Monday, January 31, 2011

Scandale's colossal waste of space

View of the field at the New Meadowlands Stadi...Image via Wikipedia
Tough shit, football fans. The greedy Jets and Giants team owners didn't spring for a retractable roof at the new stadium in East Rutherford, but The Record continues to make excuses for them.

Editor Francis Scandale is in heat again and engaging in his peculiar male-bonding ritual with the other male editors: news meetings filled with ass-slapping, high-fiving and jock-strap waving ahead of the Super Bowl.

Today, on the front page -- and on a full inside page (A-6) -- The Record of Woodland Park allows jock-itching, fuzzy thinking Staff Writer John Brennan to make an inane comparison between the Giants' and Jets' New Meadowlands Stadium and the Arlington, Texas, venue where the game will be played Sunday. 

I fear this will be only the first of this week's front-page stories catering to a minority of sports fans. The only benefit the majority of readers gain from this colossal waste of space is to remind them none of their tax dollars were spent in the Meadowlands. They've just wasted another 50 cents on the paper.

The lead Page 1 story by Staff Writer Jeff Pillets doesn't answer the obvious question: Did Governor Christie know the Port Authority had just paid $95.5 million to lease land in Manhattan for the Hudson River rail tunnels before he canceled the project, ostensibly because of potential cost overruns? 

I'm waiting for Pillets to get to the bottom of Christie's real motivation: pleasing his wife, who complained she'd have to walk too far to connect to the subway.

Local yokels  

News from Hackensack, Teaneck, Englewood and other important communities is missing today in head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section. 

In contrast to photos of fender-benders and non-fatal rollover accidents that she used to run as filler on L-1 and L-3, the death of a 22-year-old Paterson woman in a DWI collision early Sunday is relegated to L-6 today.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Please do the math for readers

The Counties of North JerseyImage via Wikipedia
The counties of North Jersey, most of which The Record ignores.

When is The Record of Woodland Park going to stop doing public relations for the banks and the real estate industry and shatter the myth of "rock-bottom" mortgage rates? The phrase appears again on Editor Francis Scandale's front page today in a major story on how North Jersey homes are even less affordable than they were 10 years ago.

Staff Writer Kathleen Lynn is one of the best reporters on the staff and she's explored many aspects of buying and owning a home. But I wish her editors would urge her to do the arithmetic and spell out -- especially for first-time home buyers -- just how much interest they'll be paying over 30 years.

The number is huge, and nearly doubles the cost of the house. What's so rock bottom about that? No bank is doing you a favor. And home owners who refinance their homes several times at a lower interest rate get smaller payments, but also end up paying a lot more in interest and for a much longer period than the initial 30 years.

Take a deep breath

Day after day, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and her minions give us a bunch of turds, but today, the front of the Local section carries a big one that smells just like a rose.

Staff Writer Jay Levin does some street-level reporting on a subject of interest to all residents: pooper-scooper ordinances, inconsiderate dog owners and how well the laws are enforced. For a change, the news copy desk wrote an imaginative headline.

Levin, an accomplished writer of local obituaries, also delivers an unusual, emotional obituary on a couple who never lost sight of their roots (L-3).

Sykes, of course, continues to scramble in filling holes left by lazy members of her municipal reporting staff. There are no Hackensack stories today -- and other major towns go begging -- but the section carries two stories by a weekly reporter from her hometown of Harrington Park (L-2 and L-3).

Christie contradictions

A letter to the editor (O-3) notes that while first lady Mary Pat Christie is helping to fight hunger, her husband, Governor Christie cut $2.4 million in the state's contribution to free breakfast and lunch programs for lower income schoolchildren. The writer, John Callaghan, asks, "Why attack the poor?" Did The Record point out the contradiction?

Fish tales

Elisa Ung, the restaurant reviewer who writes "The Corner Table" column in Better Living, baits readers today with an evaluation of non-buffet, all-you-can-eat sushi deals. But there is nothing here on how many alternatives to high-mercury tuna are offered or whether the restaurants serve wild salmon in place of artificially colored farmed fish.

