Sunday, February 28, 2010

No longer a must-read

Map of West Milford Township in Passaic County.Image via Wikipedia

It's a pretty sad commentary. My son went out and got our copy of The Record of Woodland Park today. I looked it over briefly, putting the sales circulars, classifieds and Sports section into the recycling bin, then went back to reading my Costco Connection magazine.

After I finished the magazine, I read the former Hackensack daily -- no longer a must-read -- even on a Sunday.

The Page 1 story on the war between Governor Christie and public schools is another in a series in which The Record has portrayed teachers and police officers as the main reasons municipal property taxes are so high.  

Maybe if New Jersey's finances weren't so screwed up, it could fund public schools completely, as many other states do. And how reliable is coverage of unions by a newspaper that has none -- the Borg family having fought successfully against employees who sought to organize them?

On the front of Local,  one storm clean-up story is about Palisades Park and the other concentrates on towns to the north and west, with nothing about Hackensack, Englewood and Teaneck, not to mention a bunch of other towns -- not even the name of the Hackensack man who went into cardiac arrest while shoveling snow and died Friday.

Obituaries on L-1 recall the lives of two dedicated history teachers -- one in a public school -- a seeming argument against the governor's call for big education cuts.

 An editorial in Opinion salivates over the prospects that Teaneck and Bogota police will merge, and that West Milford will successfully cut three officers. Is that really a good idea in this sprawling township (see map above)?

Before you know it, readers will be turning against the cop on the beat as well as their kids' teachers, if they believe the newspaper's drumbeat that they keep property taxes high.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Superficiality is the new norm

HOBOKEN, NJ - NOVEMBER 02:  New Jersey Gov. Jo...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It's hard to understand how today's story on the second day of the snowstorm -- based on reporting of 15 or more staffers -- can be missing so much detail. It's hard to fathom, that is, until you take into account Deirdre Sykes' lazy, incompetent local news assignment desk, which has hobbled The Record of Woodland Park for too many years.

A Hackensack man died after he went into cardiac arrest shoveling snow, but the Page 1 story is missing both his name and his age. There is not a single interview of a bus rider among the thousands affected by the suspension of NJ Transit service or of a flier grounded by canceled flights. Hackensack snowfall totals are again missing from the front-page map.

Jon Corzine (photo) gets some belated credit for what he did as governor in the other A-1 story on the slowing in the growth of property tax bills. The average bill in Tenafly in 2009 -- $17,411 -- is reported as the highest in North Jersey, but you can be sure Publisher Stephen A. Borg is paying a lot more than that on his $3.65 million mansion.

For a decade or more, the haughty Sykes and her assignment minions have not understood the need to cover towns, even when the reporters assigned to them are doing enterprise stories, spend six months on a fellowship or cover such disasters as the Haiti earthquake.

So today, on the front of Local, Englewood reporter Giovanna Fabiano has a long, interesting story on African-Americans for Black History Month, but she has yet to analyze the election of a new mayor and report whether voters chose change or the status quo.

On L-2, you'll find not one but two education stories about Montvale. You rarely see an education story about Hackensack, Englewood or Teaneck, three core towns in Bergen County.

On the front of Better Living, you'll find more superficial reporting by Food Editor Bill Pitcher, whose "Food Smart" piece on eggs omits anything about cage-free, vegetarian feed or other issues consumers should weigh. He recommends the chicken eggs at Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff, but doesn't tell readers they can find duck eggs there as well.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

'We cover Hackensack'

River CityImage via Wikipedia

"What does that guy mean?" head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes says to one of her minions, as her laughter starts rolling across the Woodland Park newsroom. "Of course, we cover Hackensack."

"Oh, do we cover Hackensack! Didn't I have a bunch of reporters investigating a former Hackensack detective [Michael Mordaga] for almost three years? Don't I have Monsy [Alvardo, the Hackensack reporter], Shawn [Boburg] and Jean [Rimbach} chasing another great story?

"I mean," she says, chuckling, "look at A-1 today [in The Record]. "Hackensack is all over the front page!" (Does her computer still carry the name tag: "Deirdre 'Laughs A Lot' Sykes"?)

Indeed, the big snowstorm photo on Page 1 today shows an unidentified man walking in none other than Hackensack, although the street isn't identified. For the second big storm in a row, a pedestrian in Hackensack was featured on the front of the former Hackensack daily (after the Feb. 6 storm, it was an unidentified woman walking on Main Street). But the map under today's photo omits snowfall totals in River City. Now, that's coverage.

On A-2 today, two more corrections appear -- three corrections and one clarification in three days. The paper's accuracy is questionable and damages its credibility.

Except for a lawsuit reported in Local today, there is no other Hackensack news in the paper.

Did anybody get to the end of the Food Editor Bill Pitcher's tedious, two-star review in Better Living of a bar and steakhouse in Midland Park? Who made dinner reservations there for tonight?
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Where is the local flavor?

Toyota of Hackensack, NJImage by romulusnr via Flickr

A former Edgewater resident said in a letter to the editor today: "Without news coverage like yours, the ordinary citizen would not even know about the plans to destroy this public blessing."

