Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's resolutions?

Citizens registered as an Independent, Democra...

On the last day of 2009, Page 1 of  The Record of Woodland Park focuses on politics in the Garden State and gives precious space to one of the biggest windbags around, former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, speaking about security lapses. On Page A-2, the former Hackensack daily continues its dishonesty by saying the paper is published at 150 River St., when it long has been printed in Rockaway Township and virtually all of its editorial staff  left River City this year.

Meanwhile, stories on the state's growing financial problems are played inside the paper. I can't remember when The Record has reminded readers of what a lousy job Kean did as governor, hiding a huge deficit from incoming Democrat Jim Florio.

The Local section finally has a story about Teaneck by Staff Writer Joseph Ax -- the community policing unit is being disbanded because of budget constraints. But the story is silent on whether the millions the self-insured township has had to pay to cover employee lawsuits could have saved the successful outreach effort.

The Englewood reporter, Giovanna Fabiano, was sent to cover a fatal fire in Ramsey, giving her an excuse for not having a story about her city, which has segregated elementary and middle schools; nightmarish downtown traffic and residents who awaken to gunshots from an open-air police firing range. There is no Hackensack story today.

I can only hope that the Borgs, who control North Jersey Media Group, and the lazy, incompetent editors of The Record get their heads out of their ample behinds and take a good look at what has happened in the past couple of years to a once-great suburban daily. Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who took over from father Malcolm A. Borg in 2006, seems intent only on personal enrichment at the expense of employees and retirees. "I'm not in this for the money," he told the assembled staff. What a joke.

I know he and sister Jennifer A. Borg are not journalists, but it might be time for them to seriously assess the job being done by the editors, including Frank Scandale, Frank Burgos, Deirdre Sykes, Tim Nostrand, Doug Clancy, Jim McGarvey, Liz Houlton, Barbara Jaeger, Bill Pitcher, Alfred Doblin and such sub-editors as Richard Whitby and Dan Sforza, and clean house. The paper doesn't need any of them to do its job of chronicling life in North Jersey, especially restoring the focus on Bergen County.

And I hope I see assignment editors do less hand-holding of reporters and give them more free rein to cover stories they feel are important.

Click on the link below for some of the low-lights of 2009

Decade in review: Our paper changed, 12/27/09
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ignoring local news

The Star-LedgerImage via Wikipedia

The Record of Woodland Park continues today to give front-page play to the Monmouth County father whose 9-year-old son has been returned to him from Brazil, while ignoring the Hasbrouck Heights dad whose holidays were ruined, because his 9-year-old daughter remains in Spain.

The Monmouth County story is being covered by The Star-Ledger, and that may be why The Record continues running it as part of a cooperative news-gathering agreement with the Newark paper. This means less work for Record reporters and their lazy, incompetent editors, and less local news for Record readers, who have been deluged with Star-Ledger stories of questionable relevance to their lives -- many of them mere low-quality filler.

Staff Writer Elizabeth Llorente has an interesting story on Page 1 about immigrant students and what schools in Paterson and Hackensack are doing to help them.

But if you are looking for more news about Hackensack, where the paper was founded in 1895, the only coverage you'll find is another piece on the turmoil in the Hackensack Police Department over disciplinary charges against officers who have sued the chief. I believe this is the first byline for Monsy Alvarado since Dec. 16.

Alvarado, who is assigned to cover Hackensack, has written many stories about the police department since June, but has ignored most other news in River City. She is competing with Giovanna Fabiano and Joe Ax, the reporters assigned to two other core Bergen towns, Englewood and Teaneck, to see who can do the least work and get away with it. The last Teaneck story appeared on Dec. 17, the last Englewood piece on Dec. 20 (not counting police or fire news written by other staffers). Unfortunately, their assignment editors, including Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes, expect no more of Alvarado, Fabiano, Ax and many other municipal reporters.

Frugal Staff Writer Kevin DeMarrais has a rundown on the Business front of New Year's packages in North Jersey starting at about $50 per person, but you can't rely on him to find a real bargain, such as the multi-course dinners for four, six or eight people at Lotus Cafe, a popular BYO Chinese restaurant in Hackensack, that cost about $20 per person or less, including tax and tip. Six of us (plus an infant) were served eight delicious courses there last night, including prawns, filet of sole, duck, a chicken casserole and dessert.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What The Record does best

The Bergen County courthouse in Bergen County,...Image via Wikipedia

The Record of Woodland Park today is both an example of what the former Hackensack daily does best and what it does badly.

For a change on Page 1, there is an old-fashioned, hard-hitting expose about a Bergen County loan program that lured some towns into paying high fees and interest -- all in the service of another pay-to-play scheme. One bank overcharged Rutherford $715,000. Hackensack and Rutherford paid more than $200,000 in "unnecessary interest and fees." The county agency that runs the program "put money in the pockets of big campaign donors."

Though this investigative piece is laudable, it only serves to remind readers of how the paper stops short of condemning a home-rule system that seems to foster such malfeasance, and how a much longer, far more expensive investigation into moonlighting by former county Chief of Detectives Michael Mordaga appeared to be a vendetta, not real news, judging by the single story published this month.

Now to what the paper does badly. On A-4 today, readers get three filler stories from The Star-Ledger shoved down their throats -- on an ex-Bridgewater judge, a quake in Dover and a fire in Belleville -- all out of or on the edge of The Record's circulation area. There is yet another heart-tugging story about a Monmouth County custody case, but not a word on an equally compelling Bergen County case (photo above shows courthouse).

In the Local section, where readers used to find municipal and education news about Hackensack, Teaneck and Englewood on a regular basis, there are eight -- eight -- crime, court, accident or fire stories or photos. This kind of coverage is now considered "local news."

Editor's note: In the past several days, not a single current or former employee of The Record has come to the defense of the paper, in contrast to the vocal complaints I heard in the earlier days of "Eye on The Record." Again, you can make your views known by clicking on "comments" at the end of this post, and you can do so anonymously.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Sports trumps the environment

PASADENA, CA - APRIL 22:  Cashier Margaret Car...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I would have loved to be in the news meeting yesterday when the weekend editors at The Record of Woodland Park decided how to play two major stories -- one about sports, the other about the environment.

I don't imagine two of the major jocks who run the former Hackensack daily -- Publisher Stephen A. Borg and Editor Frank "The Fish Stinks from the Head Down" Sacandale -- were working on a major holiday weekend. (I always wondered when Borg still had his office in the old Hackensack newsroom whether he attended the afternoon news meeting and whether he and Scandale slapped each other on the ass after deciding to run sports on the front?)