Flag of the municipality of Culebra (Puerto Rico)Image via Wikipedia
Flag of Culebra.

Babe and hunk

Staff Writers Stephanie Akin and Shawn Boburg -- one of the newsroom's most attractive couples --  demonstrate how opposites attract:

They're both great physical specimens, but she's a stylish clothes horse and he's fashion challenged (at least when I saw them daily before I left The Record in 2008). And she's one of the most productive members of the local staff, while he's under the Sykes' spell and doesn't do much of anything.

Today, they share a byline on a Travel front story about the Puerto Rican island of Culebra, illustrated with their photos, including one of a woman on the beach who could be her. How sweet.

On T-3 today, it doesn't look like the color barrier was broken in "The Record on the Road" photo feature of readers on vacation.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lazy staffers just love those reports

New Jersey State PoliceImage via Wikipedia
The Record somehow missed more than 400 street gang members in Englewood.

What would the editors and reporters of The Record do without all those reports that come flowing out of the Woodland Park newsroom's fax machines? Who doesn't issue them? Government agencies, authorities, law enforcement, social services -- all produce reports and surveys galore.

Transportation reporter Karen Rouse turns reports from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority into front page stories. Why should she leave the office to ride and rate mass transit? That's so labor intensive. A report or survey is a news story delivered in a neat package, which all the editors love.

Today, Staff Writers Giovanna Fabiano and Michelle Lee turn a survey on street gangs from the New Jersey State Police into a Page 1 story. 

They report that Englewood -- the city Fabiano is assigned to cover -- has the largest number of gang members of any community in Bergen County (435). Hackensack has only 20, according to the report, prompting some officials to question the accuracy of the survey.

Gee, has Fabiano reported on gang activity in Englewood in the last year or two? The city has three major gangs -- Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings -- the police chief tells the paper.

No. Fabiano's spotty coverage of Englewood hasn't included gangs or much of anything else. She doesn't report on public schools, which are heavily minority; downtown, which has empty storefronts, horrendous traffic and limited parking; the Jamaican or Latino communities; or illegal immigrants and illegal housing.

It's local news, stupid

The Record is filled with international news every day, but readers never got a hint of the troubles in Egypt until rioting broke out. Today, Editor Francis Scandale again makes the mistake of running a photo from Cairo on A-1 -- an image readers know well from TV news coverage this week -- when he should have put a photo and interviews with Egyptian immigrants in Jersey City out front.

An editorial on A-13 today scolds towns, school districts and counties that don't make their budgets available online.  Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin knows well how bad Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado and other staffers look by not writing about budget deliberations. 

He's not the mountain

Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes sent word down from Garret Mountain to clear the top of the Local front for the third major story on Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., since the mid-term congressional elections in November. 

The lead story on A-1 on Friday also included a good deal about the conservative's new-found power after Republicans took control of the House. Are Scandale and Sykes planning coverage or just scrambling to fill holes?

Most of the 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH designated by Sykes have been statewide or national figures. The January feature is scheduled to end in two days, but broke precedent by including a luxury auto dealer's six-column ad above the fold.

Why is Staff Writer Stephanie Akin's compelling report on tensions between residents and outsiders who use the Fair Lawn Senior Center on L-3 and not on the L-1 today?

Insensitive to elderly

On the Better Living front today, a major story on cutting your grocery bills declares:
"Coupons aren't just for old ladies anymore."
Didn't George Cubanski or any other editor see that and consider it insensitive to the elderly? People of all ages use coupons. What was Staff Writer Kara Yorio thinking?

Is Yorio one of the many inexperienced 20- and 30-year-olds hired in recent years by Features Director Barbara Jaeger, who has a reputation for getting rid of older workers, including Trudy Walz, Patricia Mack, and John Zeaman?

