Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rough-weather Hackensack

across the mighty hackensack to newark/ njtpkImage by pwbaker via Flickr

The Record of Woodland Park is amazingly consistent. Readers can go weeks without seeing a municipal, education, development or any other story about Hackensack, but when a storm hits, the paper's photographers rush here for a weather photo, often featured on Page 1.

And so it is today with drivers-cum-boaters negotiating deep water on the appropriately named River Street, not far from The Record's old headquarters. Six reporters worked on the story, but few words of it refer to events in Hackensack. (Photo: Turnpike across Hackensack River.)

There's nothing in there about litigants, lawyers and jurors scrambling to move their cars away from rising water in the jurors and visitors lot of the Bergen County Courthouse, where a full-time reporter is assigned to the press room. And there's no word on whether the hundreds of new Toyotas being stored in The Record's old lot were damaged by flood waters.

A-1 today keeps the focus on teachers, who are resisting a one-year pay freeze proposed by Governor Christie. Popinjay Alfred P. Doblin, the editorial page editor, has more than once defended Christie's refusal to renew the so-called millionaire's tax, cheering the Borg family, and has claimed that's a job for the Democrats who allowed the levy to lapse on income over $400,000 a year. But Doblin also is bitching and moaning in the paper because his train fare from Clifton might be going up 25%.

The A-1 story on toll takers is of absolutely no interest to driver with E-ZPass. I haven't physically paid a toll or spoken to a toll taker for more than 15 years and my prior experience with them was good, so I don't see what the big deal is.

An embarrassing series of corrections culminated today on A-2 with the paper running the correct photo for an obituary that ran on Tuesday.

The blackout on Hackensack news continues in Local, but you'll find a detailed school budget story about Woodland Park, where North  Jersey Media Group and its two dailies are now headquartered.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hackensack news -- sort of

NJ - Jersey City - Van Vorst: Jersey City Free...Image by wallyg via Flickr

The big photo-and-text element on the front of Local today reports on unruly kids at libraries in three of the 90 or so communities in The Record of Woodland Park's circulation area. So I guess the kids at the Hackensack library are well-behaved.

All 75 libraries in Bergen County are addressed in only a few sentences quoting the executive director of the Cooperative Library System. Now, that's efficient reporting. (Photo: Jersey City Free Public Library.)

On Page 1, we learn NJ Transit tightened security after a suicide bombing hit the Moscow subway. Reading this on the rattling, creaking and groaning local buses in North Jersey, riders undoubtedly wished someone would put them out of their misery.

What do they have to do to get Road Warrior John Cichowski's attention --  set off a bomb?

Given today's biblical deluge, I wonder if the paper will report tomorrow on whether any new Toyotas in the lot of the old headquarters at 150 River St. in Hackensack were damaged by rising flood waters.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Hackensack gets wiped off the map

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

Malcolm A. Borg, chairman of North Jersey Media Group, grew up in a big house at Summit and Fairmount avenues in northern Hackensack (map). Today, "Mac" is one of a couple of dozen people left at The Record's landmark building not far away.

When you drive by 150 River St., you might mistaken the parking lot for an annex of nearby Hackensack Toyota. The lot, once crowded with employees' cars, is filled with new but unsold Japanese cars -- hundreds of them.

Now look at the lead Page 1 story today on cuts to North Jersey high school athletics. It doesn't even mention Hackensack. The entire Local section also ignores the city where The Record was founded in 1895 and where it prospered for more than 110 years.

The only news from Englewood is a crime story. Teaneck? Not today. Nada. Zilch. 

But for the second day in a row, a columnist blasts Governor Christie for forcing NJ Transit to propose 25% fare hikes and service cuts. This hits the pocket of Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin, who commutes to Woodland Park by train, and he's pretty upset.

Doblin portrays Christie as an imperious ruler who doesn't leave his private car to see how the people live or how hard it is for them to get around using mass transit.

All in all, a pretty skimpy paper, especially if you live in Bergen County.
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Sunday, March 28, 2010

What took them so long?

New Jersey TransitImage via Wikipedia

Two columnists for The Record of Woodland Park surprised me today with radical departures from their usual drivel.

On the front of Local, Road Warrior John Cichowski finally came to the defense of NJ Transit bus riders and slammed Governor Christie for forcing a planned 25% fare hike. And on the front of Better Living, Restaurant Reviewer-on-leave Elisa Ung finally found a meat purveyor who lives up to the word she's been throwing around indiscriminately for a couple of years -- quality.

I have no doubt Cichowski will return to writing about every idiotic driver who e-mails him, every pothole, every street and every lamp post on every highway, but maybe, maybe, he'll actually get off his duff and ride one of the contraptions that pass for a local bus. That would really put the fare hike and service cuts into perspective.

And does one profile of a butcher by Ung make up for all the times she declared conventionally raised beef served in a restaurant or sold elsewhere as "quality" or "chef's quality" or some other promotional nonsense that distorted reality and insulted the intelligence of her readers? No. But maybe it's a start.

