Monday, February 8, 2016

After the big game, news editors deliver boring coverage

Members of the Palisades Park Senior Citizens Center staged a Lunar New Year show today for seniors at the Jewish Community Center on the Palisades in Tenafly. 

In addition to dancers, a choir of men and women performed several songs, including the national anthems of the United States, Korea and Israel.


I'm no fan of football or how the editors of The Record are always running sports columns on the front page, displacing far more important stories.

In fact, the first thing I do after I pick up the paper in my driveway every day is put the Sports section into the recycling bin.

I did watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, and the big story for me was how a young, black, overconfident quarterback was humbled by a veteran.

But today, Page 1 is dominated by Tara Sullivan, one of The Record's long-winded columnists, whose first two paragraphs are guaranteed to put you to sleep.

Unedited crap

How Editor Deirdre Sykes allowed this apparently unedited crap onto the premier page of today's paper is a mystery.

Sullivan's first two paragraphs describe Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning walking to his seat on the sideline after victory was assured (A-1).

"Across the field and down the sideline he strode" is how the first paragraph begins. Yawn.

"Down he sat" begins the second. Give me a break.

And the headlines are just awful, because the main and sub-headline basically repeat speculation the Super Bowl might have been Peyton Manning's last game:

"Manning's magical exit?"

"Super Bowl
win would
be a great
final act"

A far better main headline would get rid of the question mark, which is discouraged on many news copy desks:

"Manning's magical game"

"Super Bowl 
win would
be a great
final act"

Local news?

If Sullivan's pathetic column wasn't enough, the front of the local-news section is dominated by a stale story on the cooking of mystery chicken wings on Sunday at a bar in Passaic County no one has ever heard of (L-1).

That's one of five stories with Passaic County or Morris County datelines in a section delivered to Bergen County readers.

Lady Gaga

On the Better Living front, Staff Writer Jim Beckerman wrote an entire story on Lady Gaga singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" (BL-1).

Everyone I talked to today thought she did a terrific job, praising her voice, her delivery and how she made the national anthem her own.

In short, she rocked that old song.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

In and out of court, noose tightening round Christie's neck

By noon on Friday, the slushy snow that fell overnight and into the morning had melted, leaving behind tree branches coated in winter white. Hackensack residents were relieved in view of all the problems left behind by city crews after the blizzard in late January.


In New Jersey, the tide of public opinion has turned hard against Governor Christie.

But at The Record of Woodland Park, editors, columnists and reporters today are focusing instead on New Hampshire, where the GOP bully is trying to salvage his campaign for the party's presidential nomination (A-1 and O-1).

Christie finished a dismal 10th in the Iowa caucuses, but last week, he suffered setbacks in and out of court in New Jersey, as The Record reported on Saturday.

They are likely to seal his fate.

Two judges

The lead story on Saturday's front page reported a federal judge gave defendants in the Bridgegate scandal the power to seek emails and other documents withheld by the law firm that whitewashed Christie's role in the Fort Lee lane closings.

But it was public statements by another judge that helped galvanize public opinion in the Garden State, though Editor Deirdre Sykes did her best to mute the criticism by keeping the story off of Saturday's front page:

Deborah Poritz, a Republican who served as chief justice from 1996 to 2006, took Christie "to task ... for being a 'bully' who has not built a legacy of serving the public after more than six years in office" (Saturday's A-3).

She noted Christie has been "scapegoating public workers" in New Jersey for years, and slammed his budget cuts.

No 'legacy'

"What is his legacy? Because I don't see any," Poritz said at a Thursday night forum in the Princeton Public Library.

Then, WNYC-FM reporter Matt Katz, who just published a biography of Christie, "American Governor," was put in the uncomfortable position of defending the governor he has exposed in the public radio station's "Christie Tracker" feature. 

At the end of Saturday's story, Staff Writer Salvador Rizzo noted in 2013, Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin condemned Christie for attempting to intimidate the judiciary and unseating the only black justice on the high court.

Other news?

