Friday, April 30, 2010

Throwing good money after bad

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


How much more evidence do we need that head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes is squandering the time and salaries of three reporters at The Record of Woodland Park, chasing allegations against Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa but never publishing the blockbuster everyone expects?

This recalls the nearly three-year pursuit by these same reporters (the paper's three blind mice) of Michael Mordaga, who was chief of detectives for Zisa before he took a similar job with the Bergen County prosecutor. 

What did the expenditure of an estimated $500,000 in staff salaries on the Mordaga vendetta produce? A single story Dec. 16 -- not even good enough for the front page -- more than two years after Mordaga's alleged conflict ended.

The Zisa story -- charges of insurance fraud leveled by the prosecutor -- also comes more than two years after an accident invovling the chief's then-girlfriend. 

And former Breaking News Editor Jerry DeMarco makes a good argument that his beat The Record to the story and ensuing developments Thursday and Friday.

With three reporters chasing Zisa, the actual story by Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado was botched in typical Record fashion: 

It was crammed into Page 1 under a clunky, two-column headline that didn't even contain Zisa's name -- next to a gee-whiz photo of a toppled crane that was cropped so tightly, it was difficult to make out. 

A photographer should have accompanied the reporter who spoke to Zisa, and gotten a photo of the chief leaving police headquarters Thursday evening.

And the story should have been spread across the top of A-1. Only the lazy, incompetent editors -- Sykes is chief among them -- can say why it wasn't.

Maybe it would have cost too much to remake the front page -- just the reason cited when boneheaded Editor Frank Scandale relegated Thomas E. Franklin's incredible 9/11 flag-raising photo to a back page -- likely sinking Franklin's chances for a Pulitzer Prize.

A paragraph that should have appeared on Page 1 (high in the Zisa story) doesn't appear until the end on Page A-8 -- above tag lines for Staff Writers Shawn Boburg and Jean Rimbach, two of the least-productive reporters in the newsroom:
"[Ken] Zisa is a member of a Hackensack political dynasty. His family members have served, at various times, as mayor and deputy mayor, deputy police chief and city counsel."
Why hasn't The Record -- even during all its years in Hackensack -- ever published an expose of the Zisa family, the nepotism and the police chief's alleged use of police officers to conduct his private business?

Did the powerful Borg and Zisa familiies come to some understanding? Is this the kind of "responsible journalism" North Jersey Media Group claims to be so proud of? (Map: Hackensack.)
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hey, Guv, heard about the obesity epidemic?

Silhouettes and waist circumferences represent...Image via Wikipedia

The front page of The Record of Woodland Park today reports that Gov. Christie's is proposing cuts in aid to breakfast and lunch programs for low-income children, and that may force some schools to drop fresh fruit and vegetables during the obesity epidemic. 

This story is big enough to dominate the page, but the lazy, incompetent editors were out to sell papers with the murder of an elderly Pal Park woman whose house was set on fire afterward. Too bad the headlines are clunky -- "Woman stabbed before blaze" and "Was fire set to hide evidence?" -- and the photographer didn't get there until all the excitement was over. Only the body bag tells you she died. How about: 

Elderly woman
stabbed, burned

Was fire set to hide slaying?

I find it strange that The Record and most of the other media have been ignoring the obesity epidemic. Since Christie took office, no reporter apparently has asked him what the state is doing to ease obesity in children and adults.

The Record's food and news editor have consistently denied they have a responsibility to launch a project on obesity. The food editor is obsessed with meat and the on-leave restaurant reviewer is obsessed with dessert, and they report on those subjects with abandon. What examples do they set for readers?

On A-2, there are three corrections -- the longest one to fix an inaccurate graphic that ran Sunday. The newspaper has been struggling with inaccurate graphics for many, many years -- meetings were held, teeth gnashed -- and still it has failed to improve them. 

You have to wonder why News Production Director Liz Houlton has fallen flat on her face in trying to achieve this important goal (after all, she is probably making well over $100,000). But remember that Houlton once ran the copy desk for Features Director Barbara Jaeger, and failed to catch the numerous errors in food and other stories that appeared regularly in the paper. 

Maybe these two directors -- pals Houlton and Jaeger -- would be more successful directing traffic.

Why is the federal report on the incompetent air traffic controller at Teterboro Airport buried on A-4? Nine people died in the resulting collision of a small plane and sightseeing helicopter over the Hudson River, and the airport is a huge quality-of-life issue in Bergen County (another big story ignored by the paper). Page A-5 is full of stories from The Star-Ledger, but the one on student protests ignores Bergen and Passaic counties.

The only Hackensack news in the paper today is a story on a talk at the high school about online predators.In Englewood news, a man beaten on the street in the middle of the night was hospitalized.

Since Christie took office in January, readers have been witnessing his attempts to cut a wide range of programs that benefit the middle and working classes -- as well as aid to schools and towns -- while trying to preserve the wealth of his rich friends, including the Borg family, owners of North Jersey Media Group.

Maybe as publishers of so many daily and weekly newspapers, Malcolm, Stephen and Jennifer Borg should disclose their political sympathies and contributions.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Backlash to budget cutting diluted

Map of Woodland Park in Passaic County (shown ...Image via Wikipedia

Why is The Record of Woodland Park reporting growing resistance to Governor Christie's budget cutting in piecemeal fashion? Are the lazy, incompetent editors trying to dilute the impact of protests by students, teachers, mayors and others by scattering the stories instead of doing a daily roundup?

Student walkouts in Englewood, Fort Lee, Paterson and other communities should have dominated  Page 1 -- not a gee-whiz story on a one-armed tennis player. 

In Local today, there is no news from Hackensack or Teaneck.

I don't know how head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes or her minions keep their jobs. Sykes is probably confident that if she left The Record, Harrington Park would hire her in return for her many years of loyalty in keeping any critical stories about her hometown out of the paper.