Have you seen a letter like that from Hackensack readers thanking The Record of Woodland Park for news coverage of their city?

Not counting police or fire news, the last municipal story about Hackensack ran Dec. 22, when Staff Writer Nick Clunn reported plans for a new arts center. Since then, the only other stories concerned lawsuits -- one against a tavern and numerous allegations against Police Chief Ken Zisa.

But head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes seemingly has failed to direct Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado to ask the mayor and City Council whether they have lost faith in Zisa or will be suspending him until the suits are resolved. And there has been nothing more about a possible probe of Zisa by the county prosecutor, reported Feb. 14. What does Sykes do all day, besides laugh?

Residents rarely get to read about what the Hackensack council and Planning Board are doing. They don't know how other residents feel about the Zisa family, which allegedly controls the city. On June 13, Alvarado reported the Upper Main Street special improvement district director was fired, but never followed up. A major story recently on such downtown districts failed to mention the Hackensack official's firing or the reason.

The two Hackensack weeklies are useless. One is owned owned by North Jersey Media Group, publisher of The Record, and the other is edited by a Zisa.

Like stories about the suits against the police chief, court, police news and news about the police are fast becoming the new local news. Covering meetings is boring. Five stories in Local today are about crime, trials or the police, including the Teaneck and Bogota departments seeking a grant to study a merger.

The rest of the paper today is dominated by fallout over the Toyota recalls and Governor Christie's relentless cost-cutting. I still have not seen a story on whether all these executive orders will lead to lower  property taxes in Hackensack, where I live.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Boxing in reporter John Brennan

Somerset County Court HouseImage by jimmywayne via Flickr

The long-delayed sentencing of former Nets star Jayson Williams is all over the front page of The Record of Woodland Park today: Eight years of "partying all the time" and being "treated like a king" since the 2002 killing of his limo driver. Persistent problems with alcohol and guns. Up to five years in prison for the shooting and attempted cover-up.

All this under the byline of Staff Writer John Brennan, who had to give up his public relations effort for Williams and could no longer peddle half-truths for the ex-athlete he once covered as as sports reporter. He could no longer omit a crucial fact as he had in several past stories: The shooting occurred after a night of drinking.

This time, Brennan was boxed in -- forced to report what was said in court by the prosecutor and the dead limo driver's distraught sister. But the reporter didn't give up until today, deliberately or inadvertently reporting incorrectly just yesterday that the potential sentence was 18 months, not up to five years. (Photo: Somerset County Courthouse.)

In the big Page 1 photo, Williams towers over his attorneys and sheriff's officers, but the look of consternation on his face as he was bring handcuffed is priceless. He seems to get it -- finally. I wonder if Brennan will ever get it.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rehabilitation of Paterson

Prostitute at the streetImage by Afghan LORDّ via Flickr

Do you recall how The Record once devoted hundreds of hours of staff time and tens of thousands of dollars in salaries to portray Paterson as North Jersey's biggest drug bazaar, which lured many Bergen County suburbanites to ruin? Then, more recently, the paper ran another sensational series on prostitution in Silk City.

Well, that's all in the past (but you'll notice how reporters Mike Kelly and John Brennan have been prostituting themselves with their "public relations" coverage of a cop-turned-criminal and a tipsy athlete-turned-killer, respectively).

For the second day in a row, Paterson has been put in a flattering light on Page 1, the latest in a series of positive stories since North Jersey Media Group and its flagship daily moved their headquarters last year to Woodland Park (formerly West Paterson).

I haven't been counting column inches or stories, but it may be fair to say Paterson has received more news coverage than Hackensack, where the paper was founded in 1895 and where it prospered for more than 110 years before the greedy Borg family hatched a plan to sell its landmark River Street building.

Someone should tell Brennan and the news copy editor who read his story that killer Jayson Williams won't "accept" an 18- month prison sentence today, as if it is an invitation to a tea party. The reporter again omits in his Page A-6 story that Williams killed his limo driver after a night of drinking, but found room to tell readers the square footage of the ex-athlete's home (27,000 square feet -- eat your heart out, Stephen A. Borg, you have live in a mere 8,500 square feet).

On A-8 today, the editorial on recycling incentives in Paterson includes the financial arrangements with a private company the reporter omitted from her front-page story yesterday.

On the front of Local for a change, an obituary about an interesting North Jerseyan appears in place of the drivel from Kelly and fellow Columnist John Cichowski.

I'm glad Vietnamese Chef K.T. Tran is getting more recognition for the traditional soup called pho she has been serving at Saigon R. in Englewood for close to a decade, but why does Better Living waste space on a recipe that calls for 10 pounds of beef bones among its 20 or so ingredients? Do the lazy editors think any reader is going to tackle this at home?

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Polishing turds

Dawn Zimmer Voted Mayor of Hoboken, Chris Chri...Image by Hoboken Condos via Flickr

Try as they might, the lazy, incompetent editors at The Record of Woodland Park can't hide their desperation when Sunday night rolls around and they have absolutely nothing worthy of Page 1. Then, they scramble to cover their asses and try to find any story with a few photographs they can dress up for its front-page debut.