Of course, through all these months and years that Cichowski and Ung knew not of what they wrote, where were their editors? Where was head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and where was Food Editor Bill Pitcher, reading this tripe and sending it along the production chain with nary a question, nary a concern, secure in their own ignorance?

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More important things to do

The Star-LedgerImage via Wikipedia

I had more important things to do this morning than read The Record of Woodland Park, but did manage to skim it. I'll be posting my critique later in the day.

I did notice that two of the three front-page stories appear to have been filed by Star-Ledger reporters.

And is the massive amount of Page 1 space given to low home values supposed to alarm readers? The ones who are upset are greedy real estate people and bankers, and home owners who were dying to cash in on the grossly inflated prices of the past.
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

$230,000 a year? For what?

Flip to Page L-2 in The Record of Woodland Park today and prepare to be outraged, even if you don't live in Teaneck. The district's schools are hiring a new chief for $230,000 a year. Is that a typo? 

With state aid cuts and Governor Christie's call for a teacher wage freeze all over the front page, including today, how does any town facing higher school taxes and staff reductions agree to such an inflated salary for a superintendent? And how does Staff Writer Joseph Ax just drop that bomb on readers and residents without providing any context?

Don't look for education news or any other story about Hackensack today, because you won't find any. Are Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado and her clueless head assignment editor, Deirdre Sykes, napping at their desks?

Page L-6 tells us the Paramus police chief -- one of 70 in Bergen County -- is retiring at an annual salary of nearly $184,000. Don't you love home rule? When is your next property tax bill due? Has Christie cut it yet or just screwed everybody but the rich?

There's compelling news on the front of Local. True. The Record hasn't had a municipal story about Hackensack since Dec. 22, excluding the legal troubles of the police chief and police officers' disciplinary hearings.

But at least today, the lazy, incompetent editors update us on the "third phase" of renovations to sleepy Demarest's old train station.

In the interest of full disclosure, shouldn't the former Hackensack daily identify Staff Writer Elizabeth Llorente as a Cuban exile -- especially when she reports on Cuba, as she does today on Page A-4?

Has The Record carried any positive stories about the island in the past decade? Did the newspaper even mention all the Cuban doctors who were working in Haiti and tended to the sick and injured after the earthquake? (Photo: Cuban flag.)
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Friday, March 26, 2010

Hackensack again gets the cold shoulder

Official photo of senator Frank Lautenberg(D-NJ)Image via Wikipedia

I guess Hackensack readers are just so much chopped liver. Anyone who lives here, The Record seems to say, doesn't deserve to know what's going on in their city, where the paper was founded in 1895 and where patriarch Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg frolicked as a kid in his enormous back yard.

Staff and program cuts at North Jersey schools are front-page news in the Woodland Park daily today, but you won't find a word about the Hackensack district -- one of the biggest -- continuing a news blackout on the city. Clueless head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado seem to have forgotten Hackensack exists.

Of course, Glen Rock schools are included in the story, as is the Tenaflly district. Does that have anything to do with Editor Frank Scandale calling the former home or with his kids attending school there, or with Publisher Stephen A. Borg and his children, who live on a $3.65 million "estate" in the latter?

At the bottom of A-1 today is a terrific feature about Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who is battling cancer but who endured during the voting marathon that passed health-care reform. I especially like how the senator exposes the sickos who fought to defeat the measures. (Photo: Lautenberg before he shaved his head.)
Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin is exposed for the elitist he is by Ringwood Schools Superintendent Patrick Martin, whose Op-Ed piece on A-23 today shames us for turning our backs on the Ramapough Mountain Indians. You might recall the Doblin-endorsed editorial a few months ago, urging sick Upper Ringwood residents to accept a pitifully small settlement in the decades-long Ford Motor Co. dumping case.

Just remember it was Stephen Borg who replaced The Record's long-held motto on the front page -- "Friend of The People It Serves" -- with marketing hype -- "The Trusted Local Source." He's sadly mistaken if he thinks readers swallow that bullshit.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Another wasted front page

chinese takeoutImage by quite peculiar via Flickr

The jock-itching, ass-slapping editors of The Record of  Woodland Park may think a former baseball player's substance-abuse problems are top-of-the-front-page news today, but I'm sure a majority of long-suffering readers see it as a slap in the face.

"Burglary spree hits Asian shops" is the headline over the biggest element on Page 1 today -- complete with a map and three photos. Interesting, but so what? The reporter lets the A-1 play go to her head and actually quotes a professor of criminal justice on why the suspects are hitting cash businesses. Maybe it's just payback for all the lousy takeout they've eaten (photo).

The lazy, incompetent editors could have fashioned a great front page from the story at the bottom of A-1 -- Governor Christie appears to have dropped his ill-advised plan to dismantle Bergen County blue laws -- and a second story on the front of Local about the governor campaigning for a teacher pay freeze in Ramsey.

After all, in about two months, Christie has become the official many of us love to hate.