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For your entertainment

Great Falls of the Passaic River, showing the ...Image via Wikipedia

Here is the latest comment from former Breaking News Editor Jerry Demarco on Malcolm Borg and the ascent of Stephen Borg (The Prodigal Sin) to North Jersey Media Group president and publisher. As he notes, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of anything he says, but, boy, it's so readable and entertaining -- as DeMarco does his own version of walking a tightrope across the Great Falls (photo):

"Honestly: I thought he [Malcolm Borg] looked good considering all he'd been through.

"Put yourself in his shoes, for just a minute. Down deep, you think he's happy how everything's turning out -- not just to his empire but throughout the industry that's been in his family more than a century?

"Malcolm Borg never counted on this, cause the knuckleheads at the switches never told him. For Christ's sake: Markey openly told the entire company that TR was going to "bring younger readers" back to reading newspapers.

"When your president makes a complete fool of himself, you can't keep him around much longer. So what were Mac's alternatives? Step into the breach himself? He couldn't, given his health.

"Go find a bona fide president? With what "brain trust" to help him choose one?

"Jen never wanted it. She's a lawyer (a good one, too), not a publisher. So Dad scraped the bottom of his own gene pool and gave the keys to the SL to Corey Feldman.

"The Prodigal Sin first had the weeklies to play with. He turned them into money-makers.

"So Dad, when push came to shove, went with him as a last resort -- a heartless, punchless boob who couldn't hold his old man's suspenders, who grew up in the shadow of a smarter, more popular sister. The kind of dork whose high school life must've been an unending series of wedgies.

"From there, the formula's simple: Shit rolls downhill.... Frick & Frank do what they're told. Mama Crass bitches to her immediate subordinates, then kisses ass when called to account. And a huge investment is made in Ian O'Connor -- who immediately brings the paper major sportside cred, then parlays that to greener grass.

"The hope then becomes that Klap returns to form, that the weekly reporters can be absorbed into the mainstream, and that dollars in Passaic County can be tapped.

"F&F vehemently oppose the moves; unfair to Local 12! But that's really the only hope they have, as their budgets grow smaller and smaller.

"The staff shrinks. Holes aren't filled. Everyone's told to do more with less -- when, actually, it makes them less inclined to meet that directive.

"Meanwhile, F&F run from one side of the ship to the other, trying to figure out what'll make Junior happy, instead of establishing principles that stick.

"Be sure to tell everyone how you don't vouch for the accuracy of anything I say. Then privately ask people you trust if even the slightest shred of this isn't the absolute truth."
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is this any way to cover Hackensack?

"Republican Party Elephant" logoImage via Wikipedia

A month can go by without a story about Hackensack in The Record of Woodland Park and then two will pop up, as in Local today. But is the paper really covering the city it once called home?

The two "Hackensack stories" appear on L-1 -- the head of the police union draws a six-month suspension for posts on an online forum and the owner of Cubby's barbecue restaurant is portrayed in a new book as a peacemaker with the North Koreans.

The cop story is among more than two dozen Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado has written since June 2009, chronicling the legal pissing match between Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa and rank-and-file police officers. No other agency is covered nearly as well.

In fact, Alvarado has not covered a single City Council or Board of Education meeting in that time. On June 13, 2009, she reported the Main Street improvement director had been fired two months earlier, but she never gave a reason and never did a follow-up.

A number of construction projects are under way around the city -- and others have been suspended -- but nothing ever appears about them in the newspaper. Who is Alvarado's assignment editor?

On Monday, at the Wicker Warehouse on River Street, an owner hadn't heard that Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg is one of the few people left in the former landmark building at 150 River Street -- now an albatross around the necks of the sibling rivalry running North Jersey Media Group, Stephen and  big sister Jennifer Borg, who apparently have pushed their father aside.

"So The Bergen Record is now located in Passaic County," the merchant said matter of factly.

Jennifer Borg has made no secret her father wants to keep a presence in Hackensack -- even though most of the news gathering and all of the printing takes place in Passaic County and Morris County, respectively. And Mac wants to stay in River City even after the sale of that enormous pile of bricks and surrounding land.

On Page 1 today, don't you think the lazy, incompetent editors could have done more with the Republican mayor who told Governor Christie to "go slow" on his slash-and-burn budget cutting? Instead, we get a baseball team visiting the president all over Page 1. Give me a break.

'Great pride in ... responsible journalism'

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...Image via Wikipedia

Want to know what the Borgs think of the journalism being practiced at The Record of Woodland Park? I didn't think they were paying attention to the decline of the newspaper, but a letter from their attorney says otherwise:

"My client's commitment to the First Amendment is paramount and plainly evident in the way it conducts its reporting and business," attorney Samuel J. Samaro said. "North Jersey Media Group takes great pride in getting the facts right and practicing responsible journalism."

Do you agree? Is the virtual blackout on Hackensack municipal and development news "responsible journalism"? Or is this obviously a case of an attorney who will say anything, if you pay him his inflated hourly fee?

The letter, sent Friday to my attorney, Joshua L. Weiner of Weiner & Weiner in Morristown, demands that I retract references in "Eye on The Record" to the Borgs, editors and others. Samaro calls them "misstatements of facts and defamation."

My lawyer defended the accuracy of the references and replied that none of them would be deleted.

"Please be advised," he wrote, "that any legal action taken against my client regarding his constitutionally protected blog entries will be construed as a selective lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) attempting to burden and intimidate my client into foregoing his criticisms and opposition to NJMG."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Newspaper is rotting away

NJ Turnpike Bridge over Newark BayImage by alex.ragone via Flickr

Thank God for infrastructure. What would the lazy, incompetent editors of The Record of Woodland Park do for a front-page story today if it weren't for the steady stream of transportation meetings, studies, reports and contracts Staff Writer Karen Rouse uses as fodder for her coverage?

Bridges rotting away

That headline is meant to scare readers, though a lot of bridge work she discusses won't get under way until next year. What's really scary is how the former Hackensack daily is rotting away right before our eyes.

