Saturday, October 31, 2009

The food-phobic travel editor

Page 1 of The Record today is filled with hard news, which is not always the case. The newspaper loves putting sports and infrastructure stories all over the front. Readers may not know that a story, no matter how important, will not be assigned to the central element of the page unless it has a great photo (or graphic, as in the algebra-test story today). In Record parlance, that story is "the patch."

On Page A-8, a story about a protest by commercial fishermen is silent on whether the new rules will affect New Jersey fishing ports.

A letter to the editor on A-11 claims "police salaries are out of control." The Record has published a number of stories in recent years, blaming high police and teacher salaries for the financial troubles of many towns. But it has been silent for the past decade on the incredible inefficiencies of home rule. Does Bergen County need 70 police chiefs, and police and fire departments; almost as many superintendents of schools and Departments of Public Works, and 100 to 200 neighborhood schools? Aren't they the reason property taxes are so high?

The Local section has no municipal news from diverse Teaneck, Hackensack and Englewood.

Better Living  has no food coverage, which is the case on most Saturdays, unless you count the stories on Halloween candy.

The Sunday Travel section -- delivered with the Saturday paper -- is a collector's item. It actually carries a story about restaurants (in New Orleans). Many travel sections are filled with stories about food, a big reason many people travel, but not The Record's section.

Have readers noticed the paper has had no major articles about travel in South Korea in many, many years? It's believed The Record's travel editor -- an animal lover -- is horrified by the notion  that some South Koreans allegedly eat dogs and won't run any stories about South Korea. This same editor traveled to Africa to help animals -- not people.

The story about New Orleans restaurants confines itself to the French Quarter, ignoring all the great neighborhood places, including Li'l Dizzy's Cafe (shrimp and grits) and Parkway Bakery (overstuffed po' boy sandwiches). It also provides no strategy for avoiding all the artery-clogging butter and cream in creole food, such as eating at one of the great Vietnamese places in or near the city.

Shrimp Po Boy from Crabby Jack's Rastaurant in...Image via Wikipedia
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Reviewer is obsessed with dessert

Seal of Bergen County, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia

The front page of  The Record today actually contains news -- a story that required some digging on 34 state employees who are collecting gobs of overtime and a rare local story on Page 1 about four Bergen County towns in the same high school district.

The Local section has a story from Englewood on teacher contract talks, the fifth or sixth story from that city this month, depending on whether you include mention of sidewalk repairs on Oct. 15. The paper is continuing its seeming boycott of news from Hackensack, the county seat that was the paper's home for more than 110 years. The last mention: street repairs at mid-month.

In Better Living's centerfold, an Italian restaurant in Fair Lawn gets two and a half stars from reviewer Elisa Ung. That's only a half star more than she awarded a faux-Caribbean chain restaurant in Wayne several weeks ago.

In the review of Davia, Ung reports on a potato-crusted salmon entree and a strip steak, failing to mention whether the former was wild or artificially-colored farmed fish or whether the latter was grass-fed or at least raised without anitbiotics and growth hormones.

Ung spends too much time writing about desserts. Recently, she related she had a "nightmare" about dessert. I guess she doesn't realize that many people are watching their weight or cholesterol and forgo dessert, especially at a restaurant with big portions, like the one she is reviewing today. In fact, she says fewer than half of its customers order dessert, but that doesn't stop her from sampling four of them.

I found the following hilarious. She reports the restaurant is named after the owner's daughter. "Their son, John, wanted no part of the name." That's a good thing, isn't it, but with a name like John, why does that have to be mentioned? Would anyone name an Italian restaurant just John? Wouldn't  people think it's an elaborate bathroom? Maybe John's Trattoria.

On Page 20  of Better Living, the restaurant health inspections appear, but many towns' restaurants are excluded today and, in fact, never appear in the paper. Thirteen towns are listed today out of the more than 90 in The Record's circulation area.

(This post was revised on Saturday, 10/31/09.)
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Record v. 'Eye on The Record'

Iwo Jima Statue, Inspired by Pulitzer Prize Ph...

A lawyer for North Jersey Media Group, which publishes The Record, has asked me to remove the 9/11 flag-raising photo I used in an earlier post, "Major detour on the road to a Pulitzer Prize," claiming the photo is copyrighted. Isn't that rich?