Borg may have been relaxing at his $3.65 million estate in Tenafly and Scandale at his Glen Rock home on Sunday, but it's well-known they have given front page play to inconsequential sports stories for years, so, of course, the beer and gas guzzlers who attended the last game at Giants Stadium went on Page 1 and the growing number of people who bring reusable bags when they go food shopping was relegated to the front of the Local section.

What do you expect from a paper with so-called environmental reporters like Scott Fallon who can write a story about recycling electronics and omit Hackensack's pioneering program among municipalities? And the reporter on the reusable bag story, Andrea Alexander, should have listed more North Jersey stores besides Whole Foods that give shoppers a refund for reusable bags and those -- like Trader Joe's and Fairway Market -- that don't give anything back. Does she know that H Mart, the Korean supermarket chain, refunds 20 cents for each reusable bag?

Dd anybody get through Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin's column about MTV's "Jersey Shore" on Page A-11? Does anybody edit this struggling writer? Can you make sense of the following sentence?
"I had the only car, and a bunch us would drive to points younger after our show."
 I stopped reading there. And can you believe he is so prissy, he avoids using the "vulgar Italian word for prostitutes"?

Did you see Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung's article in Better Living? Does Ung and food editor Bill Pitcher really believe readers are going to rush to their stoves to prepare four long, elaborate recipes for "standout" restaurant dishes she ate on the paper's dime? In fact, what many readers want is more information about how restaurant food is raised or grown and less about her obsession for desserts and her fawning over chefs.

If you disagree with anything here, please click "comments" at the end of this post and unburden yourself. You can even do so anonymously.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Decade in review: Our paper changed

Pulaski Skyway, Spanning Passaic & Hackensack ...Image via Wikipedia

Don't let today's decade-in-review edition of The Record of Woodland Park fool you about changes in North Jersey. You won't read a word about how the former Hackensack daily began a slow decline under the leadership of  a dictatorial editor who downplayed the importance of local news and two greedy Borg siblings who backed him.

But I want to interrupt this condemnation to praise Road Warrior John "Drivers' Best Friend" Cichowski for finally paying some attention to bus riders in today's column on the Local front, although the headline overstates the case. Now, he should ride one of the creaking local buses, such as the No. 780 between Englewood and the city of Passaic, to see a real horror show.

The lazy, incompetent editors assigned Staff Writer Mike Kelly to write the decade in review on Page 1. "It's been a weary and worrisome 10 years," he writes. Indeed, I can say the same for his columns. Kelly writes about bricks and mortar, and infrastructure, and touches oh-so-briefly on changes in the media, including declining newspaper readership, but is silent in those two bare paragraphs about The Record.

You won't find anything in his boring piece -- or the reviews on the Local front and elsewhere -- about how we've changed as a people or how the election of our first black president unleashed racism and opponents so desperate to smear him they invoked the Holocaust or simply told lies -- aided and abetted by the media.

Editor Frank "The Fish Stinks from the Head Down" Scandale came to The Record at the beginning of the decade and -- faced with his biggest story ever, 9/11 -- showed a colossal lack of news judgment by running Tom Franklin's incredible flag-raising photo on a back page. Then, in response to falling readership, he commissioned coverage aimed at 20-year-olds, and later banned one-town stories from the front page.

After the final weekday news meeting, Scandale used to send one of his subordinates over to the news copy desk where I worked to tell us what words he wanted on the front page and what words he didn't want there ("Frank wants this..., Frank doesn't want that...") One day, Chris Maurus, then the Page 1 editor, announced that Frank didn't want any mention of the Pulaski Skyway (photo) in a front-page story about crumbling infrastructure. Why?  He had never used it and he didn't think our readers knew where it was.

In 2006, Stephen A. Borg took over running the dailies from his publisher father, repudiated Scandale's 20-year-old feature coverage and nearly everything else Scandale did, yet promoted the editor to vice president. Borg, tiring of his $2 million house in Tenafly, obtained a $3.65 million mortgage from North Jersey Media Group so he could trade up to an estate in the same town.

He and his big sister, Jennifer A. Borg, NJMG vice president and general counsel,  invested money in an Englewood wine bar, a curious move for the children of a reformed alcoholic, and had a story about the place published in The Record's feature pages.

With more than $3.5 million tied up in Stephen's house, NJMG's two daily papers -- The Record and Herald News -- underwent a restructuring in 2008 and the smaller staffs were crammed into a newsroom in Woodland Park, virtually completing the company's abandonment  of Hackensack that began with the move of all printing to Rockaway Township. That forced NJMG to give up its hugely profitable commercial printing operation.

At the same time, news coverage of the city where The Record was founded in 1895 and had prospered for more than 110 years declined drastically. This year, more than a month passed on two occasions without a story about Hackensack in the former Bergen Record.

Around the time of the restructuring, Jennifer Borg capped severance at 12 weeks' salary, because payments to veterans who had left were adversely impacting the bottom line. This year, NJMG retirees were informed of cuts in their medical benefits.

Through 2007, 2008 and most of 2009, hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff salaries were squandered on an investigation of a single law enforcement official led by editor Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes, head of the assignment desk. A single story was published Dec. 16 on the Local front, and it certainly was laughable.

The "what made news" review on the Local front today touches on 36 towns -- compared to about 90 in The Record's circulation area. You want to laugh? Read the items about Hackensack and Englewood. Yet more than half of L-7 is devoted to a model train club in Paterson.

See anything good in the paper? Click on "comments" at the end of this post and let the world know.

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Problems with delivery

For the third day in a row, the dysfunctional circulation department at The Record of Woodland Park has reared its ugly head.

Friday's paper was missing the Better Living entertainment tabloid. Despite the night-long downpour, Saturday's paper was wet, because it had been delivered in a single, open plastic bag. I haven't received Sunday's paper yet. I called circulation and a message said delivery will be late, because of an "unforeseen problem."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

More disappointment

An example of a breaking news intro graphicImage via Wikipedia

I know only a skeleton staff worked on Christmas Day at The Record of Woodland Park, so it shouldn't be a surprise that today's paper is so dreadful.

True, there is breaking national news at the top of Page 1, but most of the rest of the page is devoted to a hotel with a suite for children with autism, one in a long, occasional series of stories in recent years about the disability. Have you seen equivalent, front page coverage in The Record of Alzheimer's disease or whether there are programs to help older drivers, whose fatal accident photos appear regularly in the paper?

There is yet another story about the Monmouth County dad who just brought his 9-year-old son back from Brazil, but nothing but a stale quote  from the judge about the Hasbrouck Heights father whose 9-year-old daughter remains in Spain.