And the copy editing on her story today is atrocious. What is the "easterly" Hackensack River bridge? The graphic on A-6 says a "repainting project is under construction." How about just "under way"?

Rouse was an education reporter when she was hand-picked by Editor Frank Scandale to come to The Record from The Denver Post, his old newspaper. Unfortunately, two reporters already were covering education for The Record (never mind that their productivity is among the lowest on the staff). 

So Rouse was given the job of transportation reporter and assignment desk trainee (the hybrid job was never posted in the newsroom); she proved ill-suited for the latter. Now, she writes almost exclusively about infrastructure -- under the guidance of her knuckle-headed assignment editor.

When I was still a news copy editor in Hackensack, she resisted my suggestion she write about deplorable local bus service, saying her assignment editor wouldn't allow her the time to look into anything unless it definitely was going to produce a story. In other words, she said, she couldn't  board a decrepit No. 780 bus at the bus terminal across the street and ride it to Passaic for lunch to see how most of the riders were minorities -- contrasting their ride to the new buses used by mostly white commuters to Manhattan.

One of those white bus riders also lands on Page 1 today, though he and other bus patrons have been virtually ignored by the assignment desk and the transportation writers, including Road Warrior John Cichowski.

Most of Local today is devoted to events that were covered Sunday -- Armenians marking the 95th anniversary of a genocide; a vigil for crime victims in Paterson; a Bergen County recycling day for pack-rats too cheap to buy a home shredder for sensitive documents.

Where is the vigil for readers who have watched coverage of their towns, including Hackensack, Englewood and Teaneck, wither and die? When will the editors, including Scandale and head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, have to answer to the public for the decimation of local news?

I know the Borgs -- or their legal representatives -- read "Eye on The Record" carefully, because they've renewed threats to file a lawsuit against me. But I'd like Malclom, Stephen and Jennifer Borg to pay more attention to how badly the editors are handling their crucial responsibility of informing the public about what is going on in their communities. After all, that is how The Record became a great newspaper -- before Scandale, Sykes, Frank Burgos, Tim Nostrand, Jim McGarvey and their minions tore it down.

Better Living Staff Writer Sachi Fujimori, who I have praised frequently, stumbles badly today with the lead paragraph on the scheduled closing of the Peking Duck House restaurant in Closter. She writes the signature dish "helped grease the wheels of friendship between the U.S. and China" -- a jarring description given how virtually all the fat in Peking duck is removed before it is served.

Where was Food Editor Bill Pitcher or the copy editors on Feature Editor Barbara Jaeger's desk when it came to catching this awkward and inaccurate play on words?
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Does anybody care -- even a little?

Official seal of East Rutherford, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia

If you live in Hackensack and subscribe to The Record of Woodland Park like I do, you have to get out there and pick up your paper early. Are you thinking there is some important Hackensack news in the paper, or stories about Teaneck and Englewood? How naive can you be?

No. I should have gotten out there early today, because it is pouring, and the dysfunctional circulation department had some poor, exploited guy with three jobs steer his SUV down my street and throw my Sunday paper onto my driveway in a single plastic bag -- open to the rain. Most of the paper was soaked and it was past 10:30, so I couldn't call for a replacement. Hey, I have the news sections. Am I really missing anything in the other sections? Mike Kelly? Ha! What a joke.

Staff Writer Elise Young deserves to have most of the front page today for another in an occasional expose on the state's screwed-up public pension system, and even a law Governor Christie signed last month won't touch lobbyists who are enrolled in lifetime health care. But one great story can't carry the paper.

The lazy, incompetent news and food editors won't budge on assigning reporters to a project on the obesity epidemic, but A-1 today has a Star-Ledger story on overweight military recruits from New Jersey.

There is so little Bergen County news of any import in Local today, readers must feel they've been slapped in the face by head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes. Why is a story on two Catholic schools in East Rutherford and Wood-Ridge running today and not earlier in the week when The Record reported the closing of Paterson Catholic Regional High School?

Why is there a huge story about falling home values in Little Falls in my paper? Or a fish kill in Caldwell? Or Wayne's search for a superintendent? Or even a man shot in Paterson? Did nothing happen in Hackensack and Englewood?

Does former Publisher Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg, who lives in Englewood and goes to his Hackensack office, care about the lack of local news? Does Editor Frank Scandale care about the job he's doing at the former Hackensack daily or is he still boasting about what he did at The Denver Post more than 11 years ago? Do Mac's spoiled children -- Stephen and Jennifer, who are now running the paper from Woodland Park -- care? 

Does Sykes, who lives in tiny Harrington Park, care about the lack of local Bergen news? When is the last time you saw a story about Harrington Park in the paper? Must be a great place to live with low taxes and wonderful municipal and school officials, a veritable heaven on earth for home-rule advocates.

The sad truth is they don't care. The editors are secure in the knowledge they have employment for life -- no matter what they do in the newsroom -- because none of the Borgs pay any attention to the newsroom. If you're spent time around the Borgs, you know they act as if they are American royalty.

You should have seen Mac in the Bergen County Courthouse on April 9. He and Superior Court Judge Joseph S. Conte, who presided at the jury trial of my age-discrimination lawsuit, recalled a speech Mac had given on the courthouse steps. Then Mac, dressed in a beautiful pinstripe suit with a pocket square, was off to see Judge Peter Doyne, whose father the elder Borg knew. How cozy.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hyping the day's most boring news

Our street floodedImage by Oleg Dulin via Flickr

How do you hype a story on the appointment of another commission? How many studies, panels, commissions, engineering plans and whatever have been done to ease flooding in the Passaic River Basin in the last 50 years? But for the lazy, incompetent editors of The Record of Woodland Park -- who had no better story -- all you need is a nice color photo and an inaccurate headline to get the story all over the front page today.

Fighting back the floods

Great headline. Makes Governor Christie look like he's doing something. But so far from the truth, it's laughable.

