Thursday, December 30, 2010

Get the time element right, stupid

The Rim and the SlotImage by Bill on Capitol Hill via Flickr
The rim (news copy desk) and the slot (supervisor) in the old days.

Since Production Editor Liz Houlton began supervising the news copy desk of The Record and Herald News,  the quality and accuracy of headlines and captions has declined dramatically, and errors abound. 

Of course, anyone familiar with her supervision of the features copy desk could have seen it coming. Numerous errors in food copy got past her cursor, and proofing of pages routinely missed other mistakes. 

Yet, she got a big promotion, to assistant managing editor (before her title was changed); presumably a big raise and her hen-pecked husband, George Cubanski, took over her job as slot of the features copy desk. How cozy.

Houlton apparently is powerless to do anything about the news copy desk -- or rim -- which is spinning out of control under her supervision and the supervision of slot Vinny Byrne. With the departure of co-slot Nancy Cherry in 2008, the desk lost an eagle-eyed editor to whom quality and accuracy mattered.

The Record of Woodland Park today struggles to get the time element right, and columns and other stories are strangled by overwriting. For a daily newspaper, accuracy is essential when describing when something happened or will happen, and yet the former Hackensack daily often misses the boat.

What year is it?

Political Stile Columnist Charles Stile must have been told the column that appears on the front page today would run on Jan. 1 or later, but when it was being processed Wednesday, no one -- not the assignment editor, presumably Deirdre Sykes; Houlton, the copy editor or the slot -- noticed the time element had to be corrected. 

It wasn't, as his lead paragraph shows: "Governor Christie succeeded in seizing New Jersey's political agenda last year." Last year? 2009? He didn't take office until January of this year. The copy editor must have been on autopilot.

On the jump (A-6), Stile says redrawing of congressional districts, based on the 2010 Census, means an incumbent "will find himself out of a job next year [2011]." But the next election isn't until 2012, and the new member of Congress won't be seated until 2013. Autopilot again.

What week is it?

On the front of Sykes' Local section, Staff Writer Michael Gartland reports concerns about cost and accessibility of Saturday's traditional Jan. 1 reorganization of the Bergen County Freeholder Board.

One freeholder is quoted on L-6 as saying "he would rather have held the ceremony later in the week on Wednesday." But the words "later in the week" are inaccurate, because Saturday, Jan. 1, is the end of the week. Those words should have been dropped. Autopilot again.

The reporter also never explains clearly why a Saturday reorganization will cost more than one during the week, and there seems to be no basis for the main headline: "A taxpayer-funded party?"

Nexus, schmexus

Columnist Mike Kelly has been spinning his wheels for a number of years, but I have to recognize him today for being the first at The Record to question the absence of both Governor Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadano during the blizzard clean-up this week.

Still, can't anyone edit this guy and put a stop to his overwriting -- to his apparent belief that a columnist doesn't have to follow the basic journalistic principle of writing simply and clearly? He fails to communicate with readers, who are left muttering, What the F does that mean? Here, try to digest this:
"The nexus between the public and private lives of elected officials is often filled with thorns, emotional fissures and weird detours into secrecy and bad choices."
Another snow job

Blizzard clean-up coverage is banished to L-3 today. Yet, three days after the storm ended, numerous corners at major Hackensack intersections remain uncleared, endangering drivers and pedestrians alike. 

This morning, I watched an FDU student bounding over a couple of feet of snow in front of the Dunkin' Donuts as he crossed Hackensack Avenue, but on the other side he decided to walk in the street rather than repeat the effort. The turn lane at University Plaza Drive was mostly covered by snow.

The Business staff must have taken an early New Year's weekend. Only one byline appears in the Business pages today. The baby boomer shown on L-7 is from Florida.

Screw the photographers

And why are the paper's talented photographers given A-8 for some of their best 2010 photos? The photos are so much more interesting than all the drivel Sykes and Editor Francis Scandale run on the fronts. 

Sykes must really hate them, judging from all the accident photos she has Tariq Zehawi and others chasing.

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