When I was still at The Record, anyone who applied to work in Jaeger's department and didn't get the job would console themselves by saying that at least they didn't have to work with the most difficult, unpleasant and stingiest supervisor in the newsroom.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

More forgettable news coverage

James GandolfiniImage via Wikipedia
Where does actor James Gandolfini go to eat out?

Editors Francis Scandale and Deirdre Sykes are so bored with snowstorms, they dismissed a couple of recent ones with a single photo and caption. Today, this week's big storm is front-page news in The Record of Woodland Park, but the superficial story is another forgettable effort. 

There are six photos on A-1 and A-18, but you won't find any pedestrians forced to walk in the street or bus patrons separated from their ride by mounds of snow. The Page 1 shot is interesting, but why did the editors give such prominent play to a car dealer and advertiser?

Six reporters contacted officials in only a handful of towns on snow clearing, road-salt use and related information. The vast majority of communities in the circulation area aren't represented. Nor are the experience of drivers, who found four-lane streets reduced to two lanes and uncleared corners, especially in Hackensack.

The best the editors could do for the rest of A-1 are two political stories. The lead, by Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson, could have run anytime, but I guess Scandale was desperate.

Local yokels

The weekly Hackensack Chronicle continues to report residents' questions about budget transfers that were approved at a recent City Council meeting, but The Record's Hackensack reporter, Monsy Alvarado, hasn't covered a council meeting in many months and apparently doesn't have the word "budget" in her vocabulary.

Your Money's Worth Columnist Kevin DeMarrais issues a "report card" on the German-owned Aldi supermarket, which opened recently in Clifton (L-7). It's hard to understand how he can rate the quality of the food B+, if there are no organic items offered.

I especially get a kick out of how he tested Aldi coffee and cookies on "newsroom colleagues, and all got a thumbs-up." What else does he expect from some of the biggest freeloaders in the world?

Under the continuation of DeMarrais' story on L-8, a brief on the sale of an Englewood liquor store is credited to Daniel "Dan" Sforza, who is second-in-command on the assignment desk under Sykes. That's sort of weird.

Bloody awful

Does Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung know anything more about steaks than "prime" and "aged"?

In Better Living today, she makes Del Monico in Cedar Grove sound awful -- especially the service, sanitation, burnt food and 30-page menu -- but still rates it Fair to Good (one and a half stars). 

Does that have anything to do with "Sopranos" actor James Gandolfini, an investor who knows enough not to eat there (at least during her three visits)? 

She never tell readers whether the $25.95 and $59.90 steaks she liked were raised naturally or given feed with antibiotics, growth hormones and bits of dead animals in it.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

'Pushing a bucket of turds up the hill'

Wheelbarrow at a construction site at Duke Uni...Image via Wikipedia
The Record's many turd-filled wheelbarrows have flat tires.

Nancy Cherry supervised me when I was a news copy editor at The Record, and for years, she urged the newspaper to highlight a "Quote of the Day" from the stories we edited night after night. 

Of course, Nancy, Co-Slot Vinny Byrne and everybody else associated with the news copy desk were treated like so much shit by Editor Francis Scandale, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and their minions, and her idea went nowhere. A couple of years ago, the former Hackensack daily began running great quotes weekly, not daily.

Today, on the front page, a "Quote of the Day" jumped out at me, and it resonates with meaning on so many levels:

"This is like pushing a bucket of turds up the hill and the wheelbarrow has flat tires," said not-quite-Sisyphus Thomas J. Powell, one of the Passaic Valley sewerage commissioners who resigned, explaining he didn't have the strength to fight ethics charges threatened by Governor Christie.

You can apply this quote to readers, who are saddled every day with a newspaper that slants stories to make Christie look great, that raises questions and never answers them, that writes inaccurate headlines and rarely corrects them, and that day after day, allows the laziness of the editors and some of the staff to determine what's covered.  

If you think of a wheelbarrow as a conveyance, then the turds could represent the flawed stories written by everyone from Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson down to the inexperienced weekly reporters whose stories fill Sykes' Local section.