Starting on Page 1 and continuing in Local today is the real news of the day -- fallout from state aid cuts, pension reforms and school budget rejections, but readers will look in vain for any news about Hackensack, where the paper was founded in 1895 and prospered for more than 110 years.

See the comment on the newspaper's staff submitted by Jerry DeMarco at the end of Friday's post.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Is there a message in this front page?

Intensely reading the newspaper in Addis AbabaImage by Terje S. Skjerdal via Flickr

Teachers protest in Teaneck over state aid cuts and pension changes. A man pleads not guilty in the death of his wife, a Bergenfield teacher (though that phrase never appears in the story). And the executive director of a preschool and child-care agency for Paterson children gets a $300,000 compensation package. That's the front page of The Record of Woodland Park today.

Inside, though, an editorial on Page A-20 finally focuses on home rule as the real reason our property taxes are so high, and urges Governor Christie to devote some of his attention to patronage jobs and the system's incredibly expensive duplication: For example, we have 70 police chiefs in Bergen County alone, and more than 70 school superintendents. 

Of course, this corrupt system is decades old, but The Record's all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful editors have done little so far to expose it or call for its dismantling. Maybe, they are defending "neighborhood schools" -- code for the predominately white education system outside of Hackensack, Teaneck, Englewood, Paterson and Passaic city.

Staff Writer Jean Rimbach led an investigation of private but publicly funded preschools about five years ago and wrote a three-part series exposing inflated salaries and other wasteful spending -- as detailed in today's front-page story about Ron Williams and the B.J. Wilkerson Memorial Childhood Development Center. I guess her series, under the guidance of head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, amounted to little more than a loud, journalistic fart -- and brought no reform.

The same can be said about another Sykes-inspired, Rimbach-led probe -- this one focused on a single man, Michael Mordaga, former chief of detectives in the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office. 

This was another turd Sykes and Rimbach tried to polish -- as was evident from the single, weak story on the Local front last Dec. 16. Yet, this so-called investigation took nearly three years and squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries for Rimbach and other reporters, including Monsy Alvarado and Shawn Boburg. 

Could that money have prevented staff layoffs?

Now, Sykes apparently has the hapless Alvarado investigating Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa, a former assemblyman, forcing the reporter to ignore any other news about River City, where The Record was founded in 1895.

Of course, none of this lousy journalism could go on without a total lack of interest in the newsroom shown in the last few years by Publisher Stephen A. Borg and his big sister, Vice President and General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg. These sophisticated siblings apparently are more interested in the Englewood wine bar in which they've invested.

In Better Living today, vegetarians or families who have taken a meatless pledge shouldn't bother reading the review of Soram, a Korean restaurant in Norwood with a limited menu. 

In fact, Restaurant Reviewer Bill Pitcher apparently ate only one dish without beef or pork. The meat-obsessed Pitcher also mistakenly calls that dish -- bibimbap -- "the vegetarian standby on most Korean menus" (the dish is almost always topped with ground meat, vegetables and an egg -- cooked or raw).  He doesn't even mention whether the restaurant serves complimentary, non-meat side dishes such as kimchi, bean sprouts and fish.

The appearance of several house ads in the food pages today tells you Pitcher, the food editor, seems to be running out of news. What's the explanation for a restaurant health inspection list that includes only 12 of the 90 or so towns in the former Hackensack daily's circulation area? (Photo: Reading the paper in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.)

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Contact with jurors draws warning

Scales of Justice (Detail)Image by Whistling in the Dark via Flickr

Last weekend, I checked the telephone book and found listings for six of the eight jurors who heard my age-discrimination lawsuit in Superior Court and returned a verdict in favor of the defendants, including North Jersey Media Group.

I left messages on answering machines, but reached only one of them. He hung up on me. A second juror's husband said she was upset by my message, and didn't want to talk. A woman who sounded like the mother of a third juror said she didn't know when he would be returning.

I was more interested in their interpretation of the evidence I had presented than in their deliberations.

When I covered state and federal courts in New Jersey as a reporter, I recall contacting jurors after trials or interviewing them on courthouse steps. But now, one of the jurors in my case was "upset" and wrote a letter to the judge. The judge then informed me in a letter faxed and mailed to my home that a court rule barred me -- a party to a lawsuit -- from contacting jurors without his permission. He asked me to come to court.
During a break in another jury trial today, Judge Joseph S. Conte ordered me to refrain from any further contact with jurors or face contempt of court charges. I said I was totally unaware of the rule. He said that reporters in New Jersey also are barred from contacting jurors.

NJMG's hired gun ($300 to $400 an hour) -- attorney Samuel J. Samaro, head of the employment practice at Pashman Stein in Hackensack -- also was in court. He continued his complaints about the "Eye on The Record" blog, which he used against me during the trial.

Samaro informed the judge that I had been blogging about the trial, and "blamed" him and the jurors for the unfavorable outcome April 9. He said I continued to use the blog "to punish" people I didn't like.  He also objected to my listing jurors' hometowns and occupations I gleaned in open court.

I replied that I was reporting what happened at a public trial, and didn't blame anyone for what happened. However, I did say in this blog I disagree with rulings that allowed Samaro to present evidence I felt was unduly prejudicial -- as he mounted a slash-and-burn defense that put me -- the pro se plaintiff -- on trial.

Samaro gives the impression he has never read a newspaper, and knows nothing of satire and critical journalism. He seems genuinely offended by my blog, and my criticism of The Record's editors and owners. He also portrays himself as a klutz when it comes to maintaining an automobile, and told me he hates to eat healthy. He certainly looks it.

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'Call for reform' or recession?

Teaneck High SchoolImage via Wikipedia

You know the rich owners and their slavish editors at The Record of Woodland Park are firmly in Governor Christie's corner from the Page 1 headlines on results of statewide school elections today:

Christie sees vote
as call for reform

Says public fed up
with higher taxes

The bylines of three reporters appear on the story, but there is absolutely no mention of the recession, and how that might have affected the public mood and the vote.  