The editors of The Record thought so little of this dramatic image on the day of the suicide attacks -- even though it was taken by their own photographer, Thomas E. Franklin -- they relegated it to a back page, a huge error of  judgment that probably doomed Franklin's chance of winning a Pulitzer Prize.

In any case, I have substituted a photo of the World Trade Center in the post.

Dina Sforza, the NJMG lawyer, also contacted my lawyer, Joshua L. "Josh" Weiner in Morristown, and threatened to file a lawsuit unless I take down this blog.

Short on Bergen County news

The Record today is the usual disappointment, short on local news and food coverage, but with a large patch of the front page devoted to the first game of the World Series.

A Page 1 tease, "Doc says defendant was too fat to kill," is the paper's way of addressing the obesity epidemic, which it has avoided reporting for years outside of an annual story saying it is getting worse all the time.

On A-4, a story carries a headline, "Number of trucks expected to soar on roads in Morris County," but the story doesn't mention The Record's Mercedes-Benz delivery trucks have been wearing ruts in Route 80 for a few years now, picking up the freshly printed edition at its Rockaway Township plant and returning to Hackensack, the newspaper's former home.

On A-10, a number of letters to the editor condemn the decision to endorse John Corzine for another term as governor, and readers point out the editorial seemed back-handed, because it omitted his accomplishments in office. On at least a couple of occasions recently, Record stories have reported that the governor raised taxes, but left out an important distinction: the higher levies are only on the rich.

The Local section has another story about Eastside High in Paterson, but I have read nothing about Hackensack High School in the more than two years I have lived in River City. The section has seven stories about Passaic County towns, only five about Bergen towns, plus a murder trial, political column, an expanded obituary and a story about Xanadu.

The local staff has struggled for years to fill the paper with Bergen news, especially when there were two separate editions: one for Bergen County, the other for Passaic and Morris counties. Now, there seems to be only one edition and the lack of local Bergen news is pathetic and a slap in the face to readers.

In Better Living, there is no food news, with the exception of an Atlantic City feature about a celebrity chef   judging a cooking competition and a promotion for Friday's restaurant review.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

'The fish stinks from the head down'

Frank Scandale was named editor of The Record in 2001 after he helped the Denver Post win a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. He was the latest out-of-town editor hired to remake the Hackensack daily. (He grew up in Westfield and worked at the Elizabeth Daily Journal, both outside The Record's circulation area.)

Scandale replaced Vivian Waixel, a Queens native who had worked her way up through the ranks and who I believe was the first woman to become editor. She was named executive editor of The Record and Herald News. Eventually, she left after being offered an office in a converted storage closet with a large window on the Hackensack newsroom.

When he was tested by 9/11, Scandale took part in the bone-headed decision by editors to relegate one of the most powerful images captured by a photographer that day to a back page to save the paper money. (See post, "Major detour on the road to a Pulitzer Prize.")

His reign as editor has been marked by increasing tension and animosity between dayside reporters and editors such as himself  and the nightside staff of news, layout and copy editors, who have been frozen out of decision-making and handcuffed for trying to improve news stories written by an increasingly inexperienced staff. For this reason alone, he should of been replaced long ago. But there is more:

  1. He launched news and feature coverage of 20-year-olds in order to win new readers,  ignoring young people's addiction to the computer and that the baby boomers are the ones who have the money to patronize advertisers. In 2006, Publisher Stephen A. Borg called this initiative a "failed strategy."
  2. He banned local news stories about one town from the front page, an edict that apparently still stands.
  3. He did little to boost the number of minorities in the newsroom (before The Record's and Herald  News' staffs were merged), but did hire three from his old newspaper. And his third managing editor, Frank Burgos, is Hispanic. Still, one black editor left, the paper's only black columnist was fired and the paper's only Latino columnist was told to return exclusively to reporting, leading to his eventual departure.
  4. He failed to stand up for his newsroom workers after money for ergonomic furniture was taken out of the budget year after year. Yet enough money was found to buy a dozen or so new, ergonomic desks, chairs and computers for the digital news group, which puts out The Record's online edition, and they were placed smack in the middle of the Hackensack newsroom for all to envy as they continued to use and be injured by furniture dating to the typewriter era.
  5. He was rumored to have taken to lunch on separate occasions two of the most attractive young women on the reporting staff. If that is true, was it appropriate for an older editor to have lunch with a young female reporter? Or would a group setting have been wiser, especially in view of  the sexual harassment of women in the newsroom that Scandale and other editors, notably head assignment editor Deirdre Sykes, had long tolerated?  It got so bad at one point that the supervisor of  news clerks stopped hiring young women for the job.
I  have always heard about a Sicilian saying, "The fish stinks from the head down." (It is so appropriate here, given Scandale's Italian heritage.) Now, it's time for The Record to lop off the head and go fishing for a new editor.
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Wasting the front page on sports

As has been the practice on too many days in recent years, a big part of  The Record's front page today is wasted on a sports story.