If you think of a wheelbarrow as representing the newsroom, then the turds could be Scandale and  all of the clueless assignment and features editors, as well as reporters like Jean Rimbach who do as little as possible and get away with it, because they are Sykes' pals.

If you think of a wheelbarrow as management, then the turds could be Jennifer A. and Stephen A.  Borg, the spoiled siblings who pushed their ailing father aside and started the hometown paper down a slippery slope of cost-cutting and bare-bones municipal news coverage.

A turd from D.C.

Just look at the turd that leads the Woodland Park paper today, reported and written by Jackson, one of the staffers who make the mistake of thinking readers are as fascinated by politics as they are, and that every story has to be defined by how many tax dollars are spent improperly. 

The headline is ridiculous. Who can figure out what the story is about?

time spent

The drop headline tells readers more, but awkwardly:

Bush aides improperly
aided in N.J., report says

What is "taxpayer time"? Whose campaigns? "Improperly aided in N.J."? 

Why not just say -- in the head and in the lead paragraph -- that Bush officials broke the law to campaign for New Jersey Republicans. 

Jackson wrote this Page 1 turd, but who edited it? Was it Sykes, who would let out shrieks of laughter when she was on the phone editing stories by Jackson and the Trenton reporters? Or was she in the bathroom, eliminating her own turds, when this story just went through with no thought at all given to clarity and grabbing the reader?

History repeats itself

At a news meeting 10 years ago, shortly after moving from Denver to take over as editor, Scandale assessed how well his new staff had done on covering a major snowstorm. He was pissed.

Nothing has changed. Many towns did a poor job of clearing streets, sidewalks and bus stops after the post-Christmas blizzard that hit North Jersey at the end of 2010, and The Record's coverage was as inadequate as it was in 2001.

On A-10, a letter to the editor from Ciro DiSclafani of Garfield asks, "How pedestrian-friendly is your town?" 

It's the paper that should be reporting what this man says in his letter about "improperly cleared intersections and bus stops," and the dangers to pedestrians, mothers with strollers and others who are forced into the street. 

If you drove around Hackensack today, as I did, it was immediately apparent that city crews did a poor job on intersections and bus stops, just as they did after the blizzard and other major storms.

Snowplows appear to crisscross each other, but not turn corners, leaving a mess at intersections that forces pedestrians to wade through a foot or more of snow and drivers to make wide turns. Euclid Avenue, an unusually wide street with two-way traffic, was reduced to one lane.

If anyone should be sympathetic to pedestrians having to cope with snow, it would be Sykes, who fell on her well-padded posterior in the Hackensack parking lot one winter. 

It's true that one of her reporters, Karen Rouse, wrote about pedestrians recently, but she didn't venture any farther than a few blocks from her Hackensack apartment.

Rich and powerful

The 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH feature today focuses on one of the richest, most powerful men in North Jersey, appropriately "brought to you by" a luxury car dealer's ad above the fold. Check out the photo of Orin S. Kramer in his $3,000 suit.

It took Sykes and her staff about six weeks to notice how many homeless people have been wandering around in the cold this winter, and today, we get the second major story in three days on their plight (L-1).

Poor reporting

On L-3 today, Staff Writer Shawn Boburg finally contacted a railroad spokeswoman to confirm that warning lights were working properly at the Franklin Lakes crossing where a man drove his SUV into a moving train, killing his friend.

In his major story on Wednesday, Boburg left conflicting information on the warning lights unresolved, and no editor noticed or cared.

Unfair to Fairway

The second round of marinara-sauce testing by the Better Living staff today again omits the great sauce sold under the Fairway Market label in Paramus.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lawyers, lawsuits and legal fees

This circular sign is used in the US as an adv...Image via Wikipedia

Reporters covering the death of a Hawthorne man in an SUV-train accident fill today's story with lots of quotes about what a "great kid" he was and what a great family he came from, but they fail to resolve conflicting information on whether warning lights were flashing at the Franklin Lakes railroad crossing Monday night (A-1 and L-1).