Notice how many stories in the A-section and Local section are written by Star-Ledger reporters, who turn out some of the longest, most boring filler pieces I have ever seen, including the endless tale on A-4 about a worker inside the Lincoln Tunnel. This cooperative news gathering agreement really screws Record readers.

In the 16-page Local section, exactly five stories are written by Record staffers.

Omission of the week: Veteran reporter Scott Fallon, in a Friday story about where to recycle your computer, TV and other electronics, omits mention of  Hackensack's program to accept them, as well as batteries, bulbs and other items once taken only by county agencies. The city's program is more than a year old.

For the second day yesterday, no former or current staffer -- or anyone else -- has come to the defense of the former Hackensack daily's news, sports or feature coverage. Again, you can comment anonymously by simply clicking on "comments" at the end of this post.
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Friday, December 25, 2009

A deafening silence

Man with low slung pants getting on to a bus!

No reader of "Eye on The Record" responded to my invitation yesterday to praise "good journalism" in that day's newspaper, in contrast to my continued harping on The Record of Woodland Park's many flaws. I guess staffers and former staffers were too busy doing their last minute Christmas shopping or searching for just the right ingredient for dinner today.

Well, for a change, I liked the lead story on the front today, about the difficulty Jersey National Guardsmen are having readjusting to civilian life after nine months in Iraq, and I was even happier to see it was written by reporter William Lamb, not Michael Kelly, who was sent to the war zone to write about the Teaneck-based unit, while actual coverage of Teaneck itself was spotty at best.

But do we need yet another Page 1 story about the roadblocks facing passage of health-care reform? Is there any sane person who doesn't want to see it passed, especially in view of how the media gave so much coverage to desperate opponents who invoked the Holocaust? Is this real conflict or more media-manufactured conflict to sell papers?

Today also brings still more coverage of the Monmouth County dad who brought his 9-year-old son son back from Brazil, while there is no story or editorial about the Bergen County custody battle that saw a Spanish woman sentenced to 14 years in jail this week. That's likely because the Monmouth case is being covered by The Star-Ledger, which shares stories with The Record as a cost-saving measure -- even though many of them don't have a North Jersey focus. It's just another way the former Hackensack daily cheats readers.

I got such a hoot out of  the Page A-21 column by Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin, who apparently is one of the few staffers who takes mass transit. He says rail commuters are "treated like leftover food." (He's such a clunky writer and apparently gets no editing. That's a ridiculous comparison. I love my homemade leftovers.) But he's on the mark when he says "bus commuters are treated like garbage," something I used to say when I urged reporters like Karen Rouse to ride the local buses and report on the quality of service.

Why is this so funny? It's because his own colleagues -- two lazy transportation reporters, a lazy transportation columnist and a lazy, incompetent assignment editor who once covered transportation -- have for years ignored rail and bus riders. Am I the only one who remembers how Assignment Editor Dan Sforza, when he was a reporter, wrote major pieces about "highways of the future," while refusing to look into new but defective NJ Transit cruiser buses with screeching rear brakes and roaring engines that drove people who lived along the routes crazy?

Look at the pedestrian coverage now of transportation reporters Tom Davis and Rouse, who also ignore rail and bus riders, or at Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski, best friend to drivers. All are enemies of mass transit -- as the recent anti-light rail story crafted by Davis and Sforza clearly shows.

The Local section today has a story about another lawsuit filed by Hackensack police officers against the chief -- an ongoing saga in the paper. Does anyone wonder why The Record, which was founded in Hackensack in 1895 and prospered here for more than 110 years, has never in memory done a series of stories on how the Zisa family apparently controls the city, which some refer to as "Zisaville"?

The Better Living tabloid was missing from my paper today, but the "automated system" could not handle my request for a replacement. I get such great home-delivery service.

My invitation to "Eye on The Record" readers stands: If you see something good in the paper, please click on "comments" at the end of this post and let the world know.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

You tell me what's good

George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson ...Image via Wikipedia

Critics of "Eye on The Record" complain I rarely or never say anything good about The Record of Woodland Park. Well, why don't you tell me about the good journalism you see in today's paper. Click on the "comments" at the end of the post and you can praise the paper to the sky, anonymously, if you prefer.

Does anything on the front page today interest you? What about the speculative story about New Jersey losing federal aid and a congressman or woman, because of slow population growth? Or the other Page 1 stories, one about Hackensack University Medical Center's push to reopen Pascack Valley Hospital or fraud against a Paterson church? Is there anything inside the paper that should have been played on the front?

On Page A-8, Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin or another writer blesses the decision to return a 9-year-old boy in Brazil to his American father, but a far more compelling custody battle is reported on the Local section front, where a judge imposes a 14-year jail sentence on the Spanish mother of a 9-year-old girl. Why the Brazil case? Should we expect another editorial tomorrow? Should the parents or foreign family involved -- both sides -- be taken to task for their hardened positions? Or is the American parent always right, as this editorial seems to say?

Besides the sentencing of the Spanish mother, there are eight court, crime or accident stories, or related stories, in the Local section, but no municipal or development news about Hackensack, Teaneck, Englewood, Ridgewood or a host of other towns the paper is supposed to cover.

What's good today about the Business section, which refuses to document the waste, and the adverse impact on both the environment and commercial airlines of the private jet fleets at Teterboro Airport? Or the quality of  life of residents of Hackensack and other towns under its noisy flight paths?  What's good about the Sports section today? What's good about Better Living today?

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009


This is a photo I took myself of the Church On...Image via Wikipedia

In my previous post, I incorrectly attributed the Hackensack story that leads the Local section today to Monsy Alvarado, the woman assigned to cover River City. In fact, it was reported and written by Shawn Boburg, her cellmate on the nearly three-year probe of  former lawman Michael Mordaga (see post, "This will come back to haunt us, 12/23/09"). Sorry. I just didn't look at the byline.

On Tuesday, an Englewood story was reported and written by Nick Clunn, who is not the usual reporter covering that city. Unfortunately, Clunn forgot to report a crucial detail about the middle school there -- that it's segregated. In Boburg's story, the address of the building being discussed is omitted.
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This will come back to haunt us

View of Paterson New Jersey 1880.

The inconsistent news treatment of the state's growing budget deficit in The Record of Woodland Park will haunt taxpayers in 2010, because editors desperate for more sensational coverage likely don't have readers' best interests at heart.

