the bus.

Quarterly property taxes in Hackensack are due in two weeks. 

But if the past is any guide, residents won't get their money's worth, and snow clearing will be as sloppy as ever.

The same can be said for Teaneck, Englewood and many other towns.

This sounds silly

When you work for a paper, with early deadlines and all the other impediments to timely coverage, you should avoid labeling a developing storm the "Blizzard of '15," as today's front page does.

If you are Road Warrior John Cichowski, you can't help just making up things or, as he does today, cite a 2013 blizzard in Wyoming in advising North Jersey drivers on how to prepare for being stranded in a big storm (L-1).

In his Jan. 20 column on the front page, Cichowski repeatedly misquoted state officials on why they want to raise the gas tax to replenish the state Transportation Trust Fund, which repairs roads and bridges.

The incentive to raise the gas tax is that the fund is months away from running out of money, not that gasoline has fallen to less than $2 a gallon.

See the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers:


Today's photos

Two photographs in the digital edition of The Record today are notable:

An AP photo of Governor Christie speaking to Iowa conservatives, crackpots and racists shows the GOP bully to be as ugly as his policies in New Jersey (A-2).

On the Local front, a photo by staffer Danielle Parhizkaran perfectly captures the grief of relatives gathered around the coffin of Vincent Capuana (L-1).


Sunday, January 25, 2015

No. Your eyes aren't fooling you, the columnist is batty

Page 1 of The Record today reports on the jinxed history of the Edgewater parcel where luxury Avalon Bay apartment buildings burned down twice in less than 15 years, and on a former industrial landmark -- an enormous Aluminum Company of America plant and a centuries-old cemetery -- that occupied the site before that. Wednesday's inferno collapsed the 240-unit Russell building, above and below, but spared the 168-unit River Mews building.




By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Anyone who drives on Route 4 likely is doing a double-take at the photo in The Record today described as showing "a vertical gash that extends along one of the giant pillars holding up part of the span" (Local front).

But the photo shows no such gash in the pillar or column supporting the bridge, despite the best effort of Staff Writer John Cichowski to whip readers into hysteria over our failing infrastructure.

Cichowski's Road Warrior column is all over the place today:

It ranges from the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund -- which pays for road and bridge repairs -- to efforts of state officials to find a stable funding source for it to almost anything else remotely related to Route 4 and other state highways, including potholes and traffic bottlenecks.

Attempt to deceive

But the reporter's second paragraph, when compared to the photo from Bob Leafe of Hackensack, appears intended to deceive readers:

They can clearly see a seam between two parts of the horizontal bridge, not "a vertical gash" in the support column, which appears intact. 

Cichowski also never tells readers whether they are looking at Route 4 east or west. Does the other side of the bridge show a similar seam?

GOP bully

If Cichowski's column isn't bad enough, Columnist Mike Kelly again wastes readers' time with a long-winded retrospective on the Route 3 bridge, where traffic was restricted this week to repair cracks in a steel beam (O-1).

Cichowski's and Kelly's columns dwell on cracks or other deterioration in road bridges, but The Record still refuses to blast Governor Christie for refusing year after year to raise the low gasoline tax to fund repairs. 

Edgewater fire

Today, coverage of the Avalon at Edgewater apartment inferno includes a fascinating glimpse at the unlucky history of the site in what was once a bustling industrial community (A-1).

Less interesting is the lead Page 1 story under the headline, "Displaced residents go home."

That story informs readers the smell of smoke still lingers in the air, but glosses over the cheap construction methods and lack of sprinklers in unoccupied spaces that allowed the flames to spread so quickly on Wednesday.

Tenants of the Avalon Bay building that was saved from the inferno now have a great view of the pile of charred rubble from the building that collapsed, and can contemplate a future that may be punctuated by yet another fire at the jinxed site. 

Christie scam

Also on Page 1 today is yet another boring Charles Stile column on Christie, a White House hopeful who is trying to pull on the nation the same "I'm-a-moderate" scam that he's perpetrated in New Jersey in the past five years.

Stile followed our feared and hated governor to Iowa and the so-called Freedom Summit "that drew nearly 1,000 Tea Party and conservative activists [read "racists"].

The columnist clearly adores Christie, and may be among the journalists hoping for a job in the GOP bully's administration, in the unlikely event Republicans pick him as their nominee in 2016, and he beats Hillary Clinton (A-1).

Ties that bind

Staff Writer Kathleen Lynn explores companies that are "selling their real estate to unlock the value that's tied up in the property and then leasing the buildings back" (B-1).

Lynn eventually gets to the sale of North Jersey Media Group's Rockaway Township printing plant to Hampshire Partners Fund III, which is sponsored by the Hampshire Cos. of Morristown (B-2).

NJMG President Stephen A. Borg is quoted as saying the publishing company will lease back the property for 20 years.

The Record, Herald News and other newspapers are printed there.

Silent on Hanson

No financial details are disclosed in the story nor does Lynn identify real estate mogul Jon F. Hanson, a close friend of the Borg publishing family, as chairman and founder of the Hampshire Cos.