Police say they were working, but many paragraphs later, reporters quote a survivor's relative as saying he was told the lights weren't flashing. The crossing doesn't have a gate, but that's left unexplained, too.

Lawsuit around the bend

You can bet there's a big lawsuit coming against the driver, who has a spotty record and wasn't supposed to be driving two non-family members in his SUV at the same time; against the railroad for not providing a gate at the crossing and possibly against other defendants, but don't expect to read about it in The Record of Woodland Park.

More lawyers are lurking behind Governor Christie, who refuses to repay the $271 million in federal funds spent on the Hudson River rail tunnels before he killed them (A-4). The Star-Ledger story notes Christie has retained a politically connected law firm, Patton Boggs, at $485 an hour to contest the bill.  

The former Hackensack daily hasn't questioned Christie's decision to hire that high-priced law firm or his naming of two pals from his days as U.S. attorney: a former New Jersey attorney general as chairman of the Port Authority (A-4) and a retired Somerset County prosecutor as executive director of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners (A-1). 

Cops and robbers

There's so much law-and-order news in Local today, you'd think head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes planned it that way -- to fill the yawning space left from failing to cover municipal news.

Even Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado continues to boycott that city's municipal affairs, writing today about hiring by the beleaguered Police Department and a murder investigation by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

A second look

Monday's Page 1 story on renewal of the battle over the millionaire's tax in New Jersey has not one, not two, but three graphics filled with percentages, tax brackets and other related numbers (A-1 and A-10). 

But nowhere in the the story do readers find any revenue projections from a proposed tax surcharge on the roughly 16,000 millionaires in the state.  Was Editor Francis Scandale asleep or just running interference for his pal, the governor?

Now, income over $500,000 is taxed at a rate of only 8.97%.

Democrats want to raise that to 10.75%, but Christie is vowing to fight that, as he did successfully last year, lest his many wealthy supporters demand to know why they are no longer immune to the pain he has visited on the middle and working classes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Newspaper becomes P.R. machine

I love PR (public relations)Image by DoktorSpinn via Flickr
The Record often crosses the line between news and public relations.

Editor Francis Scandale and Staff Writers John Reitmeyer and Charles Stile crank up their public relations machine for Governor Christie's antiabortion beliefs today with a splashy, Page 1 story and an L-1 column in The Record of Woodland Park.

This is essentially a photo-op. Christie isn't pledging to change laws that now give women the right to an abortion, so I guess the message to readers is the Republican governor has more regard for fetuses than for the middle- and working-class schoolchildren, adults, and seniors he has targeted with his drastic budget cuts.

At least Reitmeyer's story noted Christie's $7.5 million cut in women's health programs.

The two other stories on A-1 today are signs of the editors' desperation and the shallowness of news coverage at the former Hackensack daily.

Ford Motor Company of ArgentinaImage via Wikipedia

The lead is another in the seemingly endless stream of stories on the prospects of cleaning up four-decades-old Ford Motor Co. pollution in North Jersey. Of course, the untold story here is the weakness of environmental laws, the courts and the media to move this industrial giant.

And, at the bottom of the page, readers find yet another story about the long and winding road to education reform and teacher "accountability," a word Scandale and head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes apply to everyone outside the paper, but not to themselves or their staff.

At least, we can be thankful we don't have to read another A-1 story by clueless Staff Writer John Brennan on the Jets cleaning out their lockers, plus a detailed discussion of their bowel movements in the wake of their loss to the Steelers.

Two embarrassing corrections appear on A-2 today, including the listing of a closed restaurant as one of the places to watch Sunday's football game.

Local yokels

Instead of a Bogota resident as one of the 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH, readers are introduced to an "entrepreneur" who was born and raised there. He owns a restaurant, nightclub and lounge in Manhattan I have never heard of. His story is "brought to you by" a luxury car dealer's ad above the fold on L-1 today.