On L-1, Columnist Mike Kelly has another ridiculous column, this one on a tree doctor who saved a millionaire's trees in Alpine. Hey, Mike, you're the one who needs a doctor. Another day of "every day" education coverage passes without word of cuts facing Hackensack schools.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Demonizing Obama, teachers

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...Image via Wikipedia

Can't you see the lazy, incompetent editors of The Record of Woodland Park rubbing their hands in glee at the opportunity to demonize President Obama and North Jersey teachers -- the two major stories on today's front page?

What's with the unflattering photo of Obama in his big moment of triumph, signing health-care reform into law? Why run a big, A-1 photo showing him with his eyes closed (another black man with vision problems, like ethically challenged New York Gov. David Paterson)? That surely wasn't the only photo available.

And why give health-care reform such a negative spin, with a photo over line reading "LAWSUITS COME QUICKLY AFTER BILL SIGNING"? Again, that seems designed to deprive Obama and supporters of their big victory. (Photo: A handsome Barack Obama takes oath of office.) One thing you can say about the conservative editors: They love aggravating readers.

It makes sense that court challenges to health-care reform would be embraced by the unhealthy editors I worked with at The Record. There was no limit on their sick time, so they could be out for weeks with back problems or with the flu (they refused to get a flu shot). Of course, those employees raised the cost of health insurance for the rest of us, who, like me, had a great attendance record and had to take up the slack when they were "sick."

The second punching bag today are teachers, as they have been for years in The Record, where editors have blamed their salaries and the salaries of police officers for why property taxes are so high in all the little, inefficient towns we live in. So Governor Christie gets the lead position on the front with his call that teachers forgo raises and pay for medical benefits to make up cuts in state aid and avoid layoffs.

What has the governor given up in this austere time? What about the Borgs and his other rich, ruling-class friends? What sacrifices are they making?  The Record is silent on that.

The Hackensack news blackout continues in Local, where only Passaic County schools are discussed in "every day" education coverage. Haitian relief stands in for any news from Teancek and Englewood.

Is it fair to call The Record's editors racist? You decide, but first recall  how Editor Frank Scandale got rid of his only black columnist and his only Hispanic columnist; count the few minority staffers in the newsroom; consider how clueless head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes does her best to ignore Hackensack, with its large black and Hispanic populations; and weigh the deliberately negative treatment of the president on Page 1.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Has Christie screwed old people?

Hackensack, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia
An old map of Hackensack.

Governor Christie's austere budget plan screws just about everybody but the Borgs and other wealthy families. But the front page of The Record of Woodland Park today tells us he's included $2.3 million for young people with autism.

Parents of autistic children and autism have been Page 1 news for years in The Record, thanks to a series of long, detailed stories by staff writers. Old people with Alzheimer's disease? They've been just about totally ignored by the former Hackensack daily.

About the only coverage you see of old people is when they crash their cars into a storefront, another car or another person, often with fatal results. Over the years, the paper has run numerous photos or briefs to document these accidents, but clueless head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and her minions have never thought to launch a project on the challenges facing older drivers and whether there is help for them.

Has Christie included money in the state budget to help old people or ease the obesity epidemic? Does The Record know? Does it care?

Today brings extensive coverage in the main news section and Business of the impact of health-care reform on New Jersey. Can anyone digest the seemingly contradictory stories about employment in Business?

The news blackout of Hackensack continues in Local today, with the exception of two poorly edited stories on city police officers -- one shot and killed a lunging pit bull and the other was charged with crashing his car into another vehicle with a woman sleeping inside. The former story never says where the shooting occurred; the latter raises questions it never answers.

I've seen two detailed stories this week on possible cuts facing Passaic city schools, but not a single word about schools in Hackensack (old map above), where The Record was founded in 1895.

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Oh, say, can you see Margulies?

Removed background, cropped, and converted to ...Image via Wikipedia

This is an insightful comment from Aaron Elson, a former news copy editor at The Record:

"It's amazing, but not surprising, that Margulies is nowhere to be found on the Record Web site; a search produced a cartoon from March 4. Two friends of mine have been longtime fans of Margulies and have often told me what a shame it is that he's been ordered -- for well over two years now -- to limit his cartoons to New Jersey subjects. Before that, they pointed out, his cartoons on national subjects often appeared in the Sunday New York Times collection of the week's best editorial cartoons. It has to be frustrating for an excellent editorial cartoonist like Margulies to have to put up with such a short-signed edict such as that. He is, after all, one of the more talented, and indeed hard-working, members of the staff. 

"Eye on The Record" says:

If memory serves, apparently it was Publisher Stephen A. Borg who ordered Jimmy Margulies to confine himself to New Jersey issues. Before that, Margulies' work was syndicated, and the newsroom mail box often was piled high with his cartoons in envelopes -- each one addressed in the cartoonist's beautiful script -- that were headed near and far, including one to his father in Teaneck.

