Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More really bad fiscal news

NJ Transit headquarters in Newark, NJImage via Wikipedia
The Feds may withhold aid to NJ Transit and apply it to the state's $271 million debt.

Page 1 and Page A-4 of The Record of Woodland Park today contain more really bad news about Governor Christie's management of state finances. 

The Republican bully is not only being hit up for $271 million the Feds say they spent before the governor killed the Hudson River tunnel project (A-1), but now, it seems, New Jersey blew another application for federal education aid. 

Last time, it was $400 million in "Race to the Top" funds. This time, the state won't get $14 million to help charter schools with start-up costs.

And just on Monday, The Record's front page painted such a rosy picture of how charter schools could blossom under the encouragement and support of the Christie administration.

Managing the news

Christie has turned his back on a millionaires' tax or raising the low gasoline tax to fatten the state's bottom line -- decisions that have critics questioning his ability to manage the state's fiscal crisis. But he hasn't lost his ability to manage the news. 

Staff Writer Karen Rouse apparently doesn't have the muscle to get any intelligent comment from the governor's spokesman and chief spin doctor, Michael Drewniak, on this enormous $271 million debt. She couldn't even get anything from NJ Transit, which referred her to the Governor's Office.

Rouse's story comes six days after the $271 million demand letter was sent to the state mass-transit agency. But the amount of the bill has been known since Nov. 28. 

It's only in the last paragraph readers learn Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., is trying to get the debt reduced after what his spokesman calls Christie's "disastrous decision" to kill a project that would have doubled the number of NJ Transit trains into Manhattan.

The state's finances are so bad, another Page 1 story reports, $150 million in promised aid was never sent to the New Jersey Cord Blood Bank in Parmaus.

Desperate editors

Editor Francis Scandale goes all artsy-fartsy on us today, with a huge Page 1 photo of a "lost" Picasso. This story is of so little interest to North Jersey, the stand-alone photo and caption must surely be the act of a desperate man, and a slap in the face to the paper's talented photographers.

Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section today has little in the way of municipal news, and nothing from Hackensack, Teaneck or Englewood. But you'll find stories about Verona's water, a fire in Rockaway Township, where the paper is printed; and Bergen Community College.

In Better Living, food news consists of a single, wire-service recipe. Monday's section also had a single, wire-service recipe.
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Monday, November 29, 2010

A Jewish education conspiracy?

DSCN0091Image by Mirza R via Flickr
Teaneck might have to give $1.4 million to a Hebrew-immersion charter school.

How far will Orthodox Jews in Englewood and Teaneck go to use public funds to educate their children -- without having to actually send them to public schools?

Page 1 of The Record of Woodland Park reports on an ingenious solution to a dilemma faced by parents who send their children to Jewish day schools at a cost of up to $15,000 a year, but who still are obligated to pay high property taxes, a good part of which funds the public schools they reject.

The Shalom Academy proposes a Hebrew-immersion program to serve students in Englewood and Teaneck. If its application is approved, Teaneck might have to give the school $1.4 million of its tax dollars and Englewood slightly more, Staff Writer Pat Alex reports.

Although Alex deserves praise for laying out the elements of this proposed educational sleight-of-hand, she doesn't go far enough. She should point out that any money Englewood has to give a charter school only makes it more difficult for the district to improve its elementary and middle schools, which are virtually all black and Hispanic.

Her story also could use more background. A few years ago, a slate of Jewish candidates promised to rein in spending, but were unsuccessful in their bid for seats on the Teaneck school board, and before that,  the same thing happened in Englewood. Now, a citizens panel of rich East Hill residents has asked the city to cut aid to the public library.

And the headlines don't focus on Englewood and Teaneck. Editors Francis Scandale and Deirdre Sykes sought put the Hebrew school proposal in a wider context of the Christie administration's support for such charter schools.

In Sykes' Local section, a headline on L-5 gave me a cynical chuckle:


Of course, that's a reference to an environmental program. But the city has long been divided along color lines -- in its neighborhoods and in its schools -- a sad fact Staff Writer Giovanna Fabiano has carefully avoided in just about everything she writes.

Dan Sforza and Christina Joseph, two of Sykes' clueless minions on the assignment desk, covered Englewood as reporters, but apparently learned nothing about the city they could pass on to Fabiano.

One of the untold stories is dramatic development of Englewood's main street and other parts of the city that accompanied big demographic changes in the past two decades, principally an influx of wealthy Orthodox Jewish families. 

What has happened to all the property taxes the city raked in from new apartments and condominium projects along Palisade Avenue and on both sides of Route 4? They certainly haven't been spent on the schools or to open a community center.

The Englewood update story in Local is just about the only municipal news in the section.
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Editor says never mind

A Turkey.Image via Wikipedia

Today's earth-shaking, Page 1 news in The Record of Woodland Park is about gas-pipeline infrastructure in North Jersey -- so many supposedly ticking time bombs under our streets and homes. Yawn. A terrorist bomb plot in Oregon? Yawn. An animal shelter in South Jersey. Now, you've put me to sleep.

Saturday's earth-shaking news -- more spending by Black Friday shoppers -- was plastered all over Page 1. But today, you'll have to turn to Page A-7 to find out sales were up only 0.3% -- no big deal.

Still, Editor Francis Scandale and Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin know retail advertising revenue helps pay their inflated salaries, so there is a long editorial on O-2 today, frowning at the way Paramus officials put the kabosh on opening stores any earlier than 7 a.m. Friday.

Doblin doesn't even have the balls to acknowledge the paper's selfish interest in longer shopping hours and the extra ads they'd generate.

Also in the Opinion section (O-1), a Washington journalist who has written about the Hudson River rail tunnel project killed by Governor Christie lists its many good qualities, including the coveted one-seat ride into Manhattan and direct corridors to 13 subway lines.

In view of all the negative press the tunnel project got from Doblin and others at The Record, why weren't readers given a more-balanced picture months ago?

Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section is almost devoid of municipal news today, in view of the 90 or so towns in the circulation area. But to compensate, she is running a lot of feel-good stories for the holiday season.

Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung didn't file a Sunday restaurant column for Better Living, so readers get only a wire-service story on "healthy" holiday cookies. How can they be healthy with a stick of butter in the recipe?

I know she is busy stuffing her face with desserts, baking cupcakes at home and eating restaurant leftovers for breakfast, but she could take a lesson from chief space-filler John Cichowski, who files extra Road Warrior columns before he goes on vacation. Any drivel will do.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rank commercialism with a heart?

Paramus ParkImage by roboppy via Flickr
Business at the mall translates into more advertising revenue for North Jersey Media Group.

Does Editor Francis Scandale really expect readers to believe The Record of Woodland Park's intensive shopping coverage today is all about the rebuilding of our economy? Or is the spread on Page 1 the usual naked grab for more retail advertising revenue as the former Hackensack daily  struggles to stay afloat under his incompetent leadership?

After all, didn't the paper help destroy North Jersey employment and deal a blow to Hackensack's Main Street by downsizing and abandoning the city where it was founded in 1895? 

Could greedy Publisher Stephen A. Borg have chosen a worse time to suck out $3.65 million from North Jersey Media Group's reserves in the form of a mortgage at an undisclosed interest rate on a Tenafly McMansion?

Is the mortgage related to the layoffs of 20- and 30-year newsroom employees that followed several months later, in the first half of 2008?

When I opened today's paper to see how much A-1 space was given to the Black Friday story, I was surprised to see a touching sidebar by Staff Writer Leslie Brody, who still is mourning the December 2008 death of her husband, Elliot Pinsley, whom she met at The Record, where he was an assistant assignment editor and she was one of the reporters he supervised.

What are Brody's reminiscences about Pinsley doing on the front page with shopping news? She says she couldn't bring herself to move his sweaters out of his dresser drawers until a co-worker gave her a reason -- a church collection. The connection to shopping? The economy? 

Or it it bloodless Scandale's desperate way of trying to hook readers? 

On the continuation page (A-8), Brody reports: "The five children we brought to our marriage have shared some happy milestones lately." But she says nothing about how her ex-husband or his ex-wife are doing.

Another former staffer shows up in a prominent position on the front of Travel, which is delivered with the Saturday paper. That's Rich Rainey, onetime graphic artist and an accomplished banjo player, shown in Seattle in a promo for "Record on the Road." Inside on F-3, as usual, you won't find any African-American travelers pictured. 

The story on the front, by Travel Editor Jill Schensul, is accompanied by a badly outdated photo. But she admits her visit to Philadelphia was a "press trip" -- a junket that cost the paper nothing. I guess that's another way The Record is cutting costs. 

That raises the question of whether last Sunday's odd Travel cover story on "glamorous camping" in Montana also was a junket for The Record editorial assistant who wrote it? Or did the paper pay her way, as its ethics policy dictates, because thousands of readers are lining up to take vacations at that expensive resort?

On the front of Local, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes finally confronts the obesity epidemic with a story-and-photo roundup of towns that have joined the Mayors Wellness Campaign.

On L-7, you'll find the dark side of all that shopping coverage on A-1. A woman returning from shopping is confronted in her Alpine driveway and bound before the suspect steals items from her home. 

There is no local food coverage in Better Living today. 
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What is the paper really worth?

Toilet paper tower (3)Image via Wikipedia
What's worth more? A copy of The Record of Woodland Park or toilet paper?

At 8:30 this morning, my wife went out to our driveway to pick up our copy of The Record of Woodland Park, but the familiar light-blue plastic bag wasn't there.

I called. The announcement said I had reached the circulation department of the Herald News and The Record at the headquarters of North Jersey Media Group. Why is Herald News mentioned first? Isn't The Record the "flagship" of NJMG? 

Then, you're told a representative isn't available, but you can use an automated system.

Since mid-2008, when I started subscribing to the paper, I have never been able to speak to a "representative." Are there any representatives on duty or is this another fiction perpetuated by the Borgs, such as saying The Record was "published" at 150 River St. in Hackensack for a couple of years after printing was moved to Rockaway Township?

I won't bore you with the rest of the call, but if your paper is wet or missing, the circulation department isn't eager to rush another copy to you. Never mind the effort put into the paper by editors and reporters, and advertising people, and editorial employees whose stories sound like advertising.

No. First, you're offered two days' credit, and, of course, they'll "register your complaint." I always ask to have a copy delivered.

I pay a preferential rate for former employees that works out to 14 cents a copy. So, is the paper worth only 28 cents -- less than its cover price?
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Missing the big picture -- again

1984-1996 Jeep Cherokee photographed in Kensin...Image via Wikipedia
A police officer burned to death in his 1995 Jeep Cherokee after he was rear-ended by a drunk.

The Record of Woodland Park seems to have a knack for missing the big picture, hobbled as it is by office-loving editors who have worked for the paper for a decade or more without learning much about North Jersey.

Editor Frank Scandale's focus has been on what he accomplished in Denver before he came to the former Hackensack daily in early 2001. Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' few forays out of the office, besides making the trip home every weekday, are for Jamaican rum cake or to fall on her face trying to cross a snow bank in the parking lot.

So, it's no surprise The Record's editorial might was squandered today on Page 1 coverage of a bunch of turkeys who deep-fried turkeys in a Meadowlands parking lot before a football game -- while the editors scattered the fallout from Thanksgiving Eve -- one of the biggest bar nights of the year (Wednesday night into early Thursday).

With college students and others home for the holiday, the local watering hole is a favorite place to catch up on what old friends have been doing. One customer of Lazy Lanigan's recalled Friday that "you couldn't move" in the popular Hackensack pub.