The Record has been grinding the axes of "high" salaries for police officers and teachers so long, it has simply lost any objectivity, and continues to shift attention away from the governor's concessions to wealthy families such as the Borgs. 

For example, have you seen any editorials decrying the thousands of school district layoffs because of state aid cuts? The Borgs love layoffs -- at the  paper and anywhere else. They're still living high on the hog.

I agree the closing of Paterson Catholic Regional High School in Paterson deserves to be on the front page, but not to be the biggest element, as it is in the Herald News today. This is especially the case when you realize only the color photo earned the story such prominent play.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Three corrections on A-2 today, one in the form of an Associated Press story on A-4 admitting "multiple errors" in the Tuesday story on the governor's payroll.

It was good to see detailed follow-ups on the results of the school election in Teaneck (photo) and Englewood -- where the mayor and superintendent clashed -- but where are the details on  Hackensack's vote to support the budget and tax levy, and oust two incumbents from the school board?
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rare sighting in Hackensack

Toyota of Hackensack, NJImage by romulusnr via Flickr

I pulled into a parking space at my polling place Tuesday afternoon and rubbed my eyes. Could that be Monsy Alvarado, the reporter assigned to cover Hackensack for The Record of Woodland Park? Judging by how little she writes about the city, could be this one of those rare times she was actually covering a story in the paper's former home?

I waved to her, then went inside to cast my vote for the school budget and three candidates for the school board. When I came out, I interrupted her conversation with a man and asked why she hasn't been covering Hackensack. She said she couldn't talk to me because she was speaking with or interviewing the man. But she said I could call her.

Today's paper carries her bare-bones, seven-paragraph story with election results, and Hackensack residents are quoted elsewhere in the paper. But there is no explanation for why two incumbents were bounced off the board.

On the front of Local, Englewood reporter Giovanna Fabiano's story provides absolutely no context for readers on the defeat of the budget in that city, except for reporting the mayor's last-minute campaign against the tax levy. (Last week, the Teaneck schools superintendent was ordered to withdraw a letter asking for residents' votes in support of the budget there. Go figure.)

Fabiano has done her best to ignore segregated elementary and middle schools in Englewood. Has she even updated readers on integration efforts at the high school? (A black student in the Academies@ Englewood in Dwight Morrow High School told me the other day she cannot use copiers at the school unless she brings in her own paper.)

What about the role of the many Orthodox Jews and other white residents -- who send their children to private schools, as former Publisher Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg did with Jennifer and Stephen -- in the defeat of the budget? Is Fabiano going to report the vote by ward in a follow, and get to the bottom of what happened?
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Advisory on comments

Bergen county jail 1Image by Ari Hahn via Flickr

I welcome your comments, as I have said before, but I will no longer publish any personal attacks or other mean-spirited sniping. If you want to bury yourself with your own words, you are welcome to do so. Just leave me out of it.

I have deleted or edited some of the comments published previously, and I'll feel free to reject any comment in the future -- especially the schoolmarmish ones that scold me for my manners and so forth.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of anything anyone says in a comment.

Also, I am not interested in your interpretation of the Superior Court jury's verdict in the trial of my age-discrimination suit, the evidence or anything else. There is a strong New Jersey law against age discrimination, and I had a right to file suit and try the case to the best of my ability. 

I don't regret anything I did, and I am weighing an appeal of some of the judge's rulings that I objected to -- with the goal of winning a new trial.

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Christie and the Borgs -- perfect together

{{w|Christopher_J._Christie}}, U.S.Image via Wikipedia

Isn't this rich? Governor Christie (photo)  has cut aid to towns, schools and mass transit, but is paying his staff hundreds of thousands of dollars more than Jon Corzine did when he was in office, according to a front-page story in The Record of Woodland Park today.

Doesn't that remind you of how Publisher Stephen Borg ordered his editors to create many new jobs with lower salaries or simply to slash veteran workers' pay by as much as $10,000 just months after getting a $3.65 million mortgage from North Jersey Media Group, headed by his father?

Doesn't that remind you of Stephen Borg's stated goal -- a newsroom where no one makes more than $40,000?

Even if you put Christie's explanation in the best light, his staff is being paid $600,000 more than Corzine's, the story says. The Associated Press figure is nearly $2 million more. Would that $600,000 save an after-school program in Englewood or cuts in train service slated for May 1?

Six days after the volcano erupted in Iceland and paralyzed air traffic, the story on stranded North Jerseyans shows up on the front page today. But there is nothing about the disruption of air shipments of food, fish and flowers from Europe.

In Local, there is a photo and a few words about Hackensack's recreation program, which is not being cut, unlike those in other municipalities, but that's it for residents of the former home of The Record and NJMG .I guess clueless head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and her minions must be spending weeks at a retreat on how to cover local news.

There are six crime, court or accident pieces inside Local, including a photo and six paragraphs about a car chase and downed light pole in Paterson. Did editor Jim McGarvey, head of Passaic-Morris coverage, have to shout at a reporter to turn out that stellar piece of work?

This is McGarvey's second period of employment at The Record, and he has failed in every job he has had. Yet he seems to have found his calling -- terrorizing his staff.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Can it get any more boring than this?

Fish storyImage by Jean-François Chénier via Flickr

The Page 1 lead story in The Record of Woodland Park today is about weatherizing homes, red tape and delay. This is news? Do readers really need a Washington correspondent who turns in such tripe? (Photo: Wrap this fish with The Record.)

The "it doesn't affect us" mantra of the editors has demoted the European air paralysis story to inside pages. But I'm wondering about its impact on such international companies as the U.S. headquarters of Mercedes-Benz in Bergen County, and on imports of food, fish and flowers that usually arrive daily at Newark airport.

If you live in Hackensack, Teaneck, Englewood or anywhere else in Bergen, don't bother with Local today. You won't find any news about your town there.

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'And, boy, can she kiss!!!'