Today, they grabbed a story that belongs inside Local on a subject the paper long has neglected: recycling. Not only is about recycling, but it's about Paterson and other urban centers, with apparently no relevance to Bergen County. As my dear, departed colleague Michael Thaler used to say about some stories he handled as a copy editor: "You can't polish a turd."

Besides all that, this turd is poorly reported by Staff Writer Meredith Mandell, who normally is a hard worker. But here, she neglects to discuss the financial arrangement between a private collection company and its municipal partner. Does cash-strapped Paterson get any money from the sale of all these recyclables?

The only other story on A-1 today is another gentle handling of Republican Governor Christie, who in less than a month has alienated union members, public schools and teachers, mass transit users and the middle class, while catering to the wealthy and corporations, such as the Borgs and their North Jersey Media Group, publisher of the former Hackensack daily.

I forgot to mention how Herb Jackson, the paper's Washington correspondent, described Christie in his story on A-4 yesterday as admitting "during the campaign he struggled to hold down his weight." Only during the campaign? Not for many years before that as U.S. attorney? And has he really "struggled"? What a hoot.

It's that kind of "public relations reporting" (the reporter wants to stay in the good graces of his overweight subject) that throws cold water on calls by Michelle Obama and others to make ending childhood obesity a priority. The Record's editors have long refused to launch an obesity project that could benefit readers.

For yet another day, today's paper contains no news -- not even police news -- about Hackensack, Englewood and many other important towns.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good effort for a change

NYC: Police Plaza, Five in One and US CourthouseImage by wallyg via Flickr

There is a lot of good reading on the front page of The Record of Woodland Park today, but not much hard news there or elsewhere in the paper.

Tall, thin Ashley Kindergan not only stands head and shoulders above most of the other reporters, but she is a far better journalist, as is evident again today in her story about North Jersey Iranians who are getting the word out on events in Tehran. Jeff Roberts, a sports reporter, has a moving story on the self-destruction of a onetime star athlete.

But I guess both of these stories are on Page 1 because there was no real news to report. Editors allowed most of the reporters to spend Friday making weekend plans, not reporting and writing Sunday stories. (Photo: One Police Plaza and federal courthouse in Manhattan.)

On the front of Local, there is not one, but two stories about Paterson students. Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski continues to be held hostage by drivers. There's nothing much to recommend in the section outside of an expanded obituary on Patricia Travers with a great headline.

In Business, Your Money's Worth Columnist Kevin DeMarrais has another column on how credit card companies continue their efforts to screw us -- despite a new law. Maybe, he should be providing readers with strategies on paying off their balances in full every month and collecting rebates and other rewards, so they don't have to worry about interest rates, penalties and other outrageous fees.

On the front of  Opinion, Columnist Mike Kelly perpetrates another fraud, the second installment of his attempt to rehabilitate his pal, Bernard Kerik, the convicted felon who once was New York City's police commissioner. Kelly had the chance to ask bosom buddy "Bernie" the hard questions, but didn't. This isn't confrontation. It's masturbation.

Kelly loves to push words around to create a mood and ask lots of unanswered questions, but this so-called veteran journalist is afraid to use the appropriate words for Kerik: greedy and arrogant. I wanted to throw up reading Kelly's nonsense and the ridiculous, unchallenged quotes from Kerik.

A far better effort appears above Kelly's drivel -- former gubernatorial press secretary Carl Golden's reasoned analysis on the need to raise the gasoline tax to save the Transportation Trust Fund. Let's hope The Record's editorial page also isn't held hostage by drivers and urges Governor Christie to do so.
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The media's enduring arrogance

Tiger WoodsImage via Wikipedia

Don't you hate it when the media decide what is important to you or go on and on about themselves? Today, The Record of Woodland Park has the arrogance to tell readers they were riveted to the computer or TV to hear Tiger Wood's apology, then takes up more valuable space on Page 1 to cover how the media covered the story.

This is nonsense. It must have been a slow news day on Garret Mountain if the Tiger Woods story is all the lazy, desperate, incompetent editors could come up with. The reporting staff must have been in weekend mode, guarding better stories for the Sunday paper -- if they even had better stories -- like so many mice hiding a juicy morsel of cheese.

Sure, Woods is one of the greatest and wealthiest athletes of our time. But he also is a sex-addicted husband with the means to make his fantasies real. The poor schmuck needs help, not the judgment of so-called journalists. Editor Frank Scandale should be ashamed of himself, running gossip on the front page, while his editors and reporters neglect day after day to tell readers what is going on in their towns or hold municipal officials accountable.

There's only one other story on the front today, about the health problems of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who is 86 and undergoing chemo for stomach cancer. I am sure older readers, who are probably in the majority, are more interested in Lautenberg's health, because they all know people facing the same problems or are heading there themselves.