 After all these years, the North Jersey Media Group Web site remains truly pathetic. Some of the best content of the newspaper never makes it to or is simply too hard to find. This despite specialized staff members (the digital news group) who were blessed with ergonomic furniture and new, flat-panel computers while the news copy editors struggled with old monitors and desks left over from the typewriter era.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

How The Record baits readers

Rally for Healthcare ReformImage by SEIU International via Flickr

If you are going to be a reporter at The Record of Woodland Park, you have to learn how to bait readers. And the best way to do that with home rule is to tell readers their taxes are going to go up -- preferably in the lead paragraph of your story -- even if that isn't true.

None other than Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson does that today in his Page 1 story on the historic passage of health-care reform. He's dying to goad readers into finishing his story (and maybe feeling  bad about the reforms). I can recall the health-care reform demonstration Jackson covered, carefully omitting any mention of hysterical protesters who compared the Obama plan to the Holocaust. He's some reporter.

Today, his first paragraph says the House overhaul "expands coverage by raising taxes [and] imposing new fees." Isn't it irresponsible to write that without saying right away which taxpayers are going to get hit? You have to wait for the last paragraph of his story to find out the Borgs and other wealthy families will be the ones paying higher taxes and insurance companies will be paying the higher fees. I say, Hooray.

I'm glad Democrats finally got their act together or the incompetent, jock-itching editors would have undoubtedly put Tiger Woods on the front page again. 

The second story on the front is by Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado, whose dereliction of duty in covering Hackensack municipal and school affairs is well-known. Her last story in that vein ran Dec. 14.

Today's A-1 story involves Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa, who partly owned a company that sold three properties in Paterson to a woman now accused in a mortgage scam. Alvarado has written numerous stories about cops' lawsuits against the chief, but seems unable to bring herself to ask the city's mayor and council why they don't suspend Zisa.

Instead, she apparently has been told by head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes to pursue the Zisa story wherever it will take her -- even if that means blacking out Hackensack readers for months at a time. As you may know, Alvarado was sidetracked on the Michael Mordaga vendetta for about two years before the results of that woefully weak "investigation" were published Dec. 16.

I guess I should be paying more attention to Jimmy Margulies, whose Sunday cartoon was so ambiguous on how Governor Christie is treating the rich. Today, his cartoon, on A-11, purports that in the face of looming state aid cuts, town officials are actively considering "consolidation, regionalization, merger [and] shared services."

From the cartoonist's pen to God's ears. Does Margulies live in North Jersey? Have you heard of any home-rule towns, with the possible exception of Teaneck and Bogota, discussing major ways to economize? Maybe he is privy to closed-door meetings. I feel this kind of distortion just pisses off local taxpayers.

Englewood reporter Giovanna Fabiano has an L-1 story today on an Englewood-based agency helping homeowners facing foreclosure. Her last story about the city ran March 4. 

I don't think she spends that much time in Englewood or you'd expect her to get to the bottom of why stores and restaurants on and off Palisade Avenue have been closing in recent years. Is it just the economy or are landlords too greedy? The latest is Zeytinia, the upscale food market across from City Hall. And I don't think she reported the ShopRite in Englewood was forced to throw away thousands of dollars worth of food during the storm-related power outage last week.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Margulies responds

The clarification process can bring out the cl...Image via Wikipedia

Cartoonist Jimmy Margulies has commented on my previous post:

Jimmy Margulies has left a new comment on your post "Is Margulies a journalist?":

"The image in the cartoon today was of a corkscrew on the Swiss army knife symbolizing Governor Christie's budget cuts for the poor and the middle class. Yes, the wealthy in New Jersey should be celebrating that they get a tax break while everyone else gets a cut of some kind.

"As far as the image of a corkscrew, what difference does it make that the Borgs have an interest in a wine bar, or a former problem with alcohol? Their personal lives should have no bearing on the content of my editorial cartoons.

"Making such a comment under the heading IS MARGULIES A JOURNALIST? is truly ironic if you think I should censor myself based on the owners' private interests. IS Sasson a journalist -- not a very smart one when it comes to making ill-advised statements like that."

"Eye on The Record" says:

My problem wasn't so much with the link to the Borgs' personal interests. I was troubled with the ambiguity of the image used in the cartoon. The cartoon can be interpreted two ways, so it doesn't accomplish the job of commenting on a crucial state issue. A journalist seeks clarity, not ambiguity. If I was still working as a news copy editor and still proofing Margulies' cartoons, I would have made my views known.

Unfortunately, the level of news copy editing at The Record of Woodland Park has declined dramatically, and stories, columns, cartoons, headlines and whatever go into the paper as they are created -- despite accuracy, ambiguity or other weaknesses.

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Is Margulies a journalist?

Cartoonist PROfilesImage by Gianfranco Goria via Flickr

Where does Margulies get off confusing readers about the impact of Governor Christie's austere state budget? His cartoon today, in Opinion, seems to suggest the wealthy are being "screwed" by the governor? Or does he mean they will be running for their corkscrews and drink to their good fortune?