Of course, Scandale and Sykes have been ordering so much coverage of Black Friday shopping hours and sales -- in a naked grab for more ad revenue -- the paper is no longer an authoritative voice.

In fact, you have to read the whole paper today to realize the culture of inebriation remains deeply ingrained in North Jersey, but no story tells you that.

Instead, you have the A-1 piece on the death of a police officer who was on the way home from DWI duty in some far-off Jersey Shore community at 3 in the morning, only to be rear-ended on the Garden State Parkway by a drunk driver. 

He burned to death in his uniform. (He might have survived if he could afford a newer, safer vehicle than a 15-year-old, top-heavy Jeep Cherokee SUV.)

Now, jump to L-6 for a poorly written story about what happened in Ridgewood when hundreds of revelers left the bars, most of which closed at 2 a.m. Thursday. Twenty-five police officers from the village and nearby towns were needed to clear the streets. Why was this buried?

Check out the lead paragraph by Staff Writer Deena Yellin:  "An unruly crowd ... was so rowdy...." It's Yellin's writing that's unruly. No amount of editing, if there is any, can hide it. The story also fails to answer an obvious question: How did all of these walking drunks get home?

Neither the A-1 story nor this Ridgewood story discuss how bars traditionally are packed on Thanksgiving Eve, or how many DWI arrests were made early Thursday.

A little rewriting could have woven the two stories into a meaningful package on A-1, but the assignment minion who drew holiday duty was clueless.

Also, Cliffview Pilot.com reports on a bizarre accident in Westwood I didn't see in the paper or on northjersey.com today. Impaired driver climbs on limo hood

On Page A-21 today, a wire service story explores how Korean-Americans in Los Angeles -- not Palisades Park, Fort Lee or Leonia -- are debating the North's motive in shelling South Korea.

Inaccurate story

The Record continues to call the new Chevrolet Volt an electric car, while the manufacturer's ads and Web site make it clear it is a plug-in hybrid with a gasoline engine and an electric motor. An electric car uses no gasoline (Business, L-9).

In Better Living, Bella Campania Restaurant in Hillsdale sounds like a wonderful place. "And these days, getting a reasonably priced, made-from-scratch meal from an owner who cares is no small thing," Staff Writer Elisa Ung concludes.

But the restaurant reviewer doesn't explain why she gives it only a half-star more than Bahama Breeze, a faux-Caribbean chain restaurant in Wayne where I'm certain the food isn't made from scratch and the owner is some profit-hungry corporation.

There is no room in the section today for local restaurant health ratings. Instead, you'll find a wire service story about wine and a buffet of mini-reviews.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Christie-lovers insult readers' intelligence

Chris Christie, the current governor of the st...Image via Wikipedia
Why is Governor Christie smiling? (Photo is of Christie as U.S. attorney).

Two columnists for The Record of Woodland Park take aim today at all the turkeys out there -- just two pages apart -- but sadly, they're among the many staffers who labor under the illusion they are practicing great journalism.

You have to struggle through Mike Kelly's annual Thanksgiving column on L-3 before he thanks his wife and daughters, "who endure ... long-winded stories about the people and places I visit." But it's readers he should be apologizing to for all the dreadful writing and reporting he's unleashed in the past year.

Hot as lard

Can you believe he wrote this? "Behold [Governor] Christie, the suddenly hot and hip Republican."

Hip, I can see. Christie has two massive ones. Hot? He's as hot as several hundred pounds of lard.

Both Kelly and Columnist Charles Stile (Local front) are part of the Record team solidly behind the governor's burn-and-slash campaign -- an unprecedented assault on programs and policies that serve the middle and working classes.

At the same time, the governor is paying back all his wealthy supporters by refusing to tax millionaires during the state's continuing financial crisis or even raise gasoline taxes on their gas-guzzling limos and luxury SUVs to rescue the Transportation Trust Fund, which repairs roads and helps mass transit.

Fat jokes

Eye on The Record is angry at the political turn of events in New Jersey -- and how the paper I  loved for decades often ignores the damage Christie has done. 

But I am as powerless as other readers, and all I'm left with are cheap fat jokes at the expense of the governor and some of The Record's elephantine editors, including Deirdre Sykes and Tim Nostrand.

On Page 1, the Christie-loving paper reports the governor has cut state aid to Paterson, one of the state's poorest cities, and on the Opinion page (A-21), Ray Castro says the number of food stamp participants in the state has soared by 60 percent, to 685,000, since the recession began.

Yet the "Giving Thanks" editorial on A-20 doesn't even mention how Christie has driven a wedge between the rich and the middle class in New Jersey.

Let's hope readers don't choke on today's paper from Editor Francis Scandale and the Borgs.
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Look for new post tonight

Saying grace before carving the turkey at Than...Image via Wikipedia

Enjoy your holiday. 

I will be posting a critique of The Record of Woodland Park later today. 

For breakfast, I filled up on insufferably pompous columns and an editorial with a Thanksgiving theme.


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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paramus to The Record: Drop dead!

The Garden State Plaza Mall, taken on Septembe...Image via Wikipedia
Paramus officials say this and other malls can't open before 7 a.m. Friday.


Paramus residents say F.U. to Editor Francis Scandale and The Record of Woodland Park today, as well as to all those maniacal shoppers who were hoping to awake in the middle of the night, tear through borough streets and score big bargains at shopping malls.

That was a big, pleasant surprise when I looked at Page 1, because just the day before, Scandale pulled out all the stops to make a 5 a.m. opening seem certain -- hoping to sell tons of papers now and land tons of retail advertising later. What a sell-out.

All that lavish A-1 coverage and the big, boring photo should have reminded readers the former Hackensack daily has never been objective about Bergen County's restrictive shopping hours. 