When I was still there, Editor Frank Scandale, at a staff meeting, shared the results of the latest reader survey. What has stuck in my mind is that readers listed sports in 12th spot among what they wanted to see most in the paper. But before and since, sports often dominates Page 1.

You can almost imagine Scandale and the other jocks among the male editors slapping each other on the ass at the end of the afternoon news meeting, which determines the "play" of stories.

Today's Page 1 story, which continues onto more than a half page inside, concerns a ticket stub from a 1923 World Series game at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, Staff Writer John Brennan fails to say how much the ticket cost anywhere in this unusually long story. You have to squint at a photo to barely make out the price.

A story on A-4 reports that Governor Corzine again has outspent his opponents by a wide margin. This is news? As far as I know, The Record has never examined a system that bars everyone but the rich from running for county, statewide and nationwide office. In fact, it's lack of investigation on this issue is tantamount to supporting a system corrupted by money.

A letter to the editor on A-12 seems to draw a comparison between former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman and another (Chris) Christie, the lawyer and former prosecutor who is the Republican candidate running against Corzine. Have The Record's reporters drawn that parallel before?

Whitman defeated the incumbent, Democrat Jim Florio, by promising to cut taxes drastically, then had to loot the pension fund of state workers and borrow heavily, according to the letter, which warns readers to be wary of "politicians who yell about our high taxes."

On another aspect of the campaign, The Record has criticized the governor for mentioning Chris Christie's "weight." But the paper hasn't asked whether as governor, Christie would serve as a good example to both children and adults during the obesity epidemic (another subject the paper does its best to ignore).

The Local section contains no news of Hackensack, Teaneck or Englewood, the three most diverse towns in the paper's circulation area. Or Ridgewood. Or Wayne.

In Better Living, on F-2, we read about an "authentic" Greek place that serves burgers, mozzarella sticks and Buffalo wings. I and many other North Jerseyans shop frequently at Korean markets, but an item about Korean black garlic lists no Korean store that stocks it.

These two food reports, an illustrated recipe and a story about wine ($12 a bottle and higher) are all the newspaper could muster on a Wednesday, when readers in the past could feast on an entire Food section.

The Food section was dropped by Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who promised readers food coverage "every day." Unfortunately, despite an occasional house ad touting "every day" food news, there is no food coverage on Thursdays and a vast majority of Saturdays. Monday's coverage usually consists of a single recipe for vegetarians.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Major detour on the road to a Pulitzer Prize

English: World Trade Center, New York, aerial ...
World Trade Center, New York, aerial view March 2001.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every time I looked up from my seat on the news copy desk, the black column of smoke rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center was framed in the tall window of The Record's fourth-floor newsroom in Hackensack.

I had worked until 12:30 a.m. and had slept through the suicide attacks, but when I awakened at 10:30 on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, there was an answering machine message from an editor to come in right away. I got to work at 11:45 a.m. and helped put out an 8-page extra with a bold, front-page headline over a photo of the buildings in flames: "Terror Hits Home." Then we turned our attention to a special 32-page section with no advertising for the next day's paper.

This was the biggest story of my life and the biggest for everyone else at The Record, including the new editor, Frank Scandale, who shared a Pulitzer Prize the Denver Post won for coverage of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The atmosphere in The Record's newsroom on 9/11 was electric, with everyone walking around and talking to each other, rather than using the Atex message system we usually relied on.

As afternoon turned into evening, chief photographer Rich Gigli reviewed the images sent in by his photographers and those from other sources. Manhattan's Twin Towers, smoking, on fire or with an explosion of flames as one of the passenger jets tore inside, predominated. At 8:30 that night, he finally saw a photo different from all the rest, the one he had been waiting for all day -- three firemen defiantly raising the American flag above the rubble only hours after the attacks -- and it came from one of his best photographers, Thomas E. Franklin.