The thin Saturday paper has little to offer elsewhere. Local has a dramatic story about a police officer who used his cruiser to guide the car of a stricken man to a halt on Route 208, but there is also a lot of Passaic County news and no real news from Bergen County.

Teaneck reporter Joseph Ax can't come up with anything better than a follow on the double murder that was all over the front page yesterday. You'd think Ax, who went to Haiti and spent a week or more away or writing about earthquake victims, would have a backlog of Teaneck stories to report.

Do you think Scott Fallon or another reporter should look into whether a developer gave campaign contributions to Hudson County or North Bergen officials to get approval for a shopping center at the base of the Palisades? Fallon today reports on a court ruling that doesn't stop excavation.

Staff Writer Elisa Ung omits giving prices for the hot drinks promoted on the front of Better Living today, and apparently isn't aware the sake used by Sushi Lounge owner Joe McCafferty -- Yaegaki Dry -- is a really cheap, California-brewed rice wine more suitable for cooking than drinking. Ung describes McCafferty's Tokyo Hottie drink as "crafted" and a "sake-based play on the classic hot toddy." What hype.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Sloppy reporting and copy editing

New York City Police CommissionerImage via Wikipedia

Shoddy reporting and clueless copy editing and headline writing -- when will readers of The Record of Woodland Park get any relief?

The heads on the lead A-1 story -- "Killings a mystery" and "Two found dead on quiet Teaneck street" -- are redundant (killings and dead) and don't tell you the bodies were found in an SUV. Police solve few murders instantly -- so why waste the main head on that?

The sloppy, cowardly reporting on Page 1 is by Columnist Mike Kelly, who questioned the disgraced Bernard Kerik in Kerik's home office before he was sentenced yesterday, but couldn't bring himself to ask the former New York City Police commissioner if he was motivated by greed when he broke the law or thought he was above the law. Kerik and the pompous Kelly must be pals; the reporter refers to him as "Bernie" and calls the convicted felon's wife by her first name.

Even an aide or handler couldn't paint a more sympathetic portrait of Kerik than Kelly has. Is this journalism or public relations?

"I'm glad it's over," Kerik said before he was sentenced in federal court. "I want to try to remake my life." Kelly's writing gets real sloppy -- to the point where he has the White House "returning from Baghdad," and the copy editor and the copy editor's supervisor didn't catch it. (After Publisher Stephen A. Borg moved printing of The Record to Rockaway Township, copy editors in Hackensack could no longer read the first copies off the press for typos and other errors, and correct them, as they had from time immemorial.)

"After returning from Baghdad," Kelly writes, "the White House, citing Kerik's anti-terrorism record, nominated him ....."

Who is Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin trying to fool?  The lead editorial on A-20 claims that everyone -- including the "wealthy" -- will feel the effects of Governor Christie's budget-cutting, but that isn't documented. In fact, Christie refused to reinstate the so-called millionaires tax and plans to allow a corporate business surcharge to expire. Did Stephen Borg write the editorial?

The wrong-way dolphins in the Hackensack River -- a story that was all over Page 1 yesterday -- ends up inside Local today, a mere brief. Instead of development, education or municipal news of Hackensack and Englewood, readers get four verdicts or sentences in major cases. Teaneck news? Only the double murder on Page 1.

Why would anybody want to go to the Italian restaurant given two stars by Restaurant Reviewer Bill Pitcher, who recommends only three dishes? As food editor, Pitcher guided the expansion of reviews to the point where they seem promotional. Whether a restaurant is poor or outstanding, reviews feature plenty of photos and deceptive close-ups of food -- even lousy food looks good in a color photo. Squandering space means that the restaurant health inspections list is cut, depriving readers of essential information.

Stephen Borg, who lives in a $3.65 million McMansion in Tenafly, must have written this line in the review: "The dining room isn't much larger than your home dining room -- the first of 32 seats ..." Thirty-two seats in a home dining room? Where was the copy editor here? Where was George Cubanski, his supervisor, who is supposed to catch such preposterous errors?
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not-so-lovable Hackensack

Dolphins Strand FeedingImage by greenkayak73 via Flickr

Did desperate Hackensack officials -- angling for news coverage, any coverage -- charter a boat and dangle fish to lure a group of lovable dolphins up the Hackensack River and onto the front page of The Record of Woodland Park?

Oh, they're so cute and lovable. No. Not Hackensack officials or residents of one of the most diverse communities in Bergen County. They're not so lovable, North Jersey Media Group decided many months ago -- too many blacks and Hispanics. So the Borg family abandoned the city physically and editorially to save money as readership declined under the weak leadership of Editor Frank "The Fish Stinks from the Head Down" Scandale.

But Hackensack is back on Page 1, thanks to eight to 15 wrong-way dolphins and an apparent scoop by environmental reporter Scott Fallon. He'd much prefer to write about dolphins than a state clean-energy bureaucracy that frustrates homeowners, who have to wait up to two years to get solar panels installed. (Generic photo shows how dolphins strand while feeding.)

Did head Assignment Editor Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes -- who has pulled the Hackensack reporter off her beat for months at a time -- push this story for A-1, rather than Local, because she saw kindred spirits in these 300-pound animals? This is the first time in years Hackensack has been on Page 1.