The lead headline in the former Hackensack daily today says, "More budget cuts on way" -- the first time in a while state finances have made the front page. The deepening deficit was apparent right after Chris Christie was elected in early November, but the story has jumped onto and off of Page 1 since then, usually displaced by crime news, pathos and endless stories about the new Meadowlands sports stadium.

Today, a good third of A-1 and two-thirds of an inside page are devoted to a 1973 murder case and the spot in a New York State park where the body of a 7-year-old girl was found. Earlier this year, there were a series of stories about the convicted murderer's latest parole bid. Isn't there any other "news" worthy of Page 1 today? Couldn't this story have been done with a single photograph inside the Local section? What's the point of revisiting this case?

The rest of A-1 is given to Paterson offering free gun locks to avoid a repeat of the slaying of a 5-year-old boy by a 6-year-old who found an illegal handgun in his home.

In the Local section, finally, there is a Hackensack story for a change by Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado, who now apparently  is free of  the nearly three-year, failed investigation of moonlighting by Michael Mordaga, the former chief of county detectives. It seems the city is buying a building for a new arts center. Hooray. Desperate for local news, an Englewood chimney fire that didn't cause any injuries gets big play. Don't the lazy, incompetent assignment editors know readers can see right through this?

Maybe John Cichowski is burnt out by having to write three columns a week, plus covering transportation news on occasion. What else can you conclude from his Road Warrior column today, chastising readers yet again over clearing snow from the roofs of their vehicles. John, you are a nice guy and journalist, but please get out of that Garret Mountain newsroom you have made your second home and ride some trains and buses to familiarize yourself with the woes of commuters who leave their cars at home, if they even own one.

I winced at the headline on Page F-3 in Better Living over a story about three veteran French chefs in Bergen County. I'm sure these accomplished seniors, who are in their 60s, love being called a "dying breed."

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crime news is all we've got

Location of Hackensack within Bergen County, N...Image via Wikipedia

The fatal shooting of a 5-year-old Paterson boy by a 6-year-old is certainly serious, as is a mother strangling her newborn. But they became front page news in The Record of Woodland Park today because the lazy, incompetent editors hope these headlines will sell papers, something the former Hackensack daily has had trouble doing for many years, and because they simply had no better stories for Page 1.

Maybe it was too cold for the reporters to leave their Garret Mountain newsroom. A really large photo of the Wayne mom flanked by her high-priced lawyers -- yes, two lawyers -- at her arraignment is such an obvious desperation move to fill up what once was The Record's premiere page. Now, anything goes.

The tabloid feel of today's paper continues in the Local section, where the full story of the mom's not guilty plea is the lead story at the top of the first page. Below it, half of L-1 is taken up by a report that Hispanics allege an assault at Englewood's middle school was racially motivated.

I would hope this attack would focus attention on segregation in that city's middle and elementary schools -- a subject the paper has gone out of its way to avoid for years, while reporting in detail efforts to integrate the high school. In fact, Staff Writer Nick Clunn, who is not the regular Englewood reporter, completely omits any mention the middle school is segregated. Shame on Clunn, shame on his editor.

A full page and a half of the eight-page Local Section is filled with Paterson or Passaic County news, including a fatal fire with two enormous photos showing the aftermath. The story has absolutely no information about the victim, except her sex. Don't look for any municipal, development, education or quality of life news about Hackensack (map), Teaneck or Englewood, despite their diversity.

In recent months, I have read two detailed stories about Ridgewood's downtown and another about Westwood, but none about these three core Bergen County communities, where a large number of the paper's readers live. Did The Record's pullout from Hackensack hurt Main Street merchants? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Mixed signals


Is there an infrastructure story The Record of Woodland Park doesn't love to splash across the front page? The one about cell towers today is so upbeat and so lavishly illustrated I almost forgot that most of them have long been considered ugly and possibly dangerous in terms of their impact on nearby residents' health.

I almost forgot, that is, until I saw the editorial on Page A-13 today about a cell tower that some Little Falls residents are calling a monstrosity. So how did cell towers suddenly become a prudent and financially sound addition to the municipal landscape or as the headline says, "Towns see beauty in cell towers"? I guess news side was scrambling for a Page 1 story today and had nothing else but this weak effort from Staff Writer Allison Pries. But the people who write the editorials and the residents of Little Falls did their own thing. How embarrassing, especially since Pries' story (deliberately?) omits any mention of Little Falls.

Another embarrassment also appears on Page 1 today, the lead brief about a student assaulted at the middle school in Englewood, with the "full story" appearing on the front of the Local section. Is this the only way the segregated middle and elementary schools in that city can get any attention from the former Hackensack daily? Has the paper's lazy and incompetent editors ever assigned a reporter to detail what efforts are being made to integrate those schools?

Don't look for any real news today from Teaneck, Englewood or Hackensack, where the paper was founded in 1895 and prospered for more than 110 years until the Borg family, in a bid to preserve their personal wealth, moved printing of the paper and its reduced staff out of River City.

In Better Living, the puzzling phrase "Progressive Dining" is back on a food story about Rutherford's Park Avenue. Newspapers call this a "bug," but it was missing from the last story in this "occasional series" by Staff Writer Elisa Ung. She has never explained what is "progressive" about gorging herself at five or six places in one evening.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not much to read today

New Jersey TransitImage via Wikipedia

There's certainly nothing special about The Record of Woodland Park on this Sunday, especially how North Jersey gets short shrift in coverage of the snowstorm provided by the Star-Ledger. This saves the paper money, but cheats readers.

The "highlight" of the Local section is a pissing match between outgoing Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes and the city attorney on the legality of a Wildes-appointed commission. The real story is that many city residents regret voting for this relentless self-promoter -- whose middle name is "Pay to Play" -- and can't wait for him to leave office at the end of the year. Is reporter Giovanna Fabiano working on that?

Road Warrior John Cichowski has yet another column on the condition of North Jersey roads, while stubbornly refusing to get off his duff and ride one of the contraptions that NJ Transit is passing off as a local bus. His many columns about drivers and his repeated refusal in the last six years to give a voice to bus riders -- largely blacks and Hispanics who can't afford cars -- is tantamount to racism.

You won't find any Hackensack news in the former Hackensack daily today.

But you shouldn't miss the column on this year's hits and misses by Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung. In the second paragraph, this naive reporter repeats El Sol de Cuba's ridiculous assertion that its founding owner conceived many of the original recipes "in a Cuban prison and labor camp" during the Revolution. How likely is it that anything resembling food was served to prisoners, many of whom were excecuted?

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where was the editor?

Green and red salsa in molcajetes.

When you read a ridiculous Page 1 story like the anti-mass transit piece today, you have to ask, Where was the editor?