He raced out into the newsroom and ran into a wall. Even though Franklin's exclusive photo on Page 1 of The Record would be unique, even though it would advance the story and even though it would make the small Hackensack daily stand out among worldwide competition, the editors told Gigli it would be too expensive to remake the front page. In a monumental error of news judgment, The Record's editors put money before journalism, relegating this extraordinary image to a back page.

Some observers think that decision doomed Franklin's chance of winning a Pulitzer, the most prestigious prize in journalism; indeed, he was only a finalist in 2002.

But other newspapers saw the value of the photo. It ran on the front page of the Oregonian in Portland, on the West Coast.

And the New York Post also ran Franklin's photo on its front page, without credit. The Today Show on NBC in New York did a piece on the photo, again without crediting The Record. Finally, on Friday, three days after the attacks, Gigli and Franklin appeared on Today to set the record straight.

When The Record decided to reprint the 8-page extra we put out on 9/11, Nancy Cherry, one of the news copy desk chiefs, announced to me and the other copy editors that the higher-ups told her the front-page photo caption, which misidentified which WTC tower was which, would not be corrected in the thousands of reprinted copies, because it would cost too much.

Life Magazine listed Franklin's image as one of the "100 Photographs That Changed the World," and the photo is part of the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.

In 2002, the United States Postal Service introduced the "Heroes" stamp, featuring the flag-raising photo. Proceeds from the stamp have raised over $10 million dollars to help families and rescue workers of 9/11. Also in 2002, an autographed original print signed by Franklin and the three firemen pictured in the photo sold for $89,625 at Christie's Auction House, with proceeds benefiting two 9/11 charities.

What role Scandale, editor of The Record, had in keeping the photo off Page 1 is unknown. But in the ensuing years, he launched coverage of 20-year-olds that failed, reduced the amount of local news in the paper and widened the rift between dayside (reporters and editors like himself) and nightside (news, layout and copy editors, the so-called production staff).

The Record asked 'Eye on The Record' to remove the flag-raising photo from this post.

Coming soon: Should The Record's editor be replaced?

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Hurting the newspaper's credibility

Omissions -- intentional or otherwise -- damage the credibility of The Record and everyone associated with it, from its wealthy, young publisher to its low-paid news clerks. In newspaper lingo, these are called "holes."

Leafing through Tuesday's paper, I found an editorial on Page A-10 that urges residents of Woodland Park to vote next month to change its name back to West Paterson. No mention is made of The Record having moved almost all of its staff out of Hackensack to a building in Woodland Park, where its sister daily paper, the Herald News, is located, and to other offices. Right now, it's The Record of Woodland Park, but could become The Record of West Paterson.

On Page L-10, in business news, there's no mention in the Start-Ups column of whether the sea salt being promoted contains iodine, a necessary nutrient.

On Page L-11, also in business news, a story about rapidly declining newspaper circulation devotes three of the 10 paragraphs to The Record's circulation figures and what Publisher Stephen A. Borg says the paper is doing to bolster daily and Sunday circulation, which determines the rates the paper can charge advertisers. What's not mentioned is that circulation figures listed for The Record include the Herald News, which was made an edition of The Record a few years ago to bolster the then-Hackensack daily's dramatic drop in readership.

In the Better Living section, on Page F-1, 2 and 3, a staff written story on Jewish deli maven David Sax and a so-called 15-minute pork-chop recipe from the Chicago Tribune fail to discuss whether any of the meat was raised on factory farms with antibiotics, growth hormones or animal byproducts (bits of dead animals and kitchen scraps), or whether the hot dogs contain preservatives linked to cancer.

Shameless plug: The Record's food coverage rarely mentions these matters, but you can find them discussed extensively in my other blog, "Do You Really Know What You're Eating" at

Coming soon: Did The Record blow a Pulitzer Prize on 9/11?

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Monday, October 26, 2009

A rare Englewood schools story

Map highlighting Englewood's location within B...Image via Wikipedia

The Monday paper is among the smallest of the week, but The Record found room for a story about Englewood (on map above), only the fourth story about that city in October.

An interview with the new schools superintendent appears on L-2, the second page of the Local section, conducted, edited and condensed by Giovanna Fabiano, the Englewood reporter, who I knew as a hard worker and one of the better writers before I left in May 2008.