There's a bigger story on the front -- because of cuts announced by Governor Christie, NJ Transit users face higher fares and less service. Of course, local bus riders in North Jersey have endured those "cuts" for years -- forced to use a fleet of shabby vehicles so much older than the buses mostly white commuters ride into Manhattan.

But Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski and transportation reporters Tom Davis and Karen Rouse are lazy. And Sykes and the other assignment editors don't think the blacks and Hispanics who ride local buses are as cute and lovable as dolphins, so this local bus story has never appeared in The Record.

The Local news section today continues to ignore real education, development or municipal news from Hackensack and Teaneck, not to mention other Bergen County towns. Englewood reporter Giovanna Fabiano has her first municipal story since Feb. 6, but it's about two buildings the school district sold to the city, not the segregated elementary and middle schools.

In Business, Your Money's Worth Columnist Kevin DeMarrais reports that a new Walmart in North Bergen -- the first in North Jersey with a full grocery store -- "seems to be an instant hit," judging from the parking lot on Monday, but fails to point out it was a holiday when many people had the day off and likely ended up there.

He also doesn't report whether the store sells anything but conventionally raised meat and poultry, which are pumped full of antibiotics or growth hormones that are harmful to humans.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A paper driven by clueless editors

Newark Liberty International Airport Logo.Image via Wikipedia

The clueless assignment editors really had reporters for The Record of Woodland Park chasing a bunch of interesting but ultimately irrelevant stories, as today's paper clearly shows.

The former Hackensack daily long has been editor-driven and too few of  the reporters are independent enough to come up with their own ideas or even have the ability to re-wirte their own stories. The rest need a lot of hand-holding by the assignment editors, who are under the overbearing Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes, head of the local news assignment desk.

Last night, I was enjoying free-range Australian lamb chops with a couple of glasses of shiraz for dinner when I looked at the clock and had an unpleasant flashback to the many nights I spent on the news copy desk, listening to shrieks of laughter from Sykes echoing across the Hackensack newsroom. Such long-suffering layout editors as Ron Meyer, Randy Splaingard and Jim "Corny" Cornelius could only keep their heads down.

Looking at today's front page, I wonder whether Assignment Editor Dan Sforza, who was promoted by Sykes after doing a mediocre job as transportation reporter, had one of the current transportation reporters, Tom Davis, go to the small airport in Atlantic City to do a story on a security system some say would work at Newark Liberty (logo appears above).

The story -- full of nothing more concrete than shoulds, woulds and coulds -- takes up most of the front page. Yet, Sforza and Davis have been too lazy to do a story about the shabby local bus system so many North Jersey residents have to contend with. When the rear brakes started screeching on new NJ Transit buses used on routes to Manhattan, then-transportation reporter Sforza couldn't be bothered to do a story. He preferred to write about "highways of the future." What a disgrace.

Two Record reporters worked on the Page 1 story about the pilot of a small plane who died along with four others in a Monmouth County crash. He was from Lodi, but does that justify all this coverage? Did I miss a story on the dismal safety record of these annoyingly noisy small planes and what, if anything, the federal government and manufacturers are doing about it?

These two front-page "wonders" forced the incompetent editors to bury on Page A-8 a story about the brutal French colonization and rape of Haiti, and a crippling embargo that sounds a lot like what the U.S. did in nearby Cuba after that island gained independence.

The commuting reporter, Road Warrior John Cichowski, has another driver-oriented column on the front of Local today, in a section without any municipal, development or education news about Hackensack, Englewood and Teaneck, the three most diverse towns in Bergen County. (Monsy Alvarado, the Hackensack reporter, was puulled off her beat to work on the air crash story.)

Teaneck reporter Joseph Ax has his first byline today on a so-called local story since returning from Haiti, but a visit to Teaneck High by ethically-challenged Sen. Bob Menedez isn't local news by any stretch of the imagination, despite what Ax's desperate assignment editor said.
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Readers fight to survive

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

"Charter schools fight to survive."

"Libraries feel pinch."

These headlines in The Record of Woodland Park today easily could have read: " Readers fight to survive" and "Readers feel pinch."

The more the lazy, incompetent editors ignore the diversity of Hackensack, Englewood, Teaneck and other towns, the more readers find the paper irrelevant to their lives.

Even the stories they do run often are incomplete or superficial -- evidence that head Assignment Editor Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes and her sub-editors don't know anything about the 70 towns in Bergen County or simply don't care.

For example, the Page 1 story on charter schools doesn't say much about the Englewood initiative or why there aren't more charter schools there, given that city's segregated public elementary and middle schools. The Wayne library is featured in the story about funding on the front of Local, but there little detail about Hackensack or other Bergen libraries. And the L-1 story on Lyndhurst's downtown only serves to highlight the absence of stories about Hackensack's downtown, among others. (Photo: Church on the Green, Hackensack.)