If he is saying the rich will be screwed, it's just plain inaccurate. In fact, the Borgs and other wealthy families no longer have to pay the so-called millionaire's tax, and owners of small businesses get a 4% tax cut on corporate income. If he's saying they'll be celebrating, it's an especially poor choice of image, given Stephen and Jennifer Borg's investment in an Englewood wine bar, not to mention their father's past problems with alcohol.

This cartoon doesn't say much for Margulies' journalism credentials.  

Most of the front page in The Record of Woodland Park today is devoted to the state's financial crisis

"Plenty of pain
to go around"

This is a reader-friendly summary of Christie's proposed cuts, but much of the rest of the Sunday paper is disappointing.

The L-1 piece on recycling electronics omits any mention of Hackensack's program to accept TVs, computers and batteries year-round, one of the few municipal efforts in North Jersey.

Where does Road Warrior John Cichowski have his head buried, so he doesn't have to write about lousy local bus service? Potholes (L-1). Inside Local, possible school cuts in Passaic city and Wayne are explored in great detail, but Hackensack schools are ignored.

In Business, what is the point of the article on luxury-car importers? The B-2 graphic also appears to be inaccurate on Ferrari sales: They went up, not down.

One of the best pieces in today's paper didn't come from a staffer. It's Jeff Tittel's O-1 piece on restoring the flood plain (he's director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey).

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The weird front page returns


A week or more of natural and unnatural events drove The Record of Woodland Park to publish a series of hard-news front pages. Today, the lazy, incompetent editors commit such poor news judgment on Page 1 and elsewhere, it's clearly a return to journalism as usual.

What's with the lead A-1 story by Staff Writer John Brennan? He gets Governor Christie in front of the paper's "editorial board," but doesn't even ask him if the return of the so-called millionaire's tax on Christie's rich friends could generate enough revenue to prevent a battle over Bergen County blue laws, or why he doesn't agree to even a modest hike in the low gasoline tax.

Then, what's this story with the photo? The Navy is bringing back an airship program? Why is this on A-1?  What about the judge who rejected the deal to compensate 9/11 workers? Isn't that worth more than a few paragraphs outside?

On A-11 -- the editorial page -- why does it take a letter from reader Chuck Bailey, a former Closter resident, to expose Republicans' desperation and lies in the battle over passing health care reform? Isn't it the job of the media, including The Record, to sort out fact from fiction? But it's clear the former Hackensack daily's editors and owners are interested only in selling newspapers.

In Local  today, Teaneck reporter Joseph Ax has two education stories, but Deirdre Sykes and the other desperate editors resort to using the Dean's List again to flesh out "every day" coverage, ignoring schools in Hackensack, Englewood and many other Bergen County towns.

The L-6 story on an age-bias lawsuit by a Washington Township police sergeant speaks volumes about the folly of home rule and the buffoonish officials who run our lives and set our property taxes. The mayor apparently admitted to a "local newspaper reporter" he wanted to promote younger officers to "stabilize the long-term succession of leadership in the department."

Finally, why did the editors bury on L-7 an update about the Teaneck mom who saved her home from foreclosure by baking cakes? Like the original, no other paper had this success story from one of the core towns in Bergen County (photo: Zoe's Cupcake Cafe).

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Sucking up to Governor Christie

Citizens registered as an Independent, Democra...Image via Wikipedia

Amid all the negative reaction to Republican Governor Christie's proposed cuts -- which would affect just about everyone but the Borgs and other rich families -- Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin is blaming the Democrats and the people for the fiscal mess we are in.

In his poorly written column on Page A-23 today, this popinjay conveniently ignores how The Record and just about every past administration -- Democratic or Republican -- have tried to preserve the ruinously expensive home-rule system against any attempts to consolidate services and eliminate duplication.

How much support did the Woodland Park daily give Governor Corzine's attempts to make the system more efficient? Does anybody believe Christie is going to be able to cut our property taxes? Isn't cutting school and municipal aid just going to ensure our taxes go up?

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rising disappointment in Christie

Census Bureau map of Woodland Park, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia

It's good to see rising discontent with Governor Christie reflected in the news and editorial columns of The Record of Woodland Park (map), but some reporters still are being fed pablum.

How does a Page 1 piece with the headline, "Turnpike as moneymaker," get published today with only vague references to "roads should be subsidized by the trucking companies that use the roads"?  

A much better story for that space would have been the bigger-than-anticipated cuts in state school aid.

Christie's new transportation commissioner condemns politics in transportation decision-making, plans reform of turnpike employee work rules and pensions, and wants to form public-private partnerships to make infrastructure repairs. But he won't raise our low gasoline tax or tolls for drivers, and didn't discuss specific mass-transit improvements.

Moreover, the story contains no revenue projections or when the extra money is expected to pour in. Is this piece by Staff Writer Karen Rouse nothing more than a bunch of trial balloons by Transportation Czar James S. Simpson?