Some years ago, the paper made no secret of the tens of thousands of dollars and all the editorial muscle it put behind the campaign to kill the Sunday blue laws -- in a naked bid for more advertising revenue -- but readers (voters) told the editors to take a walk. The drop headline on Tuesday:

Paramus expected to OK one-time reprieve

But Scandale keeps on trying to put readers last. He's hounded by greedy Publisher Stephen A. Borg to publish stories with commercial tie-ins that are little more than free advertising.

Free stuff is now OK
Once barred by the paper's own ethics policy, taking free stuff is no longer taboo, as Borg's handpicked food editor, Susan Leigh Sherrill, has made clear in just about everything she writes or tweets. Her stuff sounds suspiciously like public relations for celebrity chefs, restaurateurs and cookbook authors.

Not long after he came to The Record, Scandale  himself scarfed up free tickets to the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall that had been mailed to the features department.

With tens of thousands of Koreans living in North Jersey, you'd think the clueless assignment desk -- laboring under the misguided leadership of Deirdre Sykes -- would send out a reporter to ask them about the North's attack on South Korea (A-1 and A-6). 

Dishonest reporting

How superficial was the coverage of Campania Chef Joseph Cerniglia, 39, after his Sept. 24 suicide? Take a look at today's tangled tale on the front of Local by Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung and federal courthouse reporter Peter J. Sampson.

There was absolutely no hint in the original stories that his Fair Lawn restaurant -- which had been transformed by Chef Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" reality TV show -- was "financially troubled" or that he sold it eight days before his death. That wasn't surprising, because after the suicide, Ung and other reporters never talked to the staff, his wife or other survivors.

Today's piece claims Paramus restaurant operator Philip Neuman denied in an Oct. 6 interview with The Record that he had ownership ties to Campania, but I don't recall seeing that question posed to him or his denial in any story. 

In fact, Ung's own post on the Second Helpings blog the day following the Oct. 6 interview doesn't even mention he was asked about any such ties (see Interview with Philip Neuman). 

Is she being dishonest with readers and trying to cover up her failure and the failure of other reporters to find out why the chef jumped off the George Washington Bridge?

In the three years Ung has been reviewing restaurants and writing a Sunday column called "The Corner Table,"  she has shown herself to be obsessed with eating desserts, she's just gaga over celebrity chefs and she's incapable of any probative reporting about how restaurant food is grown or raised. 

Blaming a news source for her inability to get to the bottom of why the chef killed himself is a new low.

The Local section leads with a federal lawsuit by six men who claim their rights were violated when they were denied permits to carry guns. Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado, who wrote that L-1 story, doesn't have any Hackensack news today, nor is there anything from Teaneck or Englewood.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NJMG stuck with big property tax bill

North Jersey Media Group continues to pay more than $675,000 in annual property taxes to the city of Hackensack, where it is preparing to close its old headquarters at 150 River St.

The newspaper company -- which publishes The Record of Woodland Park, Herald News, weeklies, (201) magazine and other publications -- is paying these taxes in 2010:

  1. 150 River St. -- $628,560
  2. 80 River St. -- $36,084
  3. 76 Bridge St. -- $12,238

The city Tax Collector's Office supplied the figures.

Selling out for Thanksgiving

Westbound New Jersey Route 4 in Paramus, New J...Image via Wikipedia
Route 4 west in Paramus will look like this when Black Friday shopping starts.

The major story on Page 1 of The Record of Woodland Park seems to have commercial tie-ins that put advertisers first over readers.

Are the opening hours of Paramus stores on Black Friday really A-1 news or is the former Hackensack daily hoping to cash in big on retail ads?

Far more people will benefit from the tough anti-bullying bill passed by the Legislature (bottom of A-1) or the extension of the No. 7 subway line, which was endorsed by Governor Christie (A-8), but those stories are downplayed by Editor Francis Scandale, who surrenders once again to the business side of journalism.

Sports betting leads head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section.

Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado filed two police stories from there and a third from Wayne. There is no Englewood or Teaneck news today. 

In the Better Living story on what Pilgrims might have eaten at their first harvest meal, let's hope "venison courtesy of D'Artagnan Inc." doesn't mean the meat was supplied free in return for a plug.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Mac allegedly sent pornographic e-mails

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...Image via Wikipedia
Hackensack, former home of The Record and North Jersey Media Group.

A former employee of North Jersey Media Group alleges in a sexual-harassment lawsuit that Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg sent pornographic e-mails to managers and supervisors, and that he knew she would see them.

Plaintiff Tracey McCain of Englewood says she worked for NJMG from 2000 to April 22, 2009, when she was fired. She was hired as technical coordinator for the IT department in what is now Woodland Park. In 2007, she was promoted to IT logistics manager.

Borg, 72, now chairman of NJMG, is the former publisher of The Record, a job taken over by his son, Stephen A. Borg, who is not a defendant in the suit. The elder Borg also lives in Englewood.

McCain says one of her duties was to read e-mails sent to her supervisor, who was identified in legal papers as Peter Van Lenten Jr., vice president of information technology.

"Commencing in or about 2000 and until plaintiff's employment terminated, defendant Borg committed acts of sexual harassment of plaintiff," according to the complaint, which Eye on The Record obtained Monday from the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack.

"Defendant Borg caused to be disseminated, via electronic mail, to various managers and supervisors within NJMG and specifically to the direct supervisor of the plaintiff, various pornographic videos which were vulgar and offensive and sexually degrading and did so with the knowledge that such material would be viewed or inspected by the plaintiff," according to the suit.

The suit goes on to allege Borg also sent e-mails to managers and supervisors containing  "pornographic pictures," vulgar and offensive "audio recordings" and "other material."

Since the lawsuit was filed on Dec. 7, 2009, a lawyer for NJMG has filed an answer that denies all of the allegations.

McCain is represented by Demetrios K. Stratis of Fair Lawn, and NJMG is represented by Samuel J. Samaro of Pashman Stein in Hackensack. 