The 2010 blizzard hit about a month ago and we've had four more snowstorms since then, but Sykes' staff is just noticing how many homeless people are exposed to the cold, and, apparently, that's because a homeless advocate and police are patrolling the streets in search of them (L-1).

The homeless story runs with a mind-numbing graphic -- containing weather data going back to the 1930s -- that tells readers this winter isn't as cold as they think it is. Isn't that sort of insensitive to the homeless, many of whom live outdoors?

There's no Hackensack news, nor stories from Englewood or Teaneck, but you'll find coverage of tiny Northvale and of North Haledon.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Readers are tired of the B.S.

Red and green peppers, Allentown Farmer's MarketImage by Martin LaBar via Flickr
Indoor farmers' markets aren't the only place to buy good produce in winter.

That's enough B.S. 

We're tired of Editor Francis Scandale catering to a fierce minority who claim most or all of us are interested in the Jets, Giants, Mets and Yankees, and that justifies Page 1 play. 

He's got a weak spot for putting sports all over the front page of The Record of Woodland Park, because he's addicted to male bonding in the news meeting -- the ass-slapping, high-fiving and jock-strap waving.

Scandale's skewed news judgment and desperate attempts to "sell papers" are well-known, and today is the 10th anniversary of the day he took over as editor. Is anybody celebrating?
In all likelihood, Scandale is only following orders from another jock, Publisher Stephen A. Borg, the dimmest light bulb in that wealthy publishing family. I may be wrong, but front-page sports coverage seemed to increase noticeably after Borg took over from his father in mid-2006.  

I'm from Brooklyn, but I've adopted New Jersey as my home state, and none of those overpaid athletes play for a New Jersey team. In fact, the Giants and Jets have a magnificent new football stadium in the Meadowlands, yet still call themselves the New York Dickheads. Fie on all of them.

But thanks to Scandale, win or lose, the Jets have claimed significant front-page turf recently, including today, despite mediocre reporting and writing by John Brennan, a former sports reporter. Brennan can't think clearly, can't write clearly. Can you believe his opening paragraphs from Pittsburgh today?

Wait until next year

He reports that Jets fans preferred seeing their team lose in the playoff game against the Steelers on Sunday over seeing them go to the Super Bowl and lose there. You can't make up this kind of confused reporting.

Sunday's and today's Jets packages are so big, there was room for only one other story on A-1.

You only have to read the headline on that second story to realize this is real news, which should have led the paper today. It's also of interest to just about everyone -- renewal of the battle over levying a millionaire's tax -- a battle Governor Christie won last year, while he systematically cut nearly every program for the middle and working classes, and eliminated property tax rebates for seniors.

Staff Writer John Reitmeyer says there are roughly 16,000 millionaires in New Jersey. When are we going to see the story on how many of them are financial supporters of Christie, who also has given the wealthy a break by not raising the tax on their gas-guzzling limos and SUVs? I'd say we're never going to see that story in The Record.

Did you see the A-1 streamer over the masthead? 


"Farm fresh" and "ripe for picking" are a little too much exaggeration for my taste, especially when low prices are the real reason people buy produce sold at indoors "farmers' markets."

And while Staff Writer Sachi Fujimori did her usually good job on the story (Better Living front), she should have focused more on the Paterson Farmers' Market, which has the lowest prices in the region, as well as being the only one that caters to both Middle Eastern and Hispanic consumers.

And here's an odd thing for Fujimori to say: "Just because the outdoors farmers' markets have shuttered till spring, it doesn't mean you have to subsist on shriveled or overpriced fruits and vegetables." 

Who, exactly, is selling those? Good produce is available in just about every supermarket, especially the Korean-owned ones, which are known for their competitive prices.

Local yokels

A local personality is featured for a change on L-1 today -- a singer-songwriter from Fair Lawn -- in the 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH series, which is "brought to you by" a luxury car dealer's ad above the fold.