Is it a coincidence that a story on a 604-pound woman appears on Page A-8, next to a photo of Christie in Wayne? Or that the words "promise" and "promises" appear in two headlines on the same page about flood solutions and turnpike revenue?

The Record's editorial today acknowledges the paper's past support for ending blue-law shopping restrictions in Bergen County -- absent from yesterday's news story. But can't you just see the Borgs salivating over all that possible new ad revenue, especially in view of what some observers are calling a financially ill-advised abandonment of Hackensack -- phyiscally and editorially.

There is really bad news in Local, where proposed cuts in state aid to school districts are listed on L-3. Rich districts like Ridgewood, Tenafly and Alpine would get no aid, but middle-class districts are calling the plan disastrous.

Will cutting 24% percent help Englewood desegregate its elementary and middle schools -- or does it even have such a plan? That's a story Staff Writer Giovanna Fabiano and her clueless assignment editor have ignored.

Eight reporters contributed to the story on school aid, but Hackensack (-28%) , Teaneck (-59%) and Englewood officials aren't quoted. Did the Hackensack, Englewood and Teaneck reoprters call in sick? In contrast to their lack of productivity, a single staffer reported and wrote three expanded local obituaries in today's paper.

If you're looking for Publisher Stephen A. Borg's highly touted "every day" coverage of food in Better Living, you won't find any today, as is the case Thursdays and most Saturdays. Mondays will get you a single recipe for vegetarians -- about the only concession to that lifestyle I have seen in the food pages in the past few years. At least the house ad claiming the paper provides such seven-day food coverage hasn't appeared for many months.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Trickle-down Christie bares his fangs

Official Portrait of President Ronald ReaganImage via Wikipedia

Governor Christie's harsh budget plan shares the front page with flooding in The Record of Woodland Park today. We have more to worry about from the governor's concessions to wealthy small-business owners and rich families like the Borgs than we do from Mother Nature.

The headline on Staff Writer Charles Stile's Page 1 column calls us "guinea pigs" in the Republican's trickle-down experiment, which recalls the disastrous outcome of Ronald Reagan's similar sleight-of-hand decades ago. (Photo: President Ronald Reagan.)

On A-4, the story on Christie's proposal to end Bergen County's Sunday shopping ban makes no mention of The Record's financial and editorial support the last time shopping centers tried to repeal blue laws.

The A-18 editorial seems to have been edited by Publisher Stephen A. Borg and doesn't condemn the governor for refusing to raise the gasoline tax and reinstate the "millionaire's tax" during this unprecedented fiscal crisis.

Coverage of the weekend nor'easter, especially in Local, seems adequate today, but there is little here on how the region's routine was severely disrupted, even for those who escaped flooded basements, power outages or trees crashing down on their homes.

In Business, Your Money's Worth Columnist Kevin DeMarrais has more on shrinking packages at supermarkets. Don't you wonder why there is so little coverage of food shopping in the food pages?

Although Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung is on leave, she continues to be the voice of wealthy restaurant owners. Couldn't all that space in Better Living today on how restaurants use menus to market meals be better devoted to helping restaurant goers during the recession?

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lots of numbers don't tell the story

Looking northeast at Public Service Electric a... Image via Wikipedia

About the best thing you can say about coverage of the nor'easter in The Record of Woodland Park today is that Staff Writer Charles Stile rekindled the fire of his early columns by noting Governor Christie's lack of visibility during state residents' time of need.

Still, I thought his Page 1 piece handled Christie too gently.

As for the rest of the coverage -- on the front page, inside and taking up almost all of Local -- it doesn't have the sweep of a storm that affected virtually everyone and one everyone still is talking about nearly three days later. Just listing a lot of numbers doesn't tell the human story.

Mike Kelly, the columnist, wasted his and readers' time by going to PSE&G's "war room." Stories on several towns are in Local, but there is virtually nothing about the impact on Hackensack.

That schools were closed by power outages is only part of the story. What about office buildings? Did doctors cancel appointments? Did lawyers give their paralegals a few days off? What about restaurants and supermarkets?

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Where is the news judgment?

Map highlighting Teaneck's location within Ber...Image via Wikipedia

Flooding and power outages are what you'd expect after a fierce rain storm, but why would the editors bury the full story of how two Orthodox Jewish neighbors were killed by a falling tree as they returned home from services Saturday evening in Teaneck (map)?

Does The Record of Woodland Park have to run a picture of flooding in Wayne on Page 1 after every major storm? Doesn't Wayne always flood? Just what is the man in the photo doing? The caption doesn't help. In the story, quotes from residents sound like reporters have them stored on save/get keys.

Was the storm a nor'easter, as the paper reported yesterday? A sidebar on A-7 is the only story today that refers to a nor'easter. Also, there is nothing to put this storm in context. Was it worse than previous rain storms?

Maybe the story about the devout Jews didn't make the front page because it was poorly done by Staff Writer Joseph Ax.