Of course, I'm referring to the reporter's assignment editor, who is in on a story from the time it is conceptualized to the final editing before it goes over to the news copy desk for damage control and headlines with "mustard" on them, as Editor Frank "The Fish Stinks from the Head Down" Scandale is fond of saying. (I always wondered why he didn't ask for headlines with salsa [photo] on them? He's such a dull, uninspiring guy.)

Tom Davis' editor is Dan Sforza, a former reporter whose own mediocre job on the transportation beat is responsible for the low quality of reporting and writing we have seen from Davis for years. Just look at the lead paragraph of today's story:

Each community is known for its picturesque downtown and walkable streets that draw people away from the noise, crime and traffic of larger cities.
What planet is Davis and Sforza writing about? Englewood is supposed to provide relief from "noise, crime and traffic?" How much time has the reporter spent there? Has he heard the gunshots from the open-air police firing range? Did he miss the noisy, polluting freight trains that rumble through town frequently, causing traffic mayhem? Doesn't he read all the crime news in the paper day after day that portray North Jersey as a hotbed of criminal activity? What does this lead paragraph have to do with the reality of the suburbs we live in? And what does it have to do with a proposed light-rail system?

Unfortunately, the copy desks at The Record has been handcuffed for years. The news and feature copy editors are encouraged to write snappy headlines, so much so some of them have to resort to writing misleading heads, such as "The dog ate my turkey" and the one in the Business section the other day about New Jersey companies "taking flight." But they are discouraged from challenging poor writing and reporting, and in general, warned against changing copy without approval from the editor who screwed it up in the first place. The copy editors' supervisors long ago dropped quality concerns, and just shovel the shit as fast as they can.

Look at the sub-headline on the light-rail story:

Critics say light rail will bring
host of troubles to their towns
Yet, the story never says the "host of troubles" are the same problems the towns have grappled with for decades from the freight railroad running through the middle of their communities or that the light rail will actually improve the environment with much less noise and zero emissions.

You have to wonder at the motives of Davis and Sforza for such a distorted picture.

"The dividing line" main head over the story could just as well refer to the line between good and bad journalism, and we know which side The Record, Davis and Sforza are on.

See previous post:  
Anti-mass transit tirade, 12/19/09

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Anti-mass transit tirade

Jersey City - Hudson-Bergen Light Rail

Especially in this economy, newspapers like The Record of Woodland Park love the revenue they get from automobile advertising. But The Record goes further, employing reporters who write endlessly about the woes drivers face on the road and at the motor vehicle agency, but ignore the low quality of most bus and rail service.

In congested North Jersey, the former Hackensack daily stubbornly refuses to recognize that mass transit -- not the automobile -- holds the key to residents' future mobility. So here comes so-called transportation reporter Tom Davis today with a Page 1 tirade against the proposed light-rail line that will connect Tenafly, Englewood and other communities to Hudson River ferries and PATH trains. They haven't had passenger rail service since the 1960s.

If you read this lavishly illustrated story carefully, you'll notice how much positive information is missing and how the reporter quotes  only a few people's fears about noise, pollution and traffic jams -- conditions that have existed for decades from busy freight-railroad traffic along the very same Northern Branch. This reporter is not much of a journalist.

One crucial detail Davis is careful to omit to make his anti-mass transit case is that trolley-like, electric-driven light rail will be far quieter than the polluting diesel locomotives originally proposed, as well as more efficient and user-friendly. Plus, systems like it will help cut our dependence on foreign oil. Have you ever heard about how General Motors bought up trolley lines in major cities and closed them down to juice the sales of automobiles?

The first critic the reporter quotes is a man who only occasionally commutes into the city. The second critic is a bus patron. The third is Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, a relentless self-promoter and immigration lawyer, who says people are concerned about runoff from cars left in parking lots all day. What about runoff from all the cars in the huge parking lot between Palisade Avenue and the old Englewood railroad station?  Why hasn't he ever expressed concern about runoff before?

Davis has been a transportation reporter for many years, but he has refused to expose the incredible noise, pollution and waste of fuel  from all the moguls, fat cats and hip-hop stars flying their multimillion-dollar private jets into and out of Teterboro Airport.

You won't find any education, development, municipal or quality of life news about Hackensack or Teaneck in the paper today -- none was reported -- but you'll find about 10 court, crime and traffic mishap stories, plus two more about cops. Giovanna Fabiano, the Englewood reporter, comes up with a story about security alarm fines upsetting residents and business owners. She continues to ignore downtown traffic jams, an open-air police firing range and the segregated elementary and middle schools, though.

Northern Branch light-rail Web site
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Little more than a tabloid

American Tabloid book coverImage via Wikipedia

The Record of Woodland Park gives off a tabloid vibe today. It's filled with crime, court or traffic accident news, including the lead story on the front page. Half  of Page 1 is filled with a sports stadium story -- again. But if you are looking for municipal, development or quality of life news from Hackensack, Englewood or many other towns in North Jersey, you'll be disappointed -- for yet another day.

In the Local section, there are no fewer than 10 court, crime or  accident stories. Eleven, if you count John Cichowski's Road Warrior column, which gives royal treatment to the traffic-violation woes of one driver. Doesn't he have anything better to write about?

Teaneck reporter Joe Ax attended the first public hearing on a Queen Anne Road home where Jewish services have been held for about two years. Neighbors are fighting the synagogue, which didn't apply for variances. Shouldn't the township be faulted for allowing worship there?

This reminds me of the wealthy neighbors who opposed a synagogue on Walnut Street in Englewood, including Malcolm A. Borg, the powerful chairman of North Jersey Media Group, which publishes The Record. Borg and his East Hill neighbors fought the congregation's expansion, and Borg even used Bruce Rosen, a lawyer who does a lot of work for NJMG, to represent opponents. The initial stories acknowledged Borg's role, but later reports by then-Staff Writer Maya Kremen omitted any mention of Borg or of Rosen's affiliation.

In Better Living, Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung reports on a mediocre Indian restaurant in Fort Lee, yet describes it as "one of the great institutions of the North Jersey dining scene," presumably because it has been open 30 years. She might have been better off reviewing one of  the Indian restaurants on Main Street in Hackensack or strolling along Main Street and stuffing her face at five or six places in one evening for a report she once called "Progressive Dining."

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where are the people?

Day after day, the voices of residents are missing from The Record of Woodland Park. The paper is one of the few in recent decades that never adopted a time-tested journalistic form, used by other papers big and small, called "The Talk of the Town."