Today's front page is dominated by the last GOP debate before the voting in New Hampshire, and yet another boring Christie column by Staff Writer Charles Stile -- in case readers missed Saturday's A-1 assessment by Staff Writer Dustin Racioppi.

Also on Page 1 today is a long story about Teaneck dermatologist Gangaram Ragi, who had been accused of sexually assaulting two women.

Inadvertently, the headline writer turned off readers immediately by putting the year 2001 in big black type.

This 14-year-old story was written by Jean Rimbach, one of the women in the newsroom who have thrived under Sykes, a plump Mother Hen to her and other female reporters.

Local news?

Today's local-news section has less Law & Order news than Saturday's, but both are silent on Hackensack, which apparently has no reporter assigned to it.

The section leads with a story on a judge releasing an affordable-housing plan "paid for by 270 municipalities" in New Jersey, but the names of towns are missing (L-1).

Road Warrior John Cichowski compares drivers to doctors and plumbers who update "their training when renewing their licenses every few years" (L-1).

He claims people "drive 3,000-pound machines that dodge traffic at 65 mph or more," and notes he took a driving safety class in Fort Lee, "where a certain Hudson River bridge causes bumper-to-bumper bedlam."

This is journalism? What do traffic jams have to do with driver retraining?

Another typo

For the second time recently, a photo caption includes an extra "s" in Palisade Avenue, this time in Englewood (L-6).

The photo shows first responders clearing the scene of a "two-car crash at Grand and Palisades avenues."

In fact, one of the vehicles is shown on the sidewalk on Engle Street, the continuation of Grand.

Failed columnist

If you doubt The Record soft-pedals the damage Christie has caused in New Jersey, take a look at another ridiculously long and boring column from Mike Kelly on the Opinion front.

The burned-out columnist claims Christie's future hinges on the outcome in New Hampshire, when readers know it's the mean-spirited policies he's rammed through in New Jersey that make residents' blood boil (O-1).

Then, Kelly tries to convince readers Christie "should have been a Democrat" (O-4).

What a moron.

Friday, February 5, 2016

First Hackensack story in many weeks is really stale news

Visitors to Hackensack University Medical Center are treated to a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline from the top of the parking deck -- little consolation to Hackensack residents whose taxes are higher because the medical complex claims a non-profit tax exemption on $257 million in property.

This sculpture, once displayed in the lobby, was modeled after Managing Editor Dan Sforza of The Record.


The Record's front page today again tries to pass off legal arguments in the 2012 criminal case against former Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa as legitimate news.

In the last month or two, Editors Deirdre Sykes and Dan Sforza have virtually ignored municipal news from Hackensack, where the Zisa family political dynasty ruled for decades before the election of reformers in May 2013.

No reporter for The Record has covered the last three City Council meetings, and the Woodland Park daily hasn't reported at all on the city's free-spending school board.

Today, former Hackensack reporter Todd South does his best to get readers interested in Zisa's attempt to have an official misconduct charge thrown out (A-1).

Months after the 2012 guilty verdicts against Zisa, South reports, the trial judge, Joseph S. Conte, "in a rare move, dismissed three of the five convictions against him, a decision that outraged jurors and confounded legal experts" (A-6).

Governor Christie

Sykes, named as top editor in the newsroom a week ago, continues to waste an enormous amount of space and resources on Governor Christie's doomed campaign for the GOP presidential election (A-1).

Two bylines appear on today's story, Herb Jackson and Dustin Racioppi, over a New Hampshire dateline.

But The Record's reporting on financing of the Christie campaign is weak, compared to WNYC-FM, a public radio station (A-8).

Matt Katz reported this morning the founder of Home Depot withdrew his financial support of Christie in the last quarter of 2015.

Still, the Christie campaign received $70,000 from lawyers at Gibson Dunn -- the firm that issued a whitewash of the governor's role in the George Washington Bridge lane closures that cost taxpayers more than $8 million.

Local news?

Sensational crime and court news again dominates the section that is supposed to be devoted to local news (L-1 to L-6).

A filler photo has fans of the environment cheering the destruction of a gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalade in Old Tappan (L-6).

