Thursday, December 23, 2010

Burying the lede

200Image via Wikipedia

Readers thought Wednesday's Page 1 takeout told them everything about so-called reforms at Hackensack University Medical Center after a federal trial exposed payments to a corrupt politician. 

So what's the explanation for today's A-1 story disclosing a $7.7 million salary and severance package for John P. Ferguson -- who was forced out as president of HUMC -- and millions more for other executives and employees?  

Why was this held until today?

Ferguson is the same man who, on July 25, enlisted The Record of Woodland Park to publicize his new venture with a Page 1 story that had negligible impact on North Jersey residents.

The July story reported -- apropos of nothing -- that Ferguson was president and CEO of a company that plans to open up to 20 upscale hospitals outside the U.S. to cater to affluent travelers and residents, the first in wealthy Dubai.

Why are federal tax filings containing Ferguson's 2009 pay package coming out just now? Did Jennifer A. Borg, a former HUMC board member, have anything to do with the splashy July story or with delaying today's story about the hospital, one of the paper's big advertisers?  

Borg is vice president and general counsel of North Jersey Media Group, publisher of The Record, and big sister of Publisher Stephen A. Borg.

Praying for a good headline

The main element on A-1 has an overline and a headline that seemed designed to turn readers off, not engage them. You'd think the news copy editor would have been inspired by a terrific photo showing a woman in court praying for a favorable ruling, and then written a photo overline and headline that drew readers in.

Instead, the photo overline uses the phrase "conflict resolution," which is about as dull as you can get:

Conflict resolution is their specialty

Who is "their"? The main headline below the photo says, "Court handles cases towns can't." Exciting, isn't it?

There are more problems with this A-1 package. The photo caption shows Mark Oprihory and Mary Foley, her hands clasped in prayer, on a court bench and, nearby, George Lahood, and says the first two await a ruling "in a case against" Lahood.

But the story doesn't even mention Mark Oprihory and Mary Foley.  

Police and court news

In head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section, all the stories on the front are court and police news, and there is a lot more Law & Order coverage inside.

The entire section contains municipal or education stories from four towns, but no Hackensack, Englewood or Teaneck news, or anything else from other major towns in North Jersey.


  1. Expect more crime news. With media outlets like mine proliferating -- in addition to the old standbys -- cops statewide are going to school on media. They're writing & emailing releases, rather than dealing with phone calls or visits.

    Molinelli is also making the depts more responsible for their own press, as they should be. Remember: As part of OPRA, state officials decreed that EVERY police agency designate a spokesperson (plus fill-ins when that person is out), so that requests for info are met promptly.

    Since I launched CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM 18 months ago, no fewer than 10 local PDs have begun sending out regular releases, in addition to those who already had the knack.

    Some chiefs have given their brightest PATROL officers the task. They write not in the old, awkward "cop-ese" but in English that even a Record reporter can understand (A trusted source told me this morning that he'd been trying for weeks to get one to understand something it took Karen Sudol mere minutes to grasp).

    Bottom line: No more working a station house, no more building sources among cops, firemen, EMTs, lawyers, et. al. Not for lazy reporters and editors, anyway. They can write stories off releases -- often without actually calling & asking questions that would fill those Sea of Tranquility holes.

    That's why you see stories now about bicycle thieves & other small-time scofflaws -- stuff Mama Crass once said was too small-time. The proverbial 20 lbs of crap in a 5-lb bag was never more true. Why go through the trouble of working a town and its people, finding out what's really going on, when you can collect and rewrite release after release?

    That's why the Law & Order team was formed (only to be dissolved after I moved to online), so that a small band of cop-savvy pros could ferret out the truly important crime stories/trends while the munis covered the munis.

    Even State Police have gotten more savvy. They use traditional reporting style; some of the releases I've received from Sgt. Stephen Jones are better-written than the indecipherable text I edited from functional illiterates like Mike Feeney.

    They complained when the L&O team got too many crime stories on A1 or L1. Now they can't get enough....

    (BTW: Yesterday was a heavy crime day in Bergen. There actually is another big story that almost popped yesterday. That would've really oversaturated the paper with cops'n'robbers.)

  2. Thanks for your insight.

    So, I guess the police news is so easy to gather and write now, municipal coverage will suffer even more.

  3. Exactly. Why work when you can collect & rewrite releases? In fact, you'll notice that it's always the weekly reporters who get the most detail. Then The Record duplicates by having an out-of-touch reporter do the exact same story -- usually off a release. I skipped the entire exercise in the case of the burglar believed responsible for a string of break-ins: I focused on what got him there, instead of the chase and arrest. If they'd only bothered to look, the reporters would have found a trove of background info that exposes a justice system that allows the dangerous to go free -- instead of a one-off story about an arrest that may solve a bunch of unsolved crimes.


If you want your comment to appear, refrain from personal attacks on the blogger. Anonymous comments are no longer accepted. Keep your racism to yourself.