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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