The suit has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Joseph S. Conte, who greeted Malcolm Borg warmly when he saw him in his Hackensack courtroom in April.

McCain's lawsuit also alleges:

"Defendant NJMG knew of the actions of defendant [Malcolm] Borg and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent same from occurring. Defendant NJMG failed to enact or implement policies or procedures to prevent such behavior."

 Jennifer A. Borg, daughter of Malcolm and big sister of Stephen, is vice president and general counsel of NJMG. In recent years, she has spent a great deal of time monitoring employees' use of company equipment, including computers and telephones.

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Lucky to have the Borgs

Robert Menendez, member of the United States S...Image via Wikipedia
Will Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., run for governor in 2013?

I can't remember a Monday paper with so little real news -- on the front page and in the Local section. 

Editors Francis Scandale and Deirdre Sykes of  The Record of Woodland Park are lucky they work for the Borgs -- absentee landlords who are oblivious to what is going on in the newsroom and what is going into the newspaper.

For the second day in a row, the major photo on Page 1 is of a triumphant high school athlete. 

Below that, a feature story raises the question of whether the company has asked overweight news and layout editors to take a health survey in order to qualify for the health plan.

At the bottom of A-1, a glowing profile of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez sounds like Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson is grooming him for a run to become the state's first Hispanic governor.

Of all the people with money problems, why is state Education Commissioner and Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler's sob story of so much interest to Columnist Mike Kelly (Local front)? Doesn't Kelly have anything else to write about?

Sykes' Local section carries three weak municipal stories from three small communities, including a major story on the ambulance corps' need for funds in Harrington Park, where Sykes lives. That follows Sunday's story on sidewalk repairs in her small town.

Which volunteer ambulance corps doesn't need money?

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The Record's landmark building is closing

Hackensack Bus TerminalImage via Wikipedia
The new Hackensack Bus Terminal is across the street from The Record's old headquarters.

The old headquarters of The Record and North Jersey Media Group at 150 River St. in Hackensack is being cleaned out in preparation for its closing.

Black dumpsters were visible in the front and rear of the parking lot on Monday. They come from a company called Accurate -- a curious choice given the paper's growing inaccuracy.

Two women were working at computers set up in the old guard station when I stopped in on Monday afternoon. One of the women was helping a couple who are subscribers when I asked her if the building was being closed.

She said yes and that it would be closed "soon." When I pressed her for more information, she said, "My last day is tomorrow."

The move of the Hackensack daily to an office building on Garret Mountain in Woodland Park was completed in 2009, but some employees continued to work in the River Street building and NJMG Chairman Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg's Mercedes-Benz could be seen parked in its usual space.

The many empty parking spaces were rented to a nearby Toyota dealer and unsold new cars were parked there and near the submarine Ling and the diner. 

The Record once was headquartered in downtown Hackensack.

The new building faced River Street. It still carries The Record name in an old masthead type style. The elder Borg worked in that first building, as a sports reporter.

At least two additions were added over the years, and the four-story building was prepared for a fifth story that was never built. There also was a major project to remove asbestos. I worked there as a reporter, copy editor and freelance food writer from 1979 to 2008.

A lot of great journalism was practiced in the redbrick building until the arrival of Editor Francis "Frank" Scandale from the Denver Post in early 2001.

The decline of the paper accelerated when Stephen A. Borg took over from his father in mid-2006, printing was moved to Rockaway Township and the staff was downsized and scattered to offices throughout North Jersey, including the cramped newsroom of The Record and Herald News in Woodland Park.

Scandale's mobile-journalist initiative led to a decline in productivity and staff members' loss of a shared sense of purpose. A banner with The Record masthead on it was conspicuously hung in the Hackensack newsroom and was visible from one end of the room to the other.

Employees took chances when parking in Hackensack, because of the proximity of the building to the Hackensack River and frequent flooding. 

The younger Borg's dream of making a killing on the River Street building and its many surrounding acres was shattered by the recession. 

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Law firm's potential conflict

Scales Of JusticeImage by vaXzine via Flickr

Suspended Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa and North Jersey Media Group, which publishes The Record, are represented by partners in the same Florham Park law firm.

Named partner Bruce S. Rosen, a former Record reporter who now represents NJMG, also served as the attorney for Chairman Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg when Borg and neighbors opposed the expansion of a synagogue on his block in the East Hill section of Englewood.

Zisa, who is defending himself against criminal charges, as well as civil lawsuits from police officers he once supervised, is represented by Patricia Prezioso, a partner in McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli.

The Record's Hackensack reporter, Monsy Alvarado, has been pursuing the Zisa story since at least June 2009, and has written numerous stories about Zisa's law enforcement job and business interests, as well as covering the criminal charges against the chief, the lawsuits and disciplinary hearings for officers who filed them.

It is not known whether Alvarado and her supervising editors consulted Rosen in their efforts to get documents or other material they needed for those stories.

A potential conflict would arise if Rosen and Presiozo -- or law firm staff working for them -- discussed their clients or their legal strategies with each other or saw any of the files relating to those clients.

When Rosen worked at The Record from 1975-86, he told colleagues that Mac had given him at least one mortgage to buy a home.
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Are the editors wearing condoms?

New Jersey State Route 67 at Main Street in Fo...Image via Wikipedia
Turn left at Main Street in Fort Lee for great Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants.

The Record of Woodland Park has been in bed with Governor Christie since he took office in January, giving the Republican bully a pass on his refusal to tax millionaires or raise the low gasoline levy and, more recently, ignoring the billions in federal transportation and education aid he has blown.

So, the Page 1 story today on Pope Benedict XVI opening the door on the previously taboo subject of condoms as a way to fight HIV raises a question: 

Are Editor Francis Scandale, Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin and the unidentified members of the Editorial Board wearing condoms when they pleasure the governor?

I guess Scandale ran out of other weighty news for A-1 today, so he's exploiting human misery once again to fill space. 