Sure, you'll see gadflies quoted or residents at a protest or public hearing on a quality-of-life issue that some crummy town has allowed to fester for decades, such as the closed Pompton Lakes munitions plant all over the front page yesterday. But where are the voices of the rest of us?

We read endless stories about infrastructure, such as the road repair "expose" on Page 1 today, while the voices of the poor schmucks who have to ride NJ Transit's decrepit local buses are ignored. A school official quits and it leads the Local section or a renovated borough hall is finished and the story is lavish and illustrated (both on L-1 today). But what are the people in the coffee shop saying?

Look at the three Teaneck stories that ran today and yesterday. A public hearing finally is being held on a synagogue that has held services for about two years. Two years? The other stories, which ran today, are about insurance against lawsuits and a grant to hire firefighters -- more in the mind-numbing stream of bureaucratic coverage.

If every new municipal reporter at The Record did a "Talk of the Town" -- interviewing residents at the Starbucks, supermarket and elsewhere -- they would get an instant education. They'd learn about quality of life issues and something about how well or how poorly their town is being run. It would be useful for these columns to appear at least once a year for each town. Of course, that's a lot harder than strolling over to the fax machine in the Woodland Park newsroom to fetch a press release.

I wonder what residents of Englewood have to say about the nightmarish downtown traffic -- aggravated by police foot-dragging on installing turn lanes at congested intersections. I wonder what the residents who live across the street from an open-air police firing range have to say about hearing gunshots and shotgun blasts as early as 8 a.m.?

A Record reporter named Dena Yellin did a round-up of police firing ranges some time ago, but omitted the Englewood range. This is the kind of "regional" story that has largely replaced coverage of individual towns.

Christina Joseph, who assigned the story to her, sent it along to the news copy desk without noticing the omission, even though Joseph had covered Englewood as a reporter before she was promoted. The anonymous news copy editor apparently knew nothing about  Englewood, so the story ran as is -- another slap in the face to people who live there. Isn't that pathetic? Especially from a paper that once prided itself on local coverage.

If you are going to do a "Talk of the Town," it will require good, old-fashioned legwork. For a reporter, there is no substitute for going and seeing for yourself. Reject the advice of your lazy, incompetent editor to do stories by phone.

I'm sure residents of the high-rises in Hackensack have a lot to say about the business jets screaming overhead on the way to Teterboro Airport. Some are so frightened by how close these fat cats' planes come, they don't use their terraces in good weather. Would a higher approach altitude for these jets give high-rise dwellers and their neighbors relief from the noise? Does Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado care? Does her editor care?  Does The Record care?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Way too little, way too late

Hackensack University Medical CenterImage via Wikipedia

Three reporters for The Record spent the better part of three years "investigating" a law enforcement official -- under the supervision of one of the top editors in the newsroom -- and the lame results were put on line Tuesday night and printed today on the front of the Local section. Only a few promotional paragraphs appeared on the front page and that speaks volumes about the failure of the project.

After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff salaries and crippling news coverage of  Hackensack and other towns, it appears the newspaper had to resort to guilt by association to publish anything at all.

And despite all that time and effort, the lazy, incompetent editor and the trio of hapless reporters were unable to report how much Michael Mordaga earned from his alleged conflict of interest involving Hackensack University Medical Center.

The former Hackensack daily also doesn't explain why, if the Mordaga-hopsital relationship ended in February 2007, as it reports, it took all this time to print the story.

What does this say about the abilities of the lead reporter on the investigation -- Jean Rimbach -- and the two municipal reporters pulled off their beats for months at a time to assist her -- Shawn Boburg and Monsy Alvarado, who ignored covering  Hackensack  -- or the judgment of their editor, Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes?

The investigation marks another low for The Record, which is careful to avoid mentioning its own conflict involving the Hackensack medical center.  

Jennifer A. Borg, the daughter of the paper's multimillionaire owner, sat on the hospital board at the same time as the paper made hundreds of thousands of dollars from selling advertising to HUMC. (In fact, the online version of the Mordaga story appeared on under the hospital's banner advertisement. That ad was taken down later today.) You'd think Borg, a lawyer who is vice president and general counsel of North Jersey Media Group, would be more familiar with the nuances of ethical conflicts than Mordaga, who was chief of detectives in the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

You have to read the continuation of the story today on Page L-6 to find out Mordaga "has not been accused of any impropriety."  Plus, there is absolutely no suggestion that his private consultancy at the hospital affected in any way the prosecutor's criminal investigations.

In fact, the paper is so desperate to nail  Mordaga, the reporters have to dredge up the case against former state Sen. Joseph Coniglio, who is serving a prison sentence for accepting $100,000 in consulting fees for steering state grants to the hospital. The hospital apparently is the only connection between the two men.

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Story idea for the Teaneck reporter

Teaneck Municipal BuildingImage via Wikipedia

My question in Tuesday's "Eye on The Record" post about whether Teaneck was insured for millions of dollars in legal settlements, awards and fees was answered by "Margot." She also suggested that reporter Joe Ax, who covers the township for The Record, do a follow-up. Here are her comments:

I can answer one question, raised in Paragraph 5 above [in the post, "What a swell guy he is, 12/15/09"]: No. Teaneck has not had any insurance to cover these lawsuits. Some time in the past, the Township Council decided, in it's infinite wisdom, to save money by "self-insuring." At more or less the same time, the council determined that it should fight any suits, without regard for their merits, in order to discourage other suits. Now the council people tell us they would like to purchase insurance but, naturally, we are too high risk to purchase it affordably. I think there is definitely a story for Mr. Ax here: Who were these council members who proposed these disastrously short-sighted policies, and what role might they continue to play in shaping township decisions through current council members who have enjoyed their political patronage in the past 2-3 council terms?
Sounds like an excellent idea for a story. Let's hope this comes to the attention of Ax, whose coverage of Teaneck appears to have been flagging of late.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What a swell guy he is

Slacker vandalism?

Is the swearing in of the U.S. attorney for New Jersey worth nearly half of the front page in The Record of Woodland Park today, especially when he's been on the job since Oct. 14? How about leading Page 1 with a proposed $3 tax on arena tickets and downplaying potential cuts in aid to state colleges and universities?

The answer is that the lazy, incompetent editors simply could not come up with anything better.

Another example is continuing coverage of an alleged "Columbine-like" bomb plot at  far-off  Bridgewater-Raritan High School. It's likely Editor Frank Scandale is keeping this story alive to remind the staff of his exploits a decade ago covering the original Columbine massacre for the Denver Post.