A long budget-deliberations story from Ridgewood appears on L-5, among the obituaries. Budget-cutting plans in Englewood also have been reported in Local, but I have yet to see anything similar from Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado, one of head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' pets.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The editors play it straight

President Barack Obama gives his State of the ...Image via Wikipedia
The State of the Union address in January 2010.

How did Editor Francis Scandale keep a straight face when he ran a front-page story today on a salary gender gap at charities?

Didn't he and Features Director Barbara Jaeger OK a $70,000 starting salary for a new food editor in 2006 -- a man in his very early 30s who had no food editing experience? And wasn't that thousands of dollars higher than the salary of a woman who was hounded into retirement after more than 20 years as food editor of The Record and another newspaper?

Does anyone believe the disparate salaries of Bill Pitcher and Patricia Mack are the only examples of a gender gap at the Borg family's North Jersey Media Group, which has fought the unions and kept staff salaries secret at all costs over the years?

And how did Scandale keep a straight face when he totally dominated Page 1 of the Woodland Park daily with coverage of Jets fans traveling to today's Super Bowl playoff game?

Sure, the Jets deserve a part of the front page, but why assign one of the most talentless reporters on the entire staff to the story? 

Staff Writer John Brennan's breathless first paragraphs report, to paraphrase: A lot of Jets fans arrived in Pittsburgh on Saturday, but they're having a hard time finding their way around the big city. Duh. 

A correction on A-2 today says the incorrect day was given "in some editions" for President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

We roam the state

At the top of Local, a power broker from Cherry Hill is today's 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH, "brought to you by" Benzel-Bush Motor Car Corp. in Englewood. It's strange that the ad above the fold is "local," while the person to watch is far from it.

A story about Harrington Park appears on L-7 today, in a section without news of Teaneck, Englewood and many other larger towns. Is that because head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes lives there?

Living by bread alone

On the Better Living front, "The Corner Table" column by Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung tells us what goes into the basket of bread served in good restaurants. What great reporting went into this column.

Do you think subsequent columns will tell readers whether the chicken most places serve is raised with antibiotics, whether the meat is pumped up with growth hormones and whether the farmed salmon is artificially colored?

Hunger or obesity?

An editorial on Page O-2 praises first lady Mary Pat Christie for helping to fight hunger in New Jersey, though it's apparent she's not diverting food from the governor's table (see photo of him on O-3).

And, of course, the editorial ignores why New Jersey's first couple aren't fighting obesity, too.

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A second look at correction

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

I took a second look at the correction that ran on Page A-2 on Saturday, as well as the headline and story that ran on L-1 on Friday. 

It appears that Staff Writer Jean Rimbach and head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, the presumed editor of her story, contributed to the error in the headline through poor writing and editing, and a misplaced emphasis high up in the story on the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

Here's my revised commentary, which is also in the original post, Why this blast from the past?

'We goofed again'

Page A-2 brings two corrections, one from Better Living, which seems to get dates, telephone numbers and other basic information wrong almost every day. 

An L-1 headline on a lawsuit story by Jean Rimbach, one of the paper's investigative reporters, also was wrong Friday -- really wrong. 

The original headline says, "Papers sealed in suit alleging coverup by prosecutor." To be fair to the news copy desk, the story mentions a prosecutor's office -- "apparently the one in Bergen County" -- a number of times, and includes the Bergen prosecutor's name. 

The correction says, "The headline should have said that the suit alleges a coverup by the investigator's bosses in the state criminal justice system," even though that isn't clear from the story. 

The reporter worked on this sensitive story how long -- weeks or months? Did  Sykes edit it before it was sent over to the copy desk for a headline, and did she order the desk not to alter a word or challenge any vagueness, as she has done so many times in the past?

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why this blast from the past?

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 8:  A TV videographer...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
A cameraman focuses on a flower outside Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office.

The 30th anniversary of the release of Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days? Covering more than one-third of the front page in The Record of Woodland Park? Are Editor Francis Scandale and Columnist Mike Kelly kidding? 