When he took over in 2006, Publisher Stephen A. Borg ordered the desperate editors to institute daily education and food coverage -- even though everyone knew that was just hype and nothing of the sort happened -- but he forgot all about the paper's mission: local news. And so have the reporters and editors.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Hidden agendas?

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

You'll find a long editorial in The Record of Woodland Park today praising a stubborn advocate of open public records. "Secrecy is no friend to good government," the editorial on Page A-15 trumpets.

Couldn't the same be said for good journalism? When are the Borgs and their North Jersey Media Group going to come clean with readers and advertisers about their abandonment of Hackensack -- phyiscally and editorially - and how much money Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg's son, Stephen, has sucked out of the parent company of The Record and Herald News?

Suddenly deprived of $3.65 million used to purchase the younger Borg's Tenafly estate, was the company forced to cut its news staff  and its retirees' medical benefits?

Below the editorial is a column by Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin, who style seems rooted in high school. Does he have a hidden agenda, too?

On Page 1 today, you'll find another in a series of stories on donors who benefit from the politicians they support. Wouldn't public financing end the apparent conflicts and open public office to people who aren't wealthy? Why doesn't The Record editorialize about that or would it deprive the paper of a hot-button issue to write about endlessly?

The main story on A-1 today is about the harm of wood smoke, but I'm wondering if it overstates the case just to stir up suburban readers. It also ignores a more immediate threat: that grilling food at high heat -- over wood, coal or gas -- has been linked to cancer.

Local is the usually pathetic collection of stories. I guess Hackensack (map), Teaneck and Englewood, among other important Bergen County towns, closed up for the weekend and have no development, education or other news worthy of appearing in the former Hackensack daily.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Monsy Alvarado's new burden

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

For about two years, Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado was sidelined to work on the so-called investigation of Michael Mordaga, the well-regarded Hackensack detective who went on to become chief of detectives for the Bergen County prosecutor.

A single story, with the bylines of Alvarado and other staffers, appeared Dec. 16. It not only wasn't good enough for Page 1 of The Record of Woodland Park, but the reporters had to resort to guilt by association to get it published at all. Mordaga's name didn't even appear in the lead paragraph and his alleged conflict had ended in February 2007.

Now, it seems, Alvarado has a new burden from the head of the local news assignment desk, Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes, who somehow kept her job even after pursuing the vendetta against Mordaga for nearly three years, wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff salaries. Sykes' pal, Jean Rimbach, the lead reporter on the Mordaga project, had not had a byline for two years.

Alvarado's new assignment from Sykes, it seems, is covering the lawsuits filed against Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa and the disciplinary hearings of officers who have dared to challenge their boss. In the process, she has ignored  just about all the other news about Hackensack, where the paper was founded in 1895 and where it prospered for more than 110 years. On at least two occasions in the past 18 months, her byline has not appeared for more than a month at a time.

Today, Alvarado reports, an attorney for one of the officers has asked the county prosecutor to investigate Zisa. Alvarado apparently has never asked the mayor or City Council why they haven't suspended Zisa or taken any other action in the many months since the suits were filed, including allegations he used officers to take care of private matters. Maybe bulldog Sykes picked the wrong target for her so-called investigation. Or was Mordaga just another laughing matter? Does Publisher Stephen A. Borg have anything to say about this?

The Zisa story leads Local today, but you'll also find a superficial story on downtown improvement districts by Staff Writer Karen Sudol, who ignores Hackensack altogether, not even reporting the reason the head of that district was fired last June. She also ignores the closing of several restaurants in Englewood's district, including Panera Bread and Cosi.

The front page today is dominated by Teaneck reporter Joseph Ax's long piece under the headline, "Haiti's long road." He spent maybe a week in Haiti in late January and early February, but Local hasn't  had a Teaneck story since Jan. 23. So, it's "Teaneck's long road."

You'll find more reporting exploits in Opinion, where Columnist Jersey Mike Kelly boasts of all the risks he took when he covered 9/11. His many columns since then have been mostly covering his ass.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

A great front page

Cropped transparent version of :Image:Olympic ...Image via Wikipedia

The front page of The Record of Woodland Park today is one of the best I've seen recently, especially for a Saturday. The three stories are: a rare, but preventable, death at the Winter Olympics; transcontinental organ transplants involving a North Jersey man and his daughter, and the resignation of a sewerage chief making $313,000.

Only in New Jersey do you get paid that much for a public job supervising how shit flows, though some would say Record Publisher Stephen A. Borg is handsomely rewarded in his private job of supervising a similar flow of manure.

But one thing that mars the front page is an unnecessarily complicated graphic about the kidney transplants that -- instead of telling the story at a glance -- is weighed down by four paragraphs of small type.  

The Record has struggled for years to streamline the process, but its graphics continue to disappoint, largely because they are conceived by head Assignment Editor Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes and her inept minions, not the artists themselves. The reporters and assignment editors who feed words and numbers to the artists bypass the copy desk and invariably make a lot of errors, which the artists simply transfer to the graphic.

When Liz Houlton was put in charge of the news layout and copy desks, she held a number of meetings about graphics, but the initiative lost steam in a newsroom where Sykes' assignment desk insists all problems lie elsewhere. (You should see the sorry collection of shmatas Houlton and Sykes used to wear).