Although The Record has daily education coverage, the interview is the first mention in at least a couple of years of the city's segregated schools and some of the factors that created them, according to Superintendent Richard Segall, including redlining by banks and the presence of two big, expensive private schools that lure away virtually all of the white students, especially in the elementary and middle school grades.

The interview also goes into a little detail about what is being done to integrate the high school (not a new story), but more importantly, the elementary grades, which have been ignored by The Record for years.

Malcolm A. Borg, chairman of the North Jersey Media Group, owner of The Record, lives in Englewood, and presumably his children, who now run NJMG, grew up there. I do not know whether Jennifer and Stephen Borg attended public or private schools.

I think of Englewood, where I lived in an apartment from 1979-2007, as a plantation, with the rich white families such as the Borgs living on the hill and the blacks and Hispanics living down below, mostly across the tracks that bisect the town.

During the time I was at The Record, the newspaper never analyzed the social, religious and political forces that brought about segregated schools in the 1980s. However, I did read that story in the New York Times' New Jersey section. Instead, Record editors and reporters confined themselves to covering endless hearings, whether in court or before the local and state Boards of Education.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Little local news for Sunday readers

The Sunday paper is usually the biggest of the week, with room for more news stories. Reporters often write something special for the Sunday edition. But at The Record, the Sunday paper doesn't have a lot to offer in the way of local news:

No stories about Hackensack (except for one about a cop injured at an accident scene), Teaneck or Englewood. None about Ridgewood, Westwood or Wayne. No mention of Passaic, West Milford or Ringwood or lots of other towns in the paper's circulation area that are too numerous to mention.

Tiny Moonachie gets coverage for a fire that destroyed three mobile homes across the street from Teterboro Airport. The story doesn't explore the possibility the owners burned down their own homes to escape the incredibly annoying noise of aircraft carrying corporate executives, moguls and hip-hop stars.

How an editor can ruin a project

Seventy-eight years ago today, the George Washington Bridge opened to traffic, beginning a process that would change northern New Jersey forever.
George Washington Bridge, view of the roadway ...Image via Wikipedia

Three years ago, on the bridge's 75th anniversary, The Record produced a special tabloid to explore the impact this glorious span had on our suburbs and our lives, and assigned one of its most talented writers to it. (A lower level was added in 1962, and many North Jersey residents refer to it as Martha Washington.)

You'd think the front page of this tabloid would carry a photo of the bridge, which it did, and maybe the magnificent Jersey Palisades or even the high-rises in Fort Lee. No. Due to project editor Tim Nostrand's colossal lack of editorial vision, photographer Tariq Zehawi brought back images of the bridge and upper Manhattan.

And no one noticed until after the tab was published. When this was pointed out to Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who doesn't pretend to be a journalist, he said readers would look at the cover photo for only a few seconds, so it was "good enough." It certainly wasn't worth hiring a helicopter for, he added.

Guess what? The Record did hire a helicopter for that shot.

Desperation in the advertising department

Did you see the phony ad on Page A-8 of The Record today, under the heading, ADVERTORIAL?

Are readers really supposed to believe President Obama stopped by a car dealer on River Street in Hackensack last week after endorsing Governor Corzine at Fairleigh Dickinson University and climbed behind the wheel for a photo?

Is The Record so desperate for advertising revenue that it would stoop so low? Or maybe all the experienced advertising employees left when Publisher Stephen A. Borg cleaned house in that department, claiming in an e-mail that they "couldn't sell."
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In defense of The Record's local news reporters

A number of people have come to the defense of local reporters Monsy Alvarado and Giovanna Fabiano, criticized in previous posts for not covering their towns, saying blame rests fully on the incompetent editors they work for. (See posts, "Message to the Englewood reporter" and "Oh, say, can you see Hackensack?"

I can dig that. The Record's newsroom today is nothing like the newsrooms I came up in as a reporter in Hartford, Elizabeth, N.J., and even Hackensack, where I reported for the newspaper from 1979-89, covering a wide variety of beats.

I was encouraged to be independent and to challenge authority. I was discouraged from sitting around the newsroom and reading the paper. Legwork was a reporter's most important tool. Go and see for yourself. Talk to people, lots of people, especially residents, if you are a municipal reporter. And all of that helped calibrate my B.S. meter, so I didn't merely record and pass on to readers some of the nonsense that comes out of official and other mouths, including defense lawyers.

