Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to bury the real news

Black man reading newspaper by candlelight Man...

The Record of Woodland Park has been defending the status quo for decades, especially when it comes to home rule -- the small-town, local-government system that gave us the highest property taxes in the nation. Of course, the newspaper is trying to hold onto its readers, most of whom live in predominantly white towns that will fight to the death to defend their neighborhood schools.

So what do the editors do with a new poll showing that "a majority of New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support merging their school districts and local governments with neighboring ones to lower ... record-high property taxes"?

Today, they shoved the story inside, to Page A-4, and wasted almost the entire front page on a huge holiday travel graphic and a second story on a possible gas-tax hike with a lead paragraph that is both poorly constructed and inaccurate.

Since Frank Scandale took over as editor, The Record has been blaming high property taxes on the healthy salaries won by police officers and teachers. Under the previous editor, Vivian Waixel, the local staff spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours putting together a series of stories dramatizing just how expensive all these small, municipal governments are -- then ran the stories under an apologetic editor's note assuring readers the newspaper wasn't going to try to change the system.

I wonder what the former Hackensack daily is going to do when Chris Christie takes office as governor? Faced with a projected $8 billion deficit, he has been making pointed comments on the urgent need for local-government consolidation. But Christie hasn't been getting much Page 1 play in The Record since he was elected. And consolidation proposals have been soundly rejected time and again in Bergen County.

The Page 1 story by Tom Davis on the possible federal gas-tax hike is cast negatively -- "drivers may have to pay more" -- and not positively: that it will improve mass transit and ease highway congestion. It seems the newspaper's two transportation writers, Davis and Karen Rouse, and its transportation columnist, Road Warrior John Cichowski, are anti-mass transit.

Before The Record moved its newsroom from Hackensack to Woodland Park, all three were too lazy to cross River Street to the bus transfer station and look at or even ride the decrepit NJ Transit buses patronized mostly by minorities -- a stark contrast to the shiny new buses purchased for commuters to Manhattan. Rouse, handpicked by Editor Scandale from his old paper in Denver, made an excuse week after week about why she couldn't take the time to ride the rickety, wheezing No. 780 bus between Englewood and Passaic.

That's in keeping with a long-standing ban on any stories reporting on the quality of bus and rail service in North Jersey. Nor have we seen any stories on some of the new NJ Transit buses that have begun appearing on local routes. I guess the agency hasn't put out a news release yet.

Who in the world is Al Frech of Wayne? A large portion of the editorial page (A-18) is devoted to his rant about health-care reform and an attack on Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., but Frech is the only one of the opinion writers today who is not identified. It just says "lives in Wayne," as if that confers expert status.

The Local section finally has some news from Teaneck and Hackensack, but is silent for another day about Englewood, Englewood Cliffs and Leonia, the beat of  hibernating reporter Giovanna Fabiano.

The Record's lazy editors love to run stories from other newspapers, such as the Miami Herald piece on Page F-4 about the new beaujolias wine from France. The price of a bottle from producer Georges Duboeuf is listed as $10. But you won't see anything about being able to find the same wine for under $8 in North Jersey.

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