After that great Page 1, the Local section really disappoints, save for the weekly, colorful quotes of the week on the front. Why not run these every day? Looking for education, development or municipal news about Hackensack, Englewood or Teaneck? You won't find any.

I'm really starting to worry about the health and well-being of Monsy Alvarado, the hapless reporter who is supposed to cover Hackensack, the former headquarters of The Record. I hope Sykes hasn't sidelined her again, as she did for about two years to have Alvarado work on the ridiculous "investigation" of lawman Michael Mordaga. The story published Dec. 16 was pathetic -- considering how many reporters worked on it for nearly three years -- and stands as a testament to Sykes' incompetence.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Untold Toyota story

3rd generation Toyota Prius G (2009/5 - )Image via Wikipedia

The Record of Woodland Park and other mainstream media have had numerous stories about the ongoing recalls of millions of Toyota vehicles, but no one seems to remember the "secret warranties" uncovered by the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C.

Below is the link to the center's site and the story on how Toyota and other automakers have long hidden  defects from buyers. Click on "Toyota's secret warranties."

My first Toyota was a 1986 Celica.When my air conditioner failed, I obtained a list of hidden Toyota defects from the center and used it to get free repairs at the Toyota dealer after the warranty had expired. Now, I'm waiting for a recall letter on my 2010 Prius (photo).

Toyota's secret warranties
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Didn't we see this coming?

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.Image via Wikipedia

The Borgs and other wealthy North Jersey families breathed a sigh of relief today, learning from The Record of Woodland Park that Governor Christie won't renew higher taxes on the rich. The rest of us got slammed with big cuts in his budget message to the Legislature, but are we really surprised?

If you lived through the administrations of Tom Kean and Christie Whitman -- or Ronald Reagan's -- you know Republicans are sworn enemies of environmental regulation, unions, diverse public schools, mass transit, public health-care programs and the Public Advocate, among others.

You won't see this in The Record, which seems to be firmly in Chris Christie's corner, though a Page 1 column yesterday and an editorial today warn the former federal prosecutor to tone down his tough talk lest he totally alienate Democrats, who control the Legislature.

Another thing you didn't see in Christie's speech or the former Hackensack daily was an attack on home rule, the incredibly inefficient system of local government that inflates property taxes. Are any of the executive orders he issued going to lead to cuts in those taxes? Homeowners aren't holding their breaths.

As I predicted yesterday, people who don't own cars or who rely on local buses get a royal F.U. from pompous Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski and in news coverage of the snowstorm's aftermath. No matter how many big stories head Assignment Editor Deirdre "Laughs A Lot" Sykes tackles, she always screws up. Inevitably, the copy is late and riddled with errors and major omissions. And she was the one who promoted the lazy Cichowski to columnist.

"Bunkering down"? It's right there in the lead paragraph on the front of Local under the byline of Staff Writer Alison Pries, formerly a clueless clerk in Business. Is that supposed to be a play on the words "hunkering down"? Or something everyone on the inept assignment and news copy desks missed?

The online Urban Dictionary defines "bunker down" this way:

"A term morons use, particularly when bad weather is afoot, to which they confuse the meaning of 'hunker' with. Bunker is a noun, yet hunker is a verb, thus while the words sound similar, when thought of in their linguistic context, one is blatantly wrong."
 The rest of the lead graph about storm cleanup isn't great news writing, either. Way to go, Sykes.

Sykes and her incompetent minions have always thought you cover a big story by throwing as many reporters and photographers at it as possible -- about 20 yesterday, maybe 40 the day before. But what inevitably happens is that everyone runs around gathering way too much information, and much of it never gets used. That alienates staffers who don't see their quotes in the paper and cheats readers and news sources. Then, the editors give the job of writing the story and blending the material to a relative novice such as Pries.

For example, the section of Pries' story on downtowns trying to "regain momentum" completely omits Hackensack, Teaneck, Englewood and many other important towns. In fact, there are only quotes from one merchant in Tenafly, which happens to be where Publisher Stephen A. Borg lives in a $3.65 million mansion, courtesy of a North Jersey Media Group mortgage granted months before big staff cutbacks.

Does The Record have to do the same story about drivers reserving parking spaces with furniture after every major storm? How about writing about the plight of local bus riders who have to cross dangerous snowbanks in front of their uncleared bus stops? Doesn't Sykes remember how she fell heavily and was injured in The Record's Hackensack parking lot after a similar storm? My recollection is she was trying to get over a snowbank.

On A-2 today, The Record finally corrected a typo in a headline about the Baha'i faith that ran Monday.

In Better Living, readers get only a partial listing of restaurant health-inspection ratings. For another week, Wyckoff ratings are conspicuous by their absence as is an explanation of why they haven't appeared for many years.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Color The Record white

Last Weeks SnowStormImage by Property#1 via Flickr

Take a look at the faces that appear today in the main news and Local news sections of The Record of Woodland Park. They are overwhelmingly white, reflecting the racial makeup of the editors and news staff. (To find black and Hispanic faces, you have to turn to Better Living and Sports.)