At the Hartford Courant in the early 1970s, then-City Editor Irving Kravsow would yell at me if I screwed up, but he let me pursue leads and write controversial stories that attacked the status quo.

The Record today works mightily to defend the status quo, inclduding a home-rule system of incredibly expensive duplication that keeps property taxes high. Editors are control freaks.

You'd think the newspaper would work to dismantle segregated schools in Englewood, launch a project
Teterboro AirportImage via Wikipedia
on the obesity epidemic and take on other stories of concern to readers, such as the huge impact Teterboro Airport has on residents' quality of life. But you'd be wrong.

One reader wrote about The Record's local news reporters: "To single them out is unfair. You don't know what they're being assigned to do (or not do). You don't know what they're forced into ....You cannot attack someone for taking orders."
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Message to the Englewood reporter

I sent this e-mail on Wednesday to Giovanna Fabiano, the reporter assigned to cover Englewood, which, like Hackensack and Teaneck, is one of the most diverse in Bergen County. Those three once were considered core towns for coverage by The Record.

"I didn't see any mention of Cleveland School being segregated in your story today. In fact, I don't think you've written any stories about what is being done, if anything, about easing segregation in the elementary and middle schools in Englewood.

"Your predecessor and her predecessor on the Englewood beat did a lot of stories about the high school desegregation effort, but nothing about the lower grades. If you pride yourself on being a reporter, you won't neglect this any further.

"But I guess you are finding it hard to cover the city, which probably explains why a dozen days have gone by on at least two occasions without a story about Englewood in the paper. I guess you haven't been caught in the daily downtown traffic jams, because the city hasn't put in turn lanes at Dean and Palisade. I guess you can't hear the gunshots from the open-air police firing range from wherever you are doing your phone stories, either, but residents of Englewood are awakened by them and it has an impact on their quality of life.

What a cushy job you have.

Victor Sasson

Oh, say, can you see Hackensack?

It was drizzling this morning when I went out to pick up The Record from my driveway. I thought, At least the geniuses in the circulation department put the paper in two wrappers. Despite forecasts of rain, I have found a soaking wet paper in a single bag a half-dozen times this year, forcing me to call for delivery of a dry one.

At the kitchen table, I leafed through the sections, but searched in vain for a story about Hackensack, where I have lived for more than two years. That's typical, with Monsy Alvardao, the reporter assigned to cover Hackensack, spending most of her time at the paper's new headquarters in Woodland Park. The building has a wonderful view, but you can't see -- or cover -- Hackensack from there.

In addition, she has been sidetracked to take part in an investigative news project that apparently is in its third year without an announced publication date. The project began more than a year before I left The Record on May 30, 2008. One reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, quit after she was accused of contacting a target of the probe.

Today is the ninth day The Record has had no Hackensack news (excluding any crime or fire news, which is not considered municipal coverage). The last mention of the city -- the paper's home for more than 110 years and the Bergen County seat -- was in an Oct. 15 round-up about street and sidewalk repairs in several towns. From Aug. 2 to Sept. 2, no Hackensack stories appeared in The Record.

In fact, since June, most of Alvarado's stories have concerned an apparent crisis in the Hackensack Police Department, where 10 officers have filed lawsuits against the chief. (The department has more than 90 officers.) That coverage has included detailed stories about disciplinary hearings.

In recent years, no reporter has written a story about the aircraft noise that plagues Hackensack residents, who live under the flight paths of both Teterboro and Newark airports and who hear jet and even noiser propeller aircraft whistling, shrieking and roaring overhead from the moment they wake up until they go to sleep. The planes drown out the TV and interfere with radio reception. They make back yards unlivable. I spoke to one man who said he is afraid of using the terrace on his Prospect Avenue high-rise in good weather, because the private jets  pass so dangerously close to his building.

Are there any attempts to ease the noise? If the private jet pilots approached Teterboro at a higher altitude, rather than skim rooftops, would there be less noise? Who knows? The Record has been silent on this quality-of-life issue for many years.

Nor have I seen stories about whether Hackensack plans to replace its gas-guzzling police cruisers with more fuel-efficient cars or install solar panels on city buildings to cut electricity costs and, perhaps, property taxes. Alvarado doesn't even cover City Council or planning and zoning meetings. On June 13, she reported that the Main Street improvement district director had been fired -- two months before -- but never did a follow-up.