Most of it was devoted to telling readers what great guys they were, but it remains unclear whether one of the men was an Ashkenazi Jew who didn't make the longer walk to his usual synagogue because of the bad weather and attended his Sephardic friend's synagogue across the street, exposing both to the falling tree on the walk home.

The story has background information on Sephardic Jews, yet omits any description of the seven-day mourning period all Jews observe -- wives and children sitting on cushions on the floor in clothing torn to show their grief, as they greet a steady stream of mourners. Also, it is likely the men were buried Sunday evening; again, the story is silent on that point.

In Local, a Leonia schools story appears on L-2, written by Staff Writer Giovanna Fabiano, who also covers Englewood. Except for one interview with the Englewood superintendent, she has virtually ignored the city's schools since taking over the beat in the summer of 2008.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Good to see on-the-ball reporting

Downed tree on North Ave. near Freedom ParkwayImage by rustytanton via Flickr

The lead story on the front of The Record of Woodland Park today isn't just another routine recitation of storm damage you usually find in the paper. This report says the nor'easter felled a tree that killed two Teaneck pedestrians on Saturday in an accident many people fear.

But there is real detail here: The victims appear to have been returning from synagogue services, so their orthodoxy prevented them from driving and exposed them to the dangers of such a wind-driven storm. You don't see this kind of on-the-ball reporting in the former Hackensack daily every day, hampered as it is by a clueless assignment desk under Deirdre Sykes. 

The rest of Page 1 carries another substantial take-out on the deficit-ridden state pension system by Staff Writers Elise Young and Dave Sheingold, who have been following this story for months. It seems Christie Whitman, the former Republican governor, is at the root of today's problems.

Unlike Young and Sheingold, Columnist John Cichowski is late to the debate -- this one over the sorry state of mass transit in North Jersey. On the front of Local, The Road Warrior finally has one the few columns he's written in more than six years on long-suffering bus riders, who now face 25% fare hikes and service cuts -- and he still refuses to check out such decrepit local buses as the 780 that runs from Englewood to Hackensack and Passaic city.

Cichowski's column fleshes out the lead Opinion piece by Zoe Baldwin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She writes that drivers should shoulder more of the state's fiscal burden -- an argument that hasn't been adopted by the paper's editorial writers, who, like Cichowski, appear to be held hostage by motorists.

If you want to throw up, try to get through Mike Kelly's column on the Opinion front about Ground Zero. Read this, for example:

"Ground Zero and all its shadowy issues have become like a ghost in a Shakespearean drama that just can't seem to find its bearings. All Ground Zero needs to become an even greater tragedy is the modern equivalent of ancient Rome's Marcus Brutus."
Help! I can't read more. I have to go to the bathroom and barf.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Letting down Bergen County residents

Seal of Passaic County, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia

Hackensack readers may not know what their elected officials are doing -- due to lack of coverage in The Record of Woodland Park -- but the weather in River City is front-page news today for the third time this winter.

On Page 1, a woman in the parking lot of ShopRite in Hackensack tries to shield herself from the rain, illustrating a what-if story about potential flooding that takes up most of the page. Joining it are a business-as-usual congressional piece and a gee-whiz story about a drug buyer who stole an ambulance in Newark.

What an awesome front page. The lazy, incompetent editors have outdone themselves. Hey, read that A-2 correction a few times and try to figure out what it says.

On the front of Local, the photo of a non-fatal traffic accident tells you it was a slow news day Friday or the staff started their weekend early.

A day after an L-3 story on settlement of the East Hill Synagogue dispute in Englewood, details are reported on L-1 today -- again omitting mention of Malcom A. "Mac" Borg's role in opposing expansion of the congregation down the block from his Walnut Street mansion. Mac, of course, is chairman of North Jersey Media Group, which publishes The Record.

The headlines on the two synagogue stories are nearly identical, and that had me doing a double take. It's obvious, the news copy editor and supervisor on today's story didn't read Friday's paper.

There are so many Passaic County stories in Local, long-suffering Bergen County readers may feel cheated for yet another day.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Hiding Mac Borg's role

Map highlighting Englewood's location within B...Image via Wikipedia

Don't you find it curious that today's L-3 story on the East Hill Synagogue in Englewood (map) omits any mention of how Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg was among neighbors who opposed the congregation's expansion on his East Hill block?

Nor do I see the name of attorney Bruce Rosen, who has done a lot of legal work for The Record and who represented Mac and other opponents. (When he was a reporter at the paper in the 1980s, Rosen said Mac gave him at least one mortgage to buy a house.)

At least the lazy, incompetent editors tried to bury the synagogue story omissions. (For non-Record folk, Mac Borg is chairman of North Jersey Media Group.) I recall asking Assignment Editor Dan Sforza two or three years ago, when I was a copy editor, why a short story on this same dispute didn't include Mac's name, and he said there was "no room" to mention it. Editors today can't use the same excuse for this much longer story.

Then, on Page 1 today,  a long, tortured tale about an international custody battle seems to have been deliberately distorted to shower the father with sympathy.