Read the coverage of  the snowstorm, starting on Page 1, and most of the people quoted are white. Road Warrior John Cichowski interviews well-to-do whites like himself who worked from home, but no one who doesn't own a car and had to walk or rely on those creaking local buses the pompous reporter has refused to write about. (That homeless guy he has been writing about forever doesn't count.)  

Are we to believe no black kids built snowmen?

In fact, there is little in the coverage by nearly 40 news staffers and photographers about NJ Transit bus and train service.

If the past is any guide, tomorrow, in coverage of the clean-up, you likely won't find anything about pedestrians who have to walk in the street because homeowners and merchants haven't shoveled their walks, or bus riders who have to wait in the street or climb dangerous snowbanks in front of their uncleared bus stops.

The Record, reporters like Cichowski and the inept assignment editors seem to care more about the plight of people like themselves when covering a storm, while they ignore everyone who doesn't belong to the paper's "demographic." Or maybe that's the word that has come down from the wealthy Borg family's North Jersey Media Group.

Early in his tenure, Editor Frank Scandale had to order municipal reporters to go out at least once a month and  come back with a story about minorities. I guess that initiative was abandoned long ago. Of course, he also got rid of the paper's only Hispanic and only black columnists.

Even the two, expanded obituaries of prominent local folks, on L-6, are of of a white physicist and a white restaurant owner, which is coincidence, I'm sure.

There is no development, education or municipal news from Hackensack in today's paper, or from Englewood and Teaneck, the three most highly diversified towns in Bergen County.

On Page 1, the main photo is of a lone pedestrian crossing a deserted Main Street in Hackensack. It appears under the main headline: "Jersey takes a snow day." I hate the dismissive "Jersey" for "New Jersey." Do you ever see "York" in a headline? "We take a snow day" would have been far better.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't own a car? Take a hike

deerImage by Keithius via Flickr

The Record of Woodland Park today carries plenty of evidence the lazy, incompetent editors favor news about well-to-do whites like themselves over news about working-class minorities. For example, if you live in a poor town or don't own a car and rely on shabby local buses, you'll get its cold, editorial shoulder.

A huge Page 1 story reports that students in affluent North Jersey high schools get dramatically higher SAT scores than those in poor urban areas. Is this news? Didn't the state Supreme Court decades ago order more state aid to poor school districts, precisely because property tax collections often determined the quality of education? The story is silent on what, if anything, is being done to improve the SAT scores in poor high schools.

Then, the mostly white editors bury a story on A-4 about Governor Christie halting all actions by the Council on Affordable Housing. The state's wealthy towns have done so much to stop the building of housing for low- and moderate-income people, you'd think their residents are racists. This is the story that belongs on A-1, not the back-slapping take-out praising what a great job educators in Ridgewood and other rich towns are doing.

Then you get to the column by Road Warrior John Cichowski on the front of Local. His mission is to write about the commuting issues faced by drivers and users of mass transit, but he has found as many excuses as possible to sit for hours in the office, reading e-mails, instead of riding on and commenting about the quality of bus and rail service. If you don't own a car, John says, go to hell.

Compare the coverage of deer or West Milford to the coverage of Hackensack, and the former home of The Record comes up short. Today, a single photo about a new fire-fighting tool is all the Hackensack coverage you'll find. Live in Teaneck or Englewood? You're also out of luck.

But there is room for two, seven-paragraph "local news" stories: one on a water pipe rupture in Lyndhurst, the other about Moonachie hiring two police officers. Wow. Don't you think this ground-breaking municipal coverage is worth the 50-cents cover price?

And as if we weren't fat enough, Staff Writer and Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung stuffs her face at four cupcake "joints" in Ridgewood, and tells us all about it in sickly, artery clogging detail in Better Living.

Recession? More demand at food pantries? Let them eat $3.75 cupcakes, The Record says.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This edition is no joy ride

New Mercedes-Benz S ClassImage by hsuyo via Flickr

I swung by The Record's old headquarters on River Street in Hackensack yesterday to see if Mac Borg was in, and sure enough, his tank-like Mercedes was parked in the usual spot. 

Malcolm A. Borg, now chairman of North Jersey Media Group, has always favored big sedans from the German carmaker, and he recently bought a new model -- an S-Class sedan that probably cost about $100,000 (photo). I remember coming to work many years ago, and seeing Mac's grown children with the keys to his latest Mercedes-Benz, which he had just bought, intent on going for a joy ride.

Today's paper, put out in Woodland Park,  is an unreliable ride.

Not to minimize the loss of a Marine from Westwood, but was his burial in Arlington National Cemetery the best story the lazy, incompetent editors had? Did it really deserve A-1 play, in view of the many stories about him since his death Jan. 14 in Afghanistan?

Local continues its Bergen County-phobic news coverage of just about any town but Hackensack, where The Record was founded in 1895. Deer (L-6) and bears continue to get more play than some people.

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