Hanson, 77, also was a major fund-raiser for Christie's two gubernatorial campaigns, and he and Christie both raised funds for George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

The jet-setting Hanson also has received a great deal of favorable coverage in The Record as Christie's adviser on casino and sports development projects.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Avalon: Edgewater building was designed to burn down

The 4-story Avalon at Edgewater apartment building collapsed into a pile of rubble after Wednesday's inferno, which was started by a maintenance worker using a blowtorch to repair a pipe. An elevator tower, made of cinder blocks, remained intact on Friday afternoon.

Flanked by wood columns, this Undercliff Avenue entrance was one of the few recognizable elements of the so-called luxury apartment building on Friday.



By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

"The purpose of those [fire and safety codes] is not to prevent the building from burning down, but rather to ensure that there is sufficient time and opportunity for all occupants to exit safely in the event of a fire. ..."

You might be surprised who said this about the so-called Edgewater luxury apartment building destroyed by an inferno on Wednesday.

It's Michael Feigin, chief construction officer for complex owner Avalon Bay Communities, according to quotes in The Record today (A-6).

Of course, not all "occupants" reached safety despite the efforts of the Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department and all of the other forces that responded to the raging fire.

An unknown number of pets died, and their owners are devastated (A-6).

Cheap construction

The only luxury aspect of the Avalon at Edgewater building apparently is the high rents -- $2,100 to $3,195 a month -- which don't always include parking.

Avalon officials have acknowledged the destroyed building -- as well as those in Hackensack, Jersey City and other towns -- had cheap lightweight wood construction with a truss style of roof framing, but were built according to code.

CBS2's Tony Aiello reported the building's lighweight wood construction allowed the fire to spread, especially because attics and concealed spaces had no sprinklers.

Click on the following link to hear Aiello's report:

The blaze has been ruled an accident, but ...

Broken record

Feigin, Avalon Bay's chief construction officer, was quoted in Friday's paper, and his statement was repeated today, because an Avalon Bay representative refused further comment, Staff Writer Kathleen Lynn reports (A-6).

But state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a construction code official by profession, says he finds "deeply troubling" reports "the building's material and design may have contributed to the spread of the fire"(A-6).

Prieto says he is reviewing "the relevant building codes to find areas that may need to be strengthened."

Unfortunately, The Record's editorial page hasn't challenged self-serving statements from Avalon Bay officials.

Nor have reporters said how much more the company would have to spend, if it employed safer construction -- using cinder blocks and concrete to stop minor fires from spreading uncontrollably, as appears to be the case on Wednesday.

Avalon Bay Communities, a Virginia-based real estate investment trust, owns 82,000 units in 274 complexes on both coasts (Friday's A-7).

Community rallies

Today's lead story on Page 1 is a heart-warming tale of how "the community continued to rally around the hundreds of families left homeless and seeking help" (A-1).

Tenants were required to pay for at least $10,000 in insurance coverage on their belongings and furniture, plus $100,000 in liability insurance (A-1).

Any money recovered through negligence suits against Avalon Bay and its maintenance workers won't be realized for years, given the glacial pace of civil litigation in Bergen County.

And the lion's share of any award or settlement will be gobbled up by ambulance-chasing lawyers.

$1,000 from Avalon

After gouging tenants with high rents in what many view as an unsafe building, Avalon is refunding January rents and providing $1,000 in relocation aid.

But as one tenant notes, the $1,000 "would hardly cover the deposit on a new place."

Meanwhile, donations continued to pour into Edgewater, including more than $60,000 contributed to two funds.

Imagine how we could reduce the homeless population in North Jersey with this kind of response on behalf of people who lose their jobs or whose homes are foreclosed.





A PSE&G crewman, dwarfed by an elevator tower, restoring power to the neighborhood as other workers were putting up fencing and cleaning up water and smoke damage to Undercliff Avenue homes opposite the building that collapsed.

Another Avalon at Edgewater building, rear, appeared to have escaped damage. The building that was destroyed was on Undercliff Avenue, a long block from River Road in Edgewater. 
On the scene Friday were trucks from Public Service Electric and Gas Co., above; the chief's SUV from the Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department, below; and private companies restoring Undercliff Avenue homes, including clothing, that sustained smoke and water damage, and were showered with soot and burnt cinders from the raging fire.




Local news?

Today's Local section is chock full of court, police and accident news.

Kathleen Peet, 37, of Rochelle Park was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for embezzling more than $87,000.

Staff Writer Stefanie Dazio wasn't curious enough to ask what the woman did with the money (L-1).

Two dramatic photos on L-1 show first responders rescuing the driver of a truck carrying "brine solution," but the caption doesn't say whether the solution is for koshering chickens or removing road ice.

A Paterson official was fired for submitting false information on her application for home-repair funds (L-1), and a Clifton school board lawyer resigned after she was criticized "for undermining residents' free speech" (L-2).

And there's news about lawsuits, one filed by an ex-principal and another by a demoted police officer (L-2).

On A-2 today, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, Deputy Dan Sforza and their minions acknowledge they were responsible for three major local-news errors Thursday and Friday.

How embarrassing.