He is running a huge photo of anxious relatives of 29 miners trapped not in New Milford, New Providence, New York or New Mexico, but in New Zealand. Mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Where are the stories of mining companies whose safety shortcuts endanger their workers?

The odds of doing his job

I guess the odds of Road Worrier John Cichowski writing a column on commuting problems or mass transit is probably 1 in 1,434 -- far greater than the odds of hitting a deer, his subject today (L-1).

Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section today has only two stories that could be called municipal news, and the longest is a 16-inch filler on sidewalk repairs in her tiny hometown, Harrington Park. There is no Hackensack, Englewood, Teaneck, Ridgewood or Fort Lee news, or anything from many other towns.

Columnist Mike Kelly got beaten badly by The New York Times, which last week reported on previously secret documents about "a well-known Paterson community figure" who was killed in 1985. Kelly tries to write around that in his column today (O-1), but why not just do a news story about this "former Nazi operative" who allegedly murdered Jews during World War II and be done with it? 

And Kelly's phony smile in the photo with his column? That tells you he has nothing to write about.

Governor No

Jimmy Margulies' editorial cartoon today (O-2) could have listed the millionaires tax, raising the gasoline levy to fix roads and improve mass transit, childhood obesity programs and a lot of other stuff Christie has said "no" to since he took office.

Better Living today has the second major piece in less than a week promoting Chef Jamie Oliver's new cookbook and TV series about America (F-1). 

It's true Oliver is probably one of the least obnoxious and pretentious of celebrity chefs, and Staff Writer Kara Yorio lists North Jersey ethnic food enclaves he overlooked. 

Unfortunately, she herself overlooked excellent Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants in Fort Lee and instead touted the food court at a Japanese supermarket in Edgewater.

Elisa Ung's column, The Corner Table, lists only online discounts available at local restaurants and other food places (F-3). 

Why did she omit the $25 dinner discount Campania Restaurant in Fair Lawn has been offering in its Record ads since shortly after its chef committed suicide -- which she and the newspaper covered extensively?

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Selling out to all those lawyers

First woman jury, Los Angeles (LOC)Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr
The first all-woman jury in Los Angeles was seated in November 1911.

Even though Superior Court judges set aside Friday as sentencing day and juries like to return verdicts on that day -- so they won't have to come back on Monday -- there is way too much crime and punishment news in The Record of Woodland Park today.

In fact, you'll find only one municipal story on the front page and one in Local -- as head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' staff of lazy, incompetent assistants and reporters apparently took a three-day vacation from covering the 90 or so towns in the paper's circulation area. 

Editor Francis Scandale was so desperate to find something legitimate for Page 1, he had to pull out of the can a takeout on police using stun guns and blow up a photo of a high school football player. 

In recent months, Sykes' Local section has swung more and more toward accident, fire, police and court news as reporters neglect municipal coverage or are sidelined on endless "investigations." 

Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado has been told to chase every lead on the downfall of Police Chief Ken Zisa and cover every dinky disciplinary hearing as if it was the convening of the Supreme Court.

It's no wonder residents had to turn to a weekly paper this year to learn details of the city budget and higher tax rate, and the name of the new mayor.

Editors stun readers

Today's A-1 story on police use of stun guns is based on guidelines the state issued "last month." The graphic next to it uses the word "shootings" three times and "fatalities" twice in its heading and text. Someone should shoot the news copy editor.

On A-13, the Editorial Page, critical letters from three readers show they haven't been fooled by all the positive editorials and columns on Governor Christie's education and transportation policies, many by Alfred P. Doblin, the ass-kisser who edits that page.

In lawyers' pockets

Kibret Markos, the reporter who wrote the stun-gun piece, had a busy day at the Bergen County Courthouse, filing three major stories for today's paper. All the stories on the front of Local are related to state and federal civil or criminal courts.

Markos is in the pockets of the civil bar, as you can see in his report on a $7.4 million judgment Friday in a lawsuit filed by a Hackensack cardiologist who was run down by an inebriated minor. 

There is not a word on the huge amount of money that will be claimed by the plaintiff's greedy lawyers. In fact, in all the years Markos has been covering the courthouse, he has never discussed legal fees or explored how they limit people's access to the civil courts.

More crime-and-punishment news appears today on L-2 -- with an enormous photo to take up space -- and L-6. What's that harness racing story doing on L-3? Must be more filler from the desperate Sykes.

Selling out to advertisers

There is no local food coverage in Better Living today, but consumer reporter Kevin DeMarrais of the Business staff covers the opening of a "fast, casual" eating place in Clifton -- two days after Business had what amounted to a huge, free advertisement for a high-end steakhouse that is opening at a Paramus mall.  
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Woman sues North Jersey Media Group

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

Tracey McCain, a former employee of North Jersey Media Group, has filed a lawsuit against the newspaper publishing company. 

Chairman Malcolm A. Borg is named as one of the defendants.

McCain, a woman, joined NJMG in September 1999 as information-technology logistics manager, but is no longer with the company. 

NJMG publishes The Record and Herald News, both of Woodland Park.

Englewood ties

McCain is a 1983 graduate of Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, where she now lives. Borg also lives in Englewood, in a mansion on the East Hill. 

Eye on The Record received five anonymous messages concerning the suit, including one citing a sexual-harassment allegation, but I have not seen the legal papers. 

I published two of the messages at the end of the post Stupid cops get a pass.

Conte and Borg

The suit, filed Dec. 7, 2009, in the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Joseph S. Conte, the same judge who presided at the trial of my age-discrimination suit this year.

The elder Borg appeared in the courtroom on the last day of the trial, and during a break, Conte greeted him warmly. They reminisced about a courthouse ceremony some years before at which Borg spoke.

It's not known whether like me, McCain was fired after she filed her complaint.

Conte also has been assigned lawsuits filed by department members against suspended Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa. 