The former Hackensack daily loves to run conservative columnists without pointing out their gross distortions or omissions, such as former Gov. Christie Whitman and former state Sen. Henry McNamara, whose column is on Page A-21 today. He doesn't tell readers the battle over "affordable" housing in the state dates to a 1975 Supreme Court decision or how most towns have fought tooth and nail for more than three decades to keep out low- and moderate income minorities. He's a disgrace.

The Local section seems to have room for only one story each day from Hackensack, Teaneck or  Englewood, the three most diverse towns in the paper's circulation area. Today, it's Teaneck's turn, with a story on its abysmal employer-employee relations and a panel's recommendations on how to end the acrimony. This is an old story, but at least it's something. As in the past, Staff Writer Joseph Ax tries to scare readers by telling them lawsuits have cost the township "well more than $10 million," without saying if insurance covered any of that.

The continuing Route 80 east repaving is back in the news, with a big photo on the front of Local, but the paper stubbornly refuses to tell readers about a shortcut through Paterson that would ease their commute.

I finally found something to praise in Better Living, the paper's soft, unfocused features section. Virginia Rohan's "Boomer on Board" column states unequivocally: "Age discrimination, though illegal, is a reality." That's a subject you rarely see discussed in The Record or other newspapers, which have laid off a fair number of employees during the recession, while owners such as the Borg family continue to enrich themselves.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Who ate the jelly beans?

Hanukkah menorahImage by skpy via Flickr

There is lots of soft news in The Record of Woodland Park today, but even with this, the paper struggles. A ridiculous story about a menorah filled with jelly beans is bungled, with two color photos showing no jelly beans at all.

The lazy, incompetent editors must have thought a great deal about this story, because they promote it on the front of the Local section. Here, a copy editor or a layout editor screws up, saying the Hanukkah menorah is "made of jelly beans," when it's actually supposed to be clear PVC pipe filled with 96 pounds of kosher jelly beans. The same photo on the front of the section is blown up and runs on Page L-6 with the story, but it's clear from the photo, the tubes are empty. Will the paper acknowledge the error tomorrow?

But, for the first time in years, there is a story inside the Local section about Hackensack High School by Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado. In an interview, the principal dispels "stereotypes" that "our kids and HHS [are] thought of as a 'ghetto' school, with violence and problem students."

Of course, what goes unsaid is that the former Hackensack daily -- by moving out of the city and at the same time, drastically cutting coverage of education and other issues -- is a major contributor to those stereotypes. I said in an Oct. 29 post that I had heard rumors about the high school, where my son would be going, but had read nothing in the paper about the place since I moved to Hackensack in August 2007.

The Local section also has stories about Jersey City and Pompton Lakes, but no municipal, education, development or quality of life news from Teaneck or Englewood. When is the paper going to tell us in detail what is being done to integrate elementary and middle schools in Englewood, where the Borg family lives in a big house on the East Hill?

When you take a look at Better Living today, you have to wonder why Bill Pitcher, the food editor, has  assumed such a minor role. Unlike the veteran he replaced in 2006, Pitcher writes none of the major pieces. He seems to put most of his energy into editing recipes from other newspapers and the wire services, and drives around North Jersey so he can chronicle the opening and closing of every pizza place, bagel joint and restaurant.

He leaves the restaurant reviews to Elisa Ung, an inconsistent voice for the consumer who loves to glorify chefs and enthuse over the allegedly "high quality" of their food. Sadly, she is error-prone and has an incomplete grasp of food issues, and her writing often is awkward.

On the front of Better Living today is a story about a Teaneck bakery and how busy it is during the holidays. Duh. This is a real yawner by Staff  Writer Alfa Garcia. But on Page F-3, a far more important topic, the challenge kids face in eating properly at this time of the year, is left for a wire service, and Pitcher makes no attempt to localize the story. So we read about people in California, Chicago, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- everywhere but North Jersey.

The front page is covered with Sunday accident photos, but information on injuries is scarce. This seems much ado about nothing, but it's on Page 1 simply because the editors and skeleton weekend staff couldn't come up with any real news.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

These columnists should take a hike

nyc98kbus2 New Jersey Bus, Hudson River 1998Image by CanadaGood via Flickr

Am I the only one thoroughly bored with columnists John Cichowski, Mike Kelly and Bill Ervolino, whose "work" appears in The Record of Woodland Park today? Isn't it time for some fresh points of view?

Cichowski has been the paper's so-called Road Warrior for about six years, but it seems Kelly and Ervolino have been just taking up valuable newsprint space much longer than that. While they continue to try the patience of us all, keep in mind the lazy, incompetent editors at the former Hackensack daily got rid of their only black and Hispanic columnists, Lawrence Aaron and Miguel Perez.

Today, on the Local front, the Road Warrior continues to focus on narrow issues, taking to task the "selfish" drivers who use a shortcut through a quiet neighborhood in Upper Saddle River. If he's going to write about shortcuts, it would have been far more useful to far more people if he had provided one during the Route 80 east construction that caused delays of up to one hour. In general, though, he has ignored his core mission -- to write about commuting and mass transit. He should be ashamed of how he's ignored the pathetic local bus service in North Jersey. Where is his editor?

The headline over Mike Kelly's column today on the Opinion front is "Good idea gone awry," when it's clear he went awry years ago. His writing is full of cliches and hackneyed phrases, such as "mother of all jokes." Give me a break. Where is the man's editor, who allows this drivel in the paper?

"The developers did not deliver" and "misguided trust of private developers" is all the thunder he can muster for his tale about the incomplete Hudson River walkway, when he should have blasted greedy developers and the wealthy and selfish condo owners who have subverted the state's plan and are denying this magnificent stretch of riverfront to the public. There have been hundreds of instances in North Jersey where developers built roads, expanded intersections and spent huge sums to improve infrastructure around commercial developments. Yet this walkway is a disgrace.

Why is his language always so tame? Doesn't he realize that readers want their columnists to go out on a limb and express strong opinions? Well, you won't get them from sheepish Kelly. Some of the blame has to be laid on Assistant Assignment Editor Richard Whitby, onetime reader of Kelly's column before Whitby sent it over to the news copy desk, where me and the other copy editors avoided it like the plague. Whitby made a great show of pounding on his computer keyboard and loved to leer at the breasts of  the attractive female reporters who sat next to him as he edited their stories, but didn't do anything to improve Kelly's pablum.

The third disappointment is Bill Ervolino's column in Better Living. Bill is a nice guy, but who isn't sick of this man's feeble attempts at comedy and satire? God bless his family and friends and the readers who have tolerated him for so long. And maybe it's time Better Living editor Barbara Jaeger take a critical look at his nonsense.