This post was removed at the request of Jerry DeMarco, who objected to my editing of his comments about Jennifer Borg, the trial of my age-discrimination lawsuit and other subjects. He also pointed out that I took cheap shots at him.
--Victor E. Sasson

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How much does Stephen Borg make?

Stack of Money - Scraped from the NetImage by purpleslog via Flickr

How much does North Jersey Media Group pay President and Publisher Stephen A. Borg, son of company patriarch Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg? 

How much does NJMG pay Editor Frank Scandale, who was promoted to vice president -- after Stephen Borg repudiated many of Scandale's news policies? How much does Stephen Borg's assistant publisher, Mala Lawrence, make? What about Features Director Barbara Jaeger, who hounded many of her most experienced staffers out of her department?

The better question is how much are they really worth, and did anyone of them take a salary cut during a company downsizing that included lower salaries for many new positions or unilateral cuts of as much as $10,000 for veteran newsroom workers?

$40,000 ceiling

Recall Stephen Borg's statement -- overheard by a sports reporter -- that his goal was a newsroom where no one made more than $40,000. Obviously, he wasn't talking about the editors.

Stephen Borg called Scandale's initiative on news and gossip to attract 20-year-old readers "a failed strategy." Borg also started "every day" coverage of education (except during summer recess). Frank just kept asking young female reporters to lunch.

Stephen Borg folded the Food section, moved printing to Rockaway Township and decentralized news gathering -- as he licked his chops over the tens of millions he could bring in by selling 150 River St. and surrounding acres. Unfortunately, the recession put a kabosh on that plan, and Mac insisted on keeping a presence in Hackensack, even if it's only his office.

Low morale

Scattering reporters and editors probably ended any sense of shared purpose the news staff had in Hackensack. Has moving the paper's headquarters to Woodland Park been responsible for the lack of Bergen County coverage? Only the lazy, incompetent editors can answer that one, but readers look in vain day after day for news of their towns.

The recession didn't stop Stephen from selling his $2 million home in Tenafly and buying a $3.65 million estate in the same town. As with the first house, he got a mortgage from NJMG.

So how much do Stephen, Frank, Mala and Barbara make? I know, but can't say. Their salaries were disclosed in depositions given under oath in the pretrial stage of my age-discrimination lawsuit, and anything said was covered by a confidentiality agreement. You can be sure Stephen and the editors are paid a lot more than they are worth.

'I don't know'

Vice President and General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg refused to disclose her salary and other executive compensation when she was deposed nor would she say whether any of the vice presidents took a salary cut. 

When Stephen was asked how much he is paid, he said he didn't know -- three times. He was prodded by my attorney until he gave an estimate. Despite his unkempt look -- messy hair and wrinkled white, open-collar shirt  -- you can be sure it is a ton of money.
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Editor hides his incompetence

Did you see Editor Frank Scandale's column on the front of Opinion today -- an elaborate explanation of why The Record of Woodland Park ran a photo showing a female suspect giving the finger to the photographer? 

He mentions his involvement over the years in deciding what photos to run, going way back to the Columbine massacre in 1999, when he was at The Denver Post. But he conveniently ignores his biggest blunder -- relegating Record Photographer Thomas Franklin's incredible flag-raising shot on 9/11 to a back page. How shameful. 

Your Money's Worth Columnist Kevin DeMarrais has probably written about the solar panels he had installed at his home a half-dozen times, including today's takeout on the front of Business. 

But because his story only refers briefly to the experience of one other homeowner, readers never learn how the process of getting solar panels is frustratingly slow, because of a stubborn state and local bureaucracy. Yet, he's familiar with my experience, because I sent him e-mails.

I had to lay out more than $40,000 to get solar panels put up on the roof of my Hackensack home. From the day I applied for a state rebate and put down a $10,000 deposit with the installer, 1st Light Energy, it took more than two years to get the panels onto the roof, and a couple of more months to get them online (in October). 

I still have not received any solar renewable energy credits, which I  anticipated will repay me in six to seven years.


An agenda-driven Sunday paper

CubaImage via Wikipedia

There are only three stories on the front page of The Record of Woodland Park today -- pushing two of the main agendas Editor Frank Scandale and his minions adopted several years ago.

Two of the stories continue an editorial campaign that seeks to portray the "high salaries" of police officers and teachers as the chief reasons our property taxes are so high.  

So it's no surprise the paper quickly became an ally of Governor Christie in his battle with the teachers union -- shifting the public's attention away from the big guy's pandering to the Borgs and other wealthy folks.

Englewood reporter Giovanna Fabiano's A-1 story about high pay and overtime for officers in that city only restates a situation dating to at least 2007, when the Police Department was so short-staffed, extra duty guarding utility work was given exclusively to Tenafly officers. 

Then-Englewood reporter Carolyn Feibel looked into that and actually quoted city officials as saying they refused to hire more officers because their pay was so high.

The off-lead on Page 1 is another story by a less-than-objective Cuban exile, Staff Writer Elizabeth Llorente, on political prisoners in Cuba. At one time, she and another, bitter exile, Miguel Perez, were the only reporters writing about Cuba for the former Hackensack daily. 

Scandale ignored my call from the copy desk for more objectivity.

I got a kick out of Llorente calling Cuba "a huge enigma to so many Americans." That's no surprise, given the decades of one-dimensional coverage of the island by The Record and other U.S. media. (On the map of Cuba above, how many provinces can you name?)

Local today is truly pathetic, especially for a Sunday section. A mere eight pages, there is news from only one the 70 towns in Bergen County, and none from the most diverse, Hackensack, Englewood and Teaneck.
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

'Eye on The Record' is your sounding board

Blog Comment SpamImage by extremeezine via Flickr

Do you believe, as I do, that The Record of Woodland Park is being held hostage by lazy, incompetent editors, and that the Borgs are absentee landlords interested only in enriching themselves?