See previous post:
The kosher-restaurant scam

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The kosher-restaurant scam

Grand Central terminal in New York, NYImage via Wikipedia
New Jersey commuters might be able to take a subway from Secaucus to Grand Central Terminal.

What a farce. Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung fell for the kosher-restaurant scam again in today's piece on Nobo in Teaneck. What's the scam? It's charging outrageous prices for "kosher" fish and beef that probably isn't of any better quality than their non-kosher counterparts.

But the funniest joke played on the reviewer for The Record of Woodland Park is the claim people confuse Nobo with Nobu, the Japanese restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Maybe Hobo or Nogo.

But what would a high-end, non-kosher sushi restaurant be doing among all the kosher places in Teaneck's West Englewood section?

A few years ago, Ung herself wrote a glowing profile of Drew Nieporent of Ridgewood, one of the owners of Nobu, and quoted him as saying he had absolutely no plans to open a restaurant in North Jersey.

Kosher means a lot of things, but it doesn't guarantee the food was raised or grown naturally, although you can find kosher poultry without antibiotics and kosher beef that was raised on grass or a vegetarian diet and without growth hormones. 

What is 'kosher'?
Kosher does mean the animal was healthy before it was slaughtered. If you're kosher, you can't eat lobster, shrimp, scallops and other shellfish, or meat and dairy at the same meal. At home, you have to have separate pots and dishes for preparing and serving meat and non-meat dishes.

What about the kosher food served at Nobo? Ung doesn't say whether the fish is wild or the beef was raised naturally, but she falls for the scam in her data box, where she says "value" is "generally fine, considering the cost of kosher ingredients."

Nobo charges $34 for an entree of red snapper. That's really high. Is it the whole fish? A 20-ounce ribeye is $39! Is it grass-fed? All Ung says is it "rang with powerful flavor," whatever that means.

Maybe, it's all those unseen rabbis checking out processing plants and fisheries that raise the price of kosher food or even the rent a kosher restaurateur pays. Also, kosher restaurants often are closed before sunset on Fridays and all day Saturdays, so their revenues are lower than non-kosher places. They have to make it up someplace.

I expect more from a restaurant reviewer than mindless blather. Ung seems to forget she is a journalist first. Often, her reviews put readers last.

Better Living omits local restaurant health ratings today, but finds room for wire-service stories on holiday wine and hot-lines.

Neat packages

Today's front page contains four neat, little packages delivered to Editor Francis Scandale, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and their lazy, incompetent assignment desk. 

The lead and off-lead stories are based on reports, that big New York Post photo came a from "perp walk" in Connecticut and the fourth element is a public hearing in Union Township. Not much hustle in any of that.

Governor Christie, who is probably one of the state's unhealthiest people, was conspicuously absent when first lady Michelle Obama visited Newark schools with a message to eat healthy (A-3). Why have we heard so little about what New Jersey is doing to curb childhood obesity since Christie took office in January?

Turning against Christie

An apparent production error robbed readers of Alfred P. Doblin's smug smile and byline on his A-23 column today, but the important thing is that the Editorial Page editor has finally found a mass-transit poposal he likes -- extending the No. 7 subway line to Secaucus from Manhattan.

With a stop at Grand Central Terminal, not "station," the line would fulfill transportation planners' decades-old dream of delivering North Jersey commuters to the East Side of Manhattan. 

Doblin calls on Christie -- whose ass he knows intimately from all the kissing he's done -- to use his bully pulpit on behalf of this project and for "creation, not negation." 

Lots of police news

The major stories from Hackensack and Englewood today are police news -- a big drug bust in the former (L-1) and a bunch of burglaries in the latter (L-3).  More police news (L-2) -- on the capture of a suspect who fled to Connecticut from Fort Lee -- inexplicably calls a Ford Fusion sedan an "SUV."

Road Worrier John Cichowski -- Sykes' chief space-filler -- has a column on L-1 today about the closing of an MVC office in Wyckoff. Someone should remind him he is the commuting columnist, not the sit-at-a-computer columnist.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stupid cops get a pass

Four Loko GiantsImage by Troy Holden via Flickr

"Let go of my story, Frank!" head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes shrieked as she engaged in a tug of war over the news-budget printout with Editor Francis "Frank" Scandale in the Wednesday afternoon news meeting.

"No, bitch, I'm taking that for the front," Scandale shot back. "I can really go tabloid Thursday, making that prisoner sound dangerous and downplaying the stupidity of the cops who allowed him to steal an unmarked car, even though he was bound hand and foot."

"But you already have a state-national story in the FDA warning on those alcoholic energy drinks," Sykes wailed, panting heavily. "Put that on Page 1, and give me the fugitive story -- it's all Bergen, and I don't have anything for my [Local] page except a couple of wires got knocked down by the wind."

"You're loco if you think I'm giving up the prisoner story, cause I don't have anything else to sell the paper with," Scandale said in desperation. 

Well, one look at The Record of Woodland Park today and you know who won the battle over a story  that appears to be deliberately vague about how a suspect who had been arrested, handcuffed and shackled, and placed in the back seat, managed to drive away in an unmarked police car.

Was the engine left running by one of one of New York City's finest or a federal marshal? Were the keys in the ignition of the silver Ford Fusion? Why aren't there any details in the story? 

Did Scandale order the four reporters to chase anything but that crucial information, lest they upset the cops, who have been known to retaliate by withholding arrests and other crime news?

An "update" on northjersey.com says the fugitive was captured at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, a few hours before the paper hit my driveway with news only of his escape and "a large-scale manhunt." Now, that's stale news. 

I didn't even hear anything about the capture on morning radio and TV news, showing how inconsequential the whole thing was. 

Editorial slams Christie

A hard-hitting editorial slams Governor Christie as legislators try to restore his cuts to family planning for poor women (A-10). 

It's a welcome change from all the columns in which Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin praises the Republican bully and kisses his lardy ass.