To be fair, she has been chained to the mysterious investigative project for more than two years.

Like many reporters at The Record under the guidance of Editor Frank Scandale and Deirdre Sykes, the powerful head of the news assignment desk, Alvarado only does stories that come in neat packages, such as lawsuits or hearings.

When I worked there as a copy editor, I vetted a multipart investigative project led by reporter Jean Rimbach, who was also the lead reporter on this project before I left. Then, she was directly supervised by Sykes. If that's still the case in this interminable investigation, one wonders how the head assignment editor keeps her job.

Friday, October 23, 2009

'I'm not in this for the money'

When Stephen A. Borg took over as publisher of  The Record from his father, he called a meeting of the entire staff to introduce himself. No room in the four-story building on River Street in Hackensack was large enough, so it was standing room only when me and hundreds of others crammed ourselves into a second-floor space.

"I'm not in this for the money," said Borg, who was in his mid-30s. And then, in one of the most bizarre moments of my 29-year career at the newspaper, Borg projected a slide onto a screen to show us his home in Tenafly. It was an imposing mansion, painted white, with several columns in front.

I wondered what point he was trying to make. Was he so blinded by his privileged upbringing that he thought his home was modest, just like the ones many of his staff owned? I doubt that anyone else in that room in mid-2006, even top editors, owned a house as grandiose as young Borg's. I, for one, still lived in a cramped apartment on one of Englewood's noisiest streets.

Revealing personal details in a room full of poorly paid reporters is foolhardy. Soon, word circulated in the newsroom that Borg's house was worth nearly $2 million. But even that beautiful house wasn't good enough for Borg, his wife and children.

Many months later, Stephen Borg's mother called the head of The Record's photo department and asked him to take a photo of the young publisher's new house, a huge place with wings, also in Tenafly, so a painting could be made and placed over the fireplace.

Did Mrs. Borg know that Rich Gigli -- an assistant managing editor who ran the photo department and who had around 30 years' experience at The Record -- had been given his walking papers as part of a restructuring to cut costs?

When one photo staff member saw the photo, he speculated the new house cost $3 million to $4 million.

Borg grew up in a big house on the East Hill of Englewood, where his father, Malcolm A. Borg, still lives. Why did the younger Borg settle in Tenafly? Was he concerned about sending his young children to Englewood's segregated schools?

Printed in Rockaway, published where?

Although it's been several years since printing of  The Record was moved to Rockaway Township, Page 2 of the paper still lists 150 River St., Hackensack, N.J., as the daily's home, under a new motto: "The Trusted Local Source."

The giveaway is the telephone number with a 973 area code -- the new headquarters on Garret Mountain in Woodland Park, where top managers and editors, the legal staff and most of the reporters and copy editors were moved.

Elsewhere on Page 2, it says, "Published daily by North Jersey Media Group Inc. at 150 River St., Hackensack, N.J. 07601-7172" and "postage paid at Hackensack, N.J."

Abandoning River City

Several years ago, The Record slowly began moving out of Hackensack, the city where it was founded in 1895. First, it shifted the printing of the newspaper from River Street to a press building it owns in Rockaway Township, a 60-mile round-trip.

Then, top managers and editors began merging the staffs of The Record and its sister publication, the Herald News, another daily, assigning virtually all of them to a building on Garret Mountain, in Woodland Park; a newsroom in Rockaway and offices of the weekly newspapers published by the North Jersey Media Group (NJMG), owner of the two dailies.

But Malcolm A. Borg, the ailing chairman of NJMG, whose father and grandfather ran The Record before him, still keeps his office in the mostly empty, four-story brick building in Hackensack; he has to drive only 6 miles to reach his home on the East Hill of Englewood.

The daily and weekly newspapers are now being run from Woodland Park by his spoiled children, Jennifer A. Borg, general counsel and vice president of NJMG, and Stephen A. Borg, Record and Herald News publisher and NJMG president. 

Readers have never been told of the printing and staff moves.

Moving the printing of  The Record to Rockaway forced NJMG to give up one of  its biggest profit centers: printing other newspapers, including USA Today. 

But it allowed the company to lay off more than 50 press workers. 

It also ended a tradition of rushing the first edition up to the Hackensack newsroom, where copy and news editors could read the paper, find errors and fix them. Thus began The Record's precipitous slide in quality, which continues today.