Are you tired of editors playing favorites among the staff? Are you tired of staffers who apparently do little work, and get away with it? Do you disagree with a news policy that largely ignores Hackensack and many other Bergen County towns?

Do you wonder what happened to the diversity of the newspaper's columnists? Do you believe John Cichowski, Mike Kelly and other columnists should be busted back to reporter to refresh their stale viewpoints?

Have you been called into a disciplinary meeting with Managing Editor Frank Burgos or are you one of the unlucky few people he took to lunch when he first came to the paper? Do you believe cliche-ridden Frank Scandale is the worst editor ever?

Please use this blog as your sounding board by commenting anonymously on any post. Just click on "comments" at the end of each entry. It's free, easy and confidential.

-- Victor E. Sasson
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Busy front page is mostly filler

Guestroom, Hackensack NJImage by jessamyn via Flickr

 The Saturday edition of The Record of Woodland Park is especially weak today, with only one breaking news story on Page 1 -- the paralysis of air travel. Those promos to inside stories fill the bottom of the front page; they come and go with no rhyme or reason.

"It's Google for cops" could have read: "It's filler for news editors." This is not front-page news, but just another one of those stories written by the police reporter, Marlene Naanes, designed to please the sheriff, cops and police chiefs, in the apparent hope they will be more forthcoming about crime, accidents and other mayhem.

No Hackensack news appears in the paper today, not even the school budget. (Photo: Hackensack hotel room.)

It's bad enough that head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes apparently has ordered Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado to ignore any news except the legal problems of Police Chief Ken Zisa. But is Alvarado -- at the behest of Sykes or any other editor -- deliberately distorting the news?

In a story inside Local on April 12, Alvarado reported the "official" opening of a police substation on Hudson Street with no mention of Zisa. Did she do the story by phone? Did Zisa refuse to speak with her?

A couple of days later, the Hackensack Chronicle, one of North Jersey Media Group's weeklies, quoted Zisa in a story about the outpost. Then, in the edition dated April 15, The County Seat had a Page 1 photo showing Zisa at the ribbon-cutting and it also quoted him in the story. 

The latter weekly is published by Gail Zisa and edited by Lauren Zisa. The back page of this weekly carries a full-page ad for the firm of Joseph C. Zisa Jr., the city attorney. (Hey, some people refer to the former home of The Record as Zisaville.)

So, has Sykes ordered Alvarado to investigate Zisa, who is being sued in state and federal courts by police officers? Let's hope this probe doesn't suck up the nearly three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff salaries that went into the Sykes-inspired vendetta against former Hackensack Chief of Detectives Michael Mordaga.

Can anyone say for certain whether the money squandered on the Mordaga probe -- and the $3.65 million mortgage NJMG gave Publisher Stephen A. Borg -- could have prevented the elimination of jobs held by dozens of experienced advertising and editorial workers, and the unilateral salary cuts for those who stayed?

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Witnesses for the 'prosecution'

Scales of JusticeImage by Citizensheep via Flickr

On March 29, when the Superior Court trial of my lawsuit started, the parties exchanged trial binders -- containing motions, witness and exhibit lists, exhibits, proposed jury charge and verdict sheet. Normally, the binders are exchanged a week before trial, but North Jersey Media Group asked to do so on March 29, and me and my lawyer agreed. Big mistake.

I soon learned the judge could easily bar any witness or exhibit I, as the plaintiff, didn't list. The defendants, on the other hand, listed many more witnesses than they called and included exhibits that widened the scope of the case beyond what I was prepared to address and rebut immediately.

NJMG listed 17 potential witnesses, including The Record's news copy desk chief, Vinny Byrne, one of my former bosses; Kim Kline, a former colleague and friend; Tim Nostrand, the ineffectual projects editor; head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, a former defendant; Vivian Waixel, the previous editor; NJMG Chairman Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg; Theresa Forsman, former copy desk co-slot; Editor Frank Scandale (should be Scandal), also a former defendant; and Managing Editor Frank Burgos, perhaps the most hated man in the newsroom.

None of these witnesses appeared. When I scanned the list for the first time, I wondered whether Vinny Byrne and Kim Kline had been told they had to testify against me -- or else. Of course, I knew Scandale, Burgos and the other incompetent editors needed no incentive to testify -- eager as they are to retaliate for my criticism of them.

If Kim Kline did appear, I was planning to ask her how many years she had been working without a raise, and what reason she was given for not getting them.

I recalled how Scandale had ignored a note I slipped under his office door one night with some of the food fronts I had written, suggesting an expansion of food coverage. I also remembered his silence during a meeting in his office when I speculated that my age put me at a disadvantage for a promotion to assistant assignment editor. He just looked at me. 

He and Bob Cunningham, then head of the news and copy desks, scolded me for asking three reporters I had worked with as a copy editor to send e-mails to Sykes, if they thought I was qualified for the assignment desk. Cunning(ham) also insisted that as a copy editor, I was the reporters' "supervisor," and they would fear not recommending me. What a joke.

As for Burgos, he walked over to the copy desk on April 9, 2008, and asked me to come to a meeting with Jennifer Borg, in a voice loud enough for my colleagues to hear. When I protested later, he said he didn't think I knew where her office was. How could I not know after working at 150 River St. for nearly 30 years?

Burgos, according to the witness list, lives on Prospect Avenue in Hackensack during the week and in Wynnewood, Pa., on weekends -- this after how many years at the former Hackensack daily? I guess he doesn't feel too secure in his hatchet man's job.

What effect has the separation from family had on him? Does he eat alone every weeknight? Why does he like to call in veteran reporters and chastise them over their productivity or threaten them with termination if they don't return to work from a disability? How pathetic.

Keeping the story alive to sell papers

750 mm by 600 mm (30 in by 24 in) New York shi...Image via Wikipedia

Does anybody but Governor Christie and the media think a union leader's satirical memo was a death threat, and deserves A-1 play today? Does anybody but The Record of Woodland Park and the rest of the media take the racist, hate-mongering Tea Party seriously (three prominent stories in two days, including a Page 1 story Thursday)? 