When you look at the headlines and the moody photo on the front page, you can only conclude the paper wants you to like this man and hate his wife. But it's only on the jump page, you discover he has been accused of of sexually abusing his own kids, and left all of them behind to escape a criminal complaint, the woman's attorney says.

It's not "a father's nightmare." It's the readers who are having nightmares.Was this the work of the courthouse reporter trying to sell the story for the front or the devious editors?  

Three corrections appear on A-2. Way to go.

Joseph Ax has stopped acting like a foreign correspondent and gone back to reporting municipal affairs in Teaneck, where he is assigned. Today, he has two stories in Local, compared to none about Hackensack, Englewood and a lot of other Bergen County towns.

A photo of the Woodland Park police chief on L-2 incorrectly says he is behind a "podium," when he is, in fact, standing at a lectern.The caption doesn't say where the swearing-in was, but I'm sure the editors could have left their Garret Mountain newsroom and popped over for refreshments.

In Better Living, Restaurant Reviewer Bill Pitcher cranks ups the hyperbole in a three-star review of sushi restaurant Umeya in Cresskill. (Publisher Stephen A. Borg lives in nearby Tenafly, in a house that is bigger than some Japanese villages.) Pitcher calls the raw fish "pristine, salmon tasting as clean as the water it was plucked from."

Of course, the salmon likely was farm-raised and, thus, artificially colored, and probably it contained other contaminants. Pitcher also fails to mention fish served raw must be frozen first to kill worms.
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

How about some background?

The Record (Bergen County)Image via Wikipedia

Don't you hate it when a front-page story is not only poorly reported and edited but provides you with only the barest of background? You have that today in The Record of Woodland Park with another in a series about the long-suffering residents of Pompton Lakes. (Photo: A front page from 2007 for comparison.)

Why this story is on Page 1 is a puzzle. Why it doesn't portray this sorry saga of chemical pollution as both a shameful corporate and home-rule failure is only known to the lazy, desperate and incompetent editors who think Bergen County readers are eager for another update on this century old story in a far-off town.

The story says a DuPont munitions plant closed in 1994, but doesn't explain why a cleanup won't be finished until 2015. That's more than 20 years. And it's unclear -- even after a careful reading -- who came up with the idea of building a wind farm next to contaminated homes, where residents would get to trade one form of pollution for another (toxic chemicals for noise and vibration)?

At least the editors had the sense to put Governor Christie's budget problems and possible solutions on the front page for a third day in a row.

If you live in Hackensack, you'll find Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado, who is supposed to cover the city, missing in action for yet another day. There are more than 10 court, lawsuit, police and fire news stories in Local today.

The editors in Business decided one lavishly promotional story about 3-D TVs wasn't enough, so they assigned a reporter to write another for today.
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Young Borg's big mistakes

3-DImage by Joel Price via Flickr

Mistake that turned
his life upside down

When I first saw this headline on Page 1 of  The Record of Woodland Park today, I thought it would be appropriate to describe mistakes made by Publisher Stephen A. Borg that turned employees' lives upside down.

After he took over from his father, he moved printing of The Record and Herald News to Rockaway Township from Hackensack, sacrificing highly profitable commercial printing and prompting the layoff of more than 50 press workers, not to mention incurring the high cost of fuel and extra wear and tear on the Mercedes delivery trucks burning up Route 80 every day.

 Then, he scattered workers in the Hackensack newsroom to the four winds, depriving editors and reporters of a shared purpose, which you can see in the lousy local news coverage and a front page that chases every sensational story just to sell papers.

Now, the landmark building is nearly empty -- with Chairman Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg making North Jersey Media Group's last stand -- and 150 River St. apparently is unsellable in a down market. Wasn't unloading the underused building and surrounding land the whole point of moving to Woodland Park?

But today's A-1 headline is not about Borg, it's about the poor, lovelorn schmuck who ducked under a rope at Newark airport and triggered a security lock-down -- in other words, much ado about nothing. Is this really front-page news? Even the judge didn't think so, giving the defendant community service and fining him $500.

Governor Christie is on A-1 again today, blasting his predecessor for making a deal that will prevent Christie from laying off unionized state workers before January. So, the governor is pissed at Jon Corzine. How many thousands are pissed at Christie, who is planning a wide range of cuts that would affect working and middle classes, while easing the tax burden on the Borgs and other wealthy families?

So what's on the front of Local? A burned body found under a Route 46 bridge in Little Ferry is the best the lazy, incompetent assignment desk under Deirdre Sykes can do today. Three of the four education stories on L-2 are from Passaic County.

With Staff Writer Joseph Ax writing about Haiti again, there is no Teaneck news. Nor will you find any stories from Hackesnsack, Englewood and a lot of other Bergen County towns.

The front of Buisness shills for the makers of 3-D TVs (photo) with lots of color, upbeat headlines and text full of quotes from executives salivating over the prospect of huge bonuses.
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