Confused critic

"Istanbul is among the biggest of a wonderful selection of Middle Eastern restaurants ... along Main Avenue in Clifton," says Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung (BL-16).

With that sentence, Ung completely ignores an equally wonderful selection of Middle Eastern restaurants just over the Clifton-Paterson border, on Main Street in South Paterson.

On Jan. 26, three days after the snow stopped falling, a bus stop remained buried under snow, above, and drivers were forced to use only one lane on two-lane Euclid Avenue, below.

Reporter's secret

Before she was hired as a reporter for North Jersey Media Group's weekly papers, Kristen Agnes was a sales associate at Victoria's Secret.

That may explain why her story on Page 1 of this week's Hackensack Chronicle is sending mixed messages about the lousy job city plows did cleaning up from the late January blizzard.

Her lead paragraph reports "ma[n]y residents attended the City Council meeting on Jan. 26 to voice their concerns regarding snow removal."

But her next four paragraphs quote City Manager David Troast, praising employees for an "excellent job handling over 24 inches of snow."

And the headline seals the deal:

"Officials laud snow removal effort"

Except for a photo or two, The Record completely ignored the botched cleanup in Hackensack, Teaneck and many other towns, as Sykes and Editor Dan Sforza have been doing for more than a decade.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A kid you never heard of gets better A-1 play than Obama

WHY OUR TAXES ARE SO HIGH: On Wednesday afternoon, an incident involving a school bus near the monument in Englewood drew a large response, including an ambulance from Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, above; a rescue unit from the city's Fire Department, hospital paramedics and at least three police cars to close streets, below. The police cars are not shown.

In the past two decades, The Record's local editors have been derelict in failing to report on the wasteful duplication of services in home-rule towns. Meanwhile, the editorial page should be calling for a salary cap on police chiefs, and much more cooperation among towns to save money and lessen the impact on property tax payers.


Deirdre Sykes is only the second woman to hold the top editing job at The Record, but she is proving to be no different than her sports-obsessed male predecessors.

Can you imagine the discussion at Wednesday afternoon's news meeting, where editors from news, sports, business and features sit down and decide story placement and play, including what should appear on today's front page, the most important in the paper?

The news editors promote President Obama's historic visit to a mosque amid all the hate speech against Muslims, including Syrian refugees who want to settle in North Jersey, but the sports editor is itching to be heard: 

"OK. I have a better story. There's this black kid, Rashan Gary, a high school student we like to call 'North Jersey's football titan ....'"

Collectively, the other editors in the room say, "Who?"   

Yet, today's front page is dominated by "Who?"

And Obama ends up at the bottom of Page 1, under a bunch of Hasidic Jews who rescued a George Washington Bridge jumper. 

Ignoring readers

Is there anything else in today's paper to interest the majority of readers?

Why run a Page 1 follow-up on "dismal" test scores?

At least Sykes had the good sense to run Governor Christie campaign crap from New Hampshire on A-3, instead of A-1, but that means the continuing crisis over New Jersey transportation funding is buried today (A-4).

Local news?

The Local front resembles a police blotter again, one of Sykes' specialties when she was head assignment editor.

There are an astounding 14 Law & Order stories in the thin-local news section.

And why is a long story from Washington on proposals to ease the burden of college loans and provide two years of free community college buried deep in Local (L-6).

That would have fit well on A-3, and to hell with the governor who has said to hell with New Jersey.

Uber alles?

On the first Business page, another staff-written story on Uber continues to hide the exploitation of drivers (L-7).

Staff Writer Richard Newman simply regurgitates the company line:

"Uber promises to pay a gross fare of $15 an hour during slow periods or $20 an hour in busy periods, not including Uber's commission...."

Why not mention the size of the commission (Uber gets at least 20% of the fare), that tips are included in the fare; and that drivers use their own cars, and pay for gas, insurance and maintenance?

Traveling light

A Jill Schensul column offering a guide to travelers on the Zika virus appears on the Better Living front today.

Contrast that with the travel editor's usually frivolous column in her own section, which offers little practical advice on getting the best bang out of your travel dollars.