Did you hear the sound bite on network news from a Tea Party member saying President Obama is doing exactly what Hitler did? Of course, the unseen reporter didn't want to  ruin it by asking this pitiful man to explain his ridiculous comparison. The Record is complicit in this kind of inflammatory coverage. The lazy, incompetent editors and the Borgs -- absentee landlords whose support for them is unwavering -- just want to sell papers.

In an earlier post, I noted the pathetic coverage of Hackensack and other Bergen County towns and attributed this to head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes:

"Hey, look at all this local news. Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha (eventually merging into a shriek that rolls across the Woodland Park newsroom). Aren't we having fun covering every town but Hackensack, where the paper was founded in 1895?"

Publisher John Borg (1922-48) and Editor Donald G. Borg (1932-75) must be turning over in their graves, and if this news blackout keeps up, former Publisher Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg may meet an early grave.
A lawyer for North Jersey Media Group actually asked Superior Court Judge Joseph S. Conte last week to preserve its right to sue "Eye on The Record" for defamation, calling what I said about Malcolm Borg "a threat." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Do you wonder why Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin spends so much time beating up on teachers and so little on condemning the governor for pandering to the Borgs and other rich families, screwing just about everybody else and refusing to ease his budget woes by taxing the wealthy and raising the low gasoline levy?

Look in vain for Hackensack news in Local today. Why does picking yet another developer for a Fort Lee parcel vacant for three decades merit L-1 coverage? Syracuse University alumni in North Jersey also is a non-story. But the story on the Teaneck superintendent -- scolded for urging voters to approve the school budget -- to me, that's front-page news.

Columnist John "Pothole" Cichowski actually writes today that "public transportation [is] still in its adolescence." That's not true, but readers may not know that from his hundreds of columns about drivers and the anti-mass transit screes from Transportation Reporter Tom Davis.

In Better Living today, freelancer Amy Kuperinsky tells readers a new Japanese restaurant in Fort Lee wants "North Jerseyans dining on this side of the Hudson River to be privy to the type of yakitori ... prevalent in the East Village." That undoubtedly will come as a surprise to the owners of Yakitori 39 on DeGraw Avenue in Teaneck (that, I recall, Kuperinsky wrote about last year).
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The irrepressible Jennifer Borg

Sorbonne Square (Place de la Sorbonne)
Place de La Sorbonne in Paris.
Image via Wikipedia

As the chief legal officer of North Jersey Media Group, defendant and witness, Jennifer A. Borg attended every day of the jury trial of my age-discrimination lawsuit. 

Her restrained "good morning" to me contrasted with her uninhibited conversation with NJMG's in-house lawyer, Dina L. Sforza, and its hired gun, Samuel J. Samaro of Pashman Stein in Hackensack.

Borg, 44, talked about children, her nephews and lots of other subjects. Eventually, she started talking to me about her Upper West Side lifestyle, the upscale food stores she patronizes, her husband's visa problems and more.

She asked me if I had a problem getting a visa for my wife after I met her in Jamaica, then recounted the long, expensive legal process of her husband's immigration to the U.S., and recommended the lawyer she used. 

When I asked where her husband is from, she said "Africa" -- twice. Later, she said he's from South Africa (probably not from Soweto). 

During this conversation, it never occurred to her to ask why The Record has never launched a project on the dysfunctional legal immigration system, which is responsible for a lot of illegal immigration. 

I recall telling Projects Editor Tim Nostrand in late 2003 that it took 16 months to get my stepson here from Jamaica and that the federal office in Newark had lost hundreds of files, forcing relatives and immigrants to start over again, and suggested we do series on legal immigration. He advised me to write an op-ed piece.

I knew Jennifer Borg had led a life of privilege before she took the witness stand (you can hear it in her accent). But when I asked her to tell the jury "briefly" about the schools she attended, she rattled off a half-dozen degree and non-degree programs, including law school and "the Sorbonne in Paris." Hearing that, I looked at the jurors, but none reacted visibly. 

At her second deposition, conducted by my attorney, she was unrestrained in condemning my behavior and work performance at The Record, talking on and on in a scolding tone. 

But even though she had sworn to tell the truth, she distorted many things and gave the wrong year for my probationary period -- she said 1985; it was 1995. It was clear she was trying to smear me.

In front of the jury, she was far more restrained. She said she was mistaken about 1985.

Her younger brother, Stephen A. Borg, 41, had testified first. 

After they finished, I felt the jury understood how neither Borg was "minding the store" -- the newsroom. 

I hoped the jurors felt as I did that the Borgs were merely two spoiled siblings working for their multimillionaire father who paid no attention to who was hired and who was promoted, and whether the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing editors -- notably Frank Scandale, Deirdre Sykes and Barbara Jaeger -- were complying with company policy condemning age-discrimination and sexual harassment. 

The younger Borg, NJMG's president and publisher, testified that he never approached me or spoke to Human Resources after he learned I had filed a lawsuit. The employee manual says the president is obligated to investigate any such charges. 

He also testified he did nothing when he received my April 4, 2008, e-mail alleging mistreatment of older workers -- except send it to his big sister for inclusion in a final, written warning given to me April 9, 2008.

Stephen Borg, who wore a suit and tie for his courtroom appearance, also told the jury the only thing experience gets you at The Record is more vacation -- almost exactly what his father said to me many years before.

Company patriarch Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg appeared in the courtroom last Friday, the morning of the verdict. Jennifer Borg wouldn't allow him to answer when I asked what he thought of the photo The Record published the day before, showing a woman making an obscene gesture.

"I don't know when you're Victor Sasson and when you're a blogger," she said. 

Both Jennifer and "Mac" Borg rushed out of the courtroom after the jurors were polled on their  verdict, which rejected my age-discrimination and retaliation claims. 

I didn't get a chance to tell them I am down, but not out.