Today's "local" news coverage is from Bridgewater, Somerville, Morristown, Pequannock and other places far from the heart of Bergen County as the paper is silent for another day on education, development and quality of life in Hackensack, Teaneck and Englewood, its core towns. Does anybody have any idea why a block of Anderson Street at Main Street in Hackensack has been closed for two months or more as heavy equipment and huge drills tear up the surface?

Did you get a good laugh out of the lame illustration on the Local front for a story on several towns sharing employees? The people shown look like models -- young models. If they are supposed to faithfully represent the demographic of employees in Westwood, Oradell and other towns, plaintiffs' employment lawyers should take note.

Talking about lawyers, inside the Local section, there is yet another story about a big out-of-court settlement, with no mention of  the attorney's share. Indeed, even the courthouse reporters, Kibret Markos and John Petrick, have stubbornly resisted news copy desk suggestions over the years that legal fees are an essential part of any story reporting multimillion settlements or jury awards. Court rules allow lawyers to take up to a third of  plaintiffs' money.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The thinnest of papers

Downtown Ridgewood, NJImage by birdphone via Flickr

One thing that jumped out at me after looking over today's thin paper is continued -- even redundant -- coverage of everywhere except Hackensack, Teaneck and Engelwood, the three most diverse towns in The Record of Woodland Park's circulation area.

Do readers really need a second, detailed sob story about wealthy Ridgewood's downtown (photo) on the front of the Local section? What about Cedar Lane merchants and Palisade Avenue merchants and the businesses on Main Street in Hackensack -- the last hit particularly hard by the absence of hundreds of newspaper employees scattered to the wind by the Borg family's North Jersey Media Group?

At least this Ridgewood story tells how greedy officials raised parking meter rates -- a crucial detail left out of the previous story, as we learned from outraged letters to the editor. Was this story intended to correct the earlier story, which I believe ran several months ago, without making the omission more obvious?

On Page 1, I read over a puzzling sentence a couple of times before I realized the news copy editor and the desk supervisor just passed it over on autopilot. In the guilty plea of a hedge fund manager, Staff Writer Andrew Tangel wrote the defendant "didn't face the roughly 40 people in court." Duh. Of course, anyone who has attended a court hearing knows the defendant faces the judge -- not the audience -- but in a sense still comes face-to-face with his accusers. What was the point of saying he didn't "face" the FBI agent, attorneys and investors? It only confuses readers. To add insult to injury, a fact box with a photo of the moron is topped with the words, "Day in court," a phrase usually associated with hard-pressed plaintiffs, not greedy, thieving financiers.

A story promoted on the front page under the headline, "Health care bill could raise costs," reveals that 33 million uninsured Americans would finally be covered. Wouldn't that add to our health-care expenses? The story makes it sound controversial, instead of just common sense.

The Business, Editorial and Better Living pages are throwaways today.

See earlier post: "A modest proposal"
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Friday, December 11, 2009

A modest proposal

The New York Times

The Metropolitan Diary has been running in The New York Times for decades, giving voice to city residents who want to share a funny, poignant or other observation with readers. I always love how contributors often go to the heart of what it means to live in New York. The other day, I heard about a driver who looked over and saw the man in the next car  playing the trumpet -- with both hands.

Why doesn't The Record of Woodland Park open its columns to North Jersey residents who want to contribute to a  Suburban Diary? This would be a repository of  all those funny or maddening situations we come across on our roads, in our malls and supermarkets, and elsewhere -- complete with dialogue -- situations reporters are not encouraged to look for and report.

Good writing and keen observation aren't the monopoly of newspaper reporters, especially at The Record, where some of the reporters only leave the office to go home and struggle every day with writing well, and where the assignment editors who try to repair their stories are far from eloquent.

So why not have an interactive feature such as a Suburban Diary that gives readers a voice and the opportunity to share their daily stories with more than family and friends? And reporters could occasionally  contribute items that don't quite make a story, but tell us a lot about North Jersey, though the column ultimately would be the province of readers and residents.

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'What's all this crap?'

Seal of Passaic County, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia

After nearly 18 months of just subscribing to and reading The Record and noting its sudden decline in quality, I've given up expecting anything special. So when my wife went out to the driveway and returned with a heavy plastic bag today, I muttered, "What's all this shit?"

At least the front page carried three hard-news stories, but there were lots of advertising inserts, a special advertising section and other junk to recycle. Page A-2 carried three corrections of  staff-written stories. Thursday's correction of a Wal-Mart story placed North Bergen in its correct county, Hudson.

Were all the news copy editors out to lunch? How about the slots, who supervise and check the work of the copy editors?

Is it enough to run wire service stories without editing them intelligently? The Page A-18 story today on invasive Asian carp ignores the logical question: Why aren't they caught and eaten, especially in view of all the demand on food pantries these days? Or are the Great Lakes so polluted that they render this tasty fish inedible?

On the front of the Local section, Road Warrior John Cichowski squanders yet another column, this one about Route 80 construction delays for eastbound motorists who e-mailed him.

But he is probably also responding to the bitching and moaning from colleagues in the Woodland Park newsroom who now face delays of up to an hour to reach their Bergen County homes, in keeping with the upsurge in coverage of Passaic County traffic woes after the paper abandoned  Hackensack this year. Indeed, reporter Monsy Alvarado, who is supposed to cover Hackensack,  has completely ignored the many recent street closings that have played havoc with Main Street traffic, especially when schools let out.

Also in the Local section for a change are two stories each about Hackensack and Englewood, but strangely, all four stories involve current or former municipal employees -- a favorite subject of  the local reporters, who do their best to avoid talking to residents and reporting on quality of life issues.

In Better Living, it's puzzling to see a review of Hacienda in Paterson, a restaurant  I wrote about several years ago, because four people could eat there for $50, including tax and tip. This Mexican restaurant gets only two stars and isn't the kind of place you'd expect to see so-called fine-dining reviewer Elisa Ung.

The restaurant health inspections column again is incomplete. The paper seems unconcerned that some towns, including Wyckoff, are apparently withholding fines and ratings.

The Record of Woodland Park, 12/10/09

Does anyone know why the paper insists on running a column by Christie Whitman after it has been shown time and again how dishonestly the former governor deals with her own serious missteps in office. A letter to the editor today notes: "It was her own administration that played shell games and helped put us and our grandchildren into the deep debt we're in now."

Except for police news and a sentencing, you'll find no coverage of development, education or quality of life in Hackensack, Englewood or Teaneck, the three most diverse communities in Bergen County.

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