Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More lazy journalism


The last five daily editions of  The Record contain a lot of dreck and  a lot of short-cut or lazy journalism, but there were signs of life among local news editors and reporters. Still, I didn't find any news about Hackensack, which the newspaper appears to have declared dead.

Today's front page is dominated by a headline, "Sports gear scam hits high schools,"  which reports a "massive financial fraud against high schools in New Jersey," including falsified helmet-safety tests and lavish gifts to school officials. I plowed through the page-and-a quarter continuation of the story without seeing any mention of whether the same company tested helmets for junior football players.

And the reporters never say why we didn't learn about this a year ago, when a company president pleaded guilty, despite the release then of a "startling document." I guess it wasn't startling enough to wake up editors and reporters asleep at their computers.

Governor-elect Chris Christie says state finances are even worse than he realized, but the story is relegated to Page A-4. Three corrections appear on A-2.

Giovanna Fabiano, the reporter who covers Englewood, Englewood Cliffs and Leonia, seems to have awoken out of a slumber, with five stories in five days. Today, she reports on a protest by Englewood teachers, one of the easiest stories a reporter can do. She must be waiting for a protest by drivers, before reporting on Englewood's Manhattan-like downtown traffic jams, or a protest by residents, before reporting on how many of them are awakened by gunshots from the open-air police firing range.

The Business section has a second story in four days about a Wyckoff store's jewelry giveaway -- much too promotional for my taste, especially when you consider none of the 30 bags were hidden in diverse communities.

Monday's front page was wasted on an elaborate package reporting that a convicted senator from Paramus was due to report to federal prison and a recap of nine other politicians who are behind bars. Do North Jersey readers need any reminders of how many corrupt politicians we're saddled with? Then, the paper actually sent one of its own photographers to Pennsylvania to get a photo of the senator, but you can hardly make him out through the SUV windshield. All that way, and no photo of the rug-less felon?

I was more interested in storm damage to the communities I've visited on the beloved Jersey Shore, but searched the Star-Ledger story on A-4 in vain for any meaningful detail.

An editorial on A-11 bemoaning the state's poor showing on carbon dioxide emissions, much of them from cars and trucks, only served to highlight how little reporting the former Hackenack daily does on the  quality of mass transit, including some of the decrepit buses serving minorities. Have any of the transportation reporters ever ridden a bus or train in the last 15 years and written about it? When he was transportation reporter, Assistant Assignment Editor Dan Sforza ignored the loud, screeching brakes and roaring engines of new NJ Transit cruiser buses -- and the impact they had on residents along Grand Avenue in Englewood and other routes --  preferring to write about "highways of the future."

The Local section Monday is dominated by a feel-good story from Paterson, which is getting far better coverage than Hackensack, perhaps because the newspaper moved its newsroom to Woodland Park many, many months ago. In the same way, New Street, which runs by 1 Garret Mountain Plaza, where most of the staff is  located, gets more ink than any street in Bergen County. Better Living reports on restaurants in the West Englewood section of Teaneck, finally shedding the bewildering "Progressive Dining" label of the past.

Page 1 on Sunday reports the outrageous pay of interim schools superintendents, another in a series of stories designed to push taxpayers' buttons. The newspaper lavishes hundreds of hours of staff time writing about symptoms of broken systems -- in this case, ruinously expensive home rule -- but refuses to use its editorial muscle to call for their abolishment.

Sunday's paper also reports Venetians staged a mock funeral for the city of canals, but I guess I missed the story reporting the death of  Hackensack. This paper also contains columns by Road Warrior John Cichowski and Mike Kelly, both of whom are so far over the hill, you can no longer see the hill. And to think the paper kept these turkeys, but silenced its only black columnist, its only Latino columnist and the only columnist writing about the heroics of  police officers, firefighters and EMTs.

In the Opinion section Sunday, the lead article on why Governor Corzine lost the election is from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Three letters to the editor inside the section expose the lies told by ex-Governor Christie Whitman in a column that ran Nov. 10 without an editor's note.

A 2010 Dine Out Guide came with The Record, but this special advertising section excludes any restaurant that didn't buy an ad in the 64-page booklet. An article in Better Living reports on holiday restaurant meals starting at $25 per person (or $24 at one expensive Greek place, if  you can manage to round up 25 people), but ignores cheaper alternatives, such as the sub-$20-per-person, multicourse meals and banquets at Lotus Cafe in Hackensack, including tax and tip.

The Travel section this past Sunday was a thin six pages, but contained a story about restaurants in Montreal, just a few weeks after one about restaurants in New Orleans, a welcome feature that has been all too rare in the past. I just wish Elisa Ung, the paper's restaurant reviewer, could have found healthier fare in Montreal, instead of stuffing her face with high-cholesterol food and high-calorie desserts.

Why did Saturday's paper lead with a story on how 9/11 victims are divided over trying the alleged mastermind in Manhattan? Isn't that a decision best left to prosecutors? We get more elaborate recipes from food editor Bill Pitcher, who must think we all love slaving over the stove for hours on end. One calls for 20 ingredients.

Why is a proposed expenditure by the Englewood City Council to refurbish a firetruck on the front of the Local section? Isn't there more important news than that? Inside the section is a preview of the teachers' protest the reporter covered Monday.

On Page 1 this past Friday,the newspaper highlights the need for campaign-financing reform for the umpteenth time, again without calling for an end to a system where only the wealthy can run for county or statewide office. I got a kick out of a letter to the editor on A-22 in which a Fort Lee man calls the Yankees a "bunch of overpaid prima donnas."

In Better Living, for the third week, there is no Starters column on a new restaurant. And as usual, the restaurant health inspections column is incomplete.

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