Saturday, October 24, 2009

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.


  1. Well, I see you've found a venue for your journalistic pursuits. Nice work and thanks for your comments on my photos!

  2. You're welcome. I'm told my new blog is being read widely at The Record.


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