The front of Sykes' Local section leads with those spiked energy drinks, and a dramatic photo of a powerful wind storm that pulled down "several utility wires" onto Route 46 in Wayne, scorching the asphalt. Traffic was backed up for "several miles." Sounds like the end of the world. 

Local is completely empty of municipal news, with the exception of a story on housing in tiny Northvale and another of the endless stream of stories on disciplinary hearings for Hackensack police officers who sued the chief (both on L-2).

Is Kelly brain-dead?

Clueless Columnist Mike Kelly must be the only journalist who thinks New York City might extend its subway to bring Manhattan residents to Secaucus (L-3). 

No, dummy. It would be another  mass-transit option for North Jersey commuters who work in the city, now that Governor Christie has killed the Hudson River rail tunnels.

Better Living's local food coverage today consists of "consensus from our office" on the best packaged turkey gravy. Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung mentions "our panel" and "people" among the tasters. 

Age discrimination has left so few seasoned palates in the newsroom, this might be the opinion of a bunch of 20- and 30-year-olds.

Rich get richer 

Could there by anything more lavish than coverage on the first Business page (L-8) of the opening of a high-end steakhouse at Garden State Plaza, referred to incorrectly as "Plaza" in the drop headline? 

The photo overline is ridiculous. "Far from the food court." What does that mean? A fine-dining restaurant, Legal Sea Foods, opened at this Paramus mall years ago. And the caption says "dining and wine rooms" are "awaiting Capital Grille customers." 

Don't you hate it when a pretentious restaurant adopts the spelling of an automobile grille and not the grill used to cook food?

There are two big photos, a data box and lots of self-promoting quotes from restaurant executives, but little about the quality of the food. It serves swordfish, which is high in mercury, and dry-aged  mystery meat.

Despite the recession, high-end steakhouses continue to open in North Jersey, while a reasonably priced chain, such as Charlie Brown's, is closing restaurants (L-11). 

It only goes to show you the rich (and the Borgs) are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Paper turns back on readers again

Railyard for NYC #7 subway lineImage by joiseyshowaa via Flickr
Will New York City's No. 7 subway be Lucky 7 for North Jersey commuters?

The news copy desk at The Record of Woodland Park is in disarray. The stupid headlines are bad, but it's the inaccurate ones that annoy most of all. The copy desk, where I worked for 19 years, once had high standards, and copy editors who didn't meet them got poor performance reviews. Now, anything goes.

And the safety net -- proofing the early, so-called good copies of the paper just off the press -- was ripped away by Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who moved printing from Hackensack to Rockaway Township more than three years ago.

Stupid headline of the week

Virtually all of The Record's circulation is in North Jersey, so what do you make of the moronic streamer above the masthead on A-1 today? What dummy wrote it, what dummy approved it?


That streamer is of no interest to North Jersey residents. You wouldn't be able to "take the subway to Secaucus" unless you live in Manhattan, because the plan is to extend the subway from Manhattan to Secaucus, so North Jerseyans arriving at the huge transfer station by rail or car have another way to get into the city. 

After all, the new subway plan would use federal funds left over from the Hudson River rail tunnels Governor Christie killed based on his wife's complaint. She moaned and groaned that after getting off the train at a proposed new station under Macy's, she'd have to walk too far to catch a subway in Manhattan.

Are there any other exciting, mass-transit proposals to replace the rail tunnels? Who knows? You wouldn't know mass transit is the only solution to the region's infamous traffic congestion, because not one but two transportation reporters today are all worked up over airport scanners.

First, Staff Writer Karen Rouse has what amounts to a huge graphics package on Page 1 about the scanners, accompanied by two sidebars on A-6. Then, Road Warrior John Cichowski tries to gain altitude with an entire column about them on the front of Local. 

Rouse is Editor Francis Scandale's pet (he brought her all the way from Denver, site of his glory days), and head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes thinks Chick is the cat's meow. Often, she can be seen stroking his hair as he turns another phrase.

Airport security is working

I dislike airport security as much as anyone, but in return for the inconvenience, I get to live in a country where planes aren't blown up; hotels and other buildings aren't destroyed by terrorists and I can shop for food without updating my will.

What really troubles me is how both Rouse and Cichowski disdain commuters, especially the poor souls who are stuck with NJ Transit's decrepit local bus system, which uses decades-old white elephants that are literally falling apart -- in stark contrast to buses on Manhattan routes that are changed every decade or so.

Rouse is especially disappointing, because as an African-American journalist, she has turned her back on fellow blacks and a sizable number of Hispanic residents who can't afford cars and must rely on local buses. Cichowski, under pressure to fill space, is just lazy.

Scandale is a joke

Scandale today, for the second day in a row, squanders more A-1 space on the Meadowlands Racetrack, when New Jersey Network, which is far more important to state residents, faces extinction (A-3). 

Someone must have lit a fire under Staff Writer Giovanna Fabiano, who has two more Englewood stories on L-1 and L-3 today -- her 10th and 11th stories since Nov. 5. She actually had three in Tuesday's paper. 

Unfortunately, she tends to ignore what's really going on in Englewood, including schools with few  white students, an embarrassing number of empty downtown storefronts and traffic tie-ups worthy of Manhattan.

Sykes' Local section today includes a blown-up accident photo by staffer Tariq "Crash" Zehawi on L-3, and a good number of municipal stories and crime news, but no stories about Teaneck, Ridgewood or other major towns. 

Hackensack news is a proposal to replace an abandoned gasoline station. Does everyone know where East Kennedy Street is? Is that the station near Route 80? You're guess is as good as mine, because the story doesn't say.

Editors should read this

Former Managing Editor James Ahearn is a sane antidote to all the fawning editors do over Christie. In his OpEd column today on the governor's battle with teachers (A-21), Ahearn concludes: "He looks more like someone fixated on getting his own way."
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