Kelly is inconsistent, but Staff Writer John Brennan is bad all the time, and today we have two stories about the Jets' Super Bowl playoff game in Pittsburgh -- one by him on the front and one by another reporter inside.

The move of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to rehab leads the paper, as it should, but readers must be wondering why they haven't seen any photos of her since the shootings in Tuscon, Ariz., two weeks ago.

'We goofed again'

Page A-2 brings two corrections, one from Better Living, which seems to get dates, telephone numbers and other basic information wrong almost every day. 

An L-1 headline on a lawsuit story by Jean Rimbach, one of the paper's investigative reporters, also was wrong Friday -- really wrong. 

The original headline says, "Papers sealed in suit alleging coverup by prosecutor," and to be fair to the news copy desk, the story mentions a prosecutor's office -- "apparently the one in Bergen County" -- a number of times, and includes the Bergen prosecutor's name. 

The correction says, "The headline should have said that the suit alleges a coverup by the investigator's bosses in the state criminal justice system," even though that isn't clear from the story. 

The reporter worked on this sensitive story how long -- weeks or months? Did  Sykes edit it before it was sent over to the copy desk for a headline, and did she order the desk not to alter a word or challenge any vagueness, as she has done so many times in the past?

The other remarkable thing about this correction is that it's one of the few errors acknowledged by the dysfunctional copy desk under Vinny Byrne and Liz Houlton.

The front page promoted Governor Christie's charter-school initiative three days in a row this week, but an editorial today deplores his systematic attack on public schools, including vouchers (A-13).

Sometimes reporter

Does anybody besides head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes take Lou Dobbs seriously as a congressional candidate? That 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH feature is "brought to you by" a German luxury car dealer whose ad appears above the fold on the Local front.

Englewood reporter Giovanna Fabiano has her first story about municipal affairs in 17 days today -- on a plan to cut the city budget by privatizing trash pickup and eliminating the volunteer ambulance corps. 

When is the last time Sykes' Local section had anything about budget deliberations in Hackensack by Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado?

Pie in our faces

Features Director Barbara Jaeger deserves a pie in her face for wasting readers' time on pies as "the latest hot food trend" (Better Living front).

Jaeger rolled over and played dead when Publisher Stephen A. Borg folded the Food section about four years ago, and food coverage has been all downhill since then. 

She also reduced how much the paper reimburses Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung -- limiting the number of dishes she can sample -- and added more photos and bigger headlines to distract readers. 

At the same time, Ung's obsession for dessert has displaced any concern over whether restaurants are serving food that is raised or grown naturally.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Rare byline brings old news

The Bergen County courthouse in Bergen County,...Image via Wikipedia
A reporter is assigned full time to the Bergen County Courthouse.

Staff Writer Jean Rimbach probably writes fewer stories than any other reporter at The Record of Woodland Park. She's a favorite of head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, and often gets to handle plum investigations and other long projects.

Today, her byline appears twice -- a rarity -- both on Editor Francis Scandale's Page 1 and on the front of Local, the section that once was Sykes' pride and joy. But her stories deliver old news -- an arrest "last month" (more than three weeks ago) and a lawsuit filed in September (four months ago).

Readers must wonder how the paper missed both of these earth-shaking stories. 

I, for one, am shaking in my boots knowing that illegal immigrants can buy fake digital driver's licenses at $6,000 a pop (Page 1). At that rate, there's nothing left for the slumlords, who operate with impunity in North Jersey knowing The Record's editors have ignored them for decades.  

Confusion reigns

"$2.5T" (for trillion) in an A-1 headline. I've never seen that before, and found it confusing. An A-1 photo clearly showing handcuffs on a seated suspect has a caption reading, "One of the suspects ... sitting handcuffed in Brooklyn." 

Local yokels

Today's 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH on L-1 actually has a local official, the new mayor of Paterson, Jeffrey Jones. The Silk City is one of the poorest in the state, but the Jones profile is "brought to you by" a dealer of luxury German cars whose six-column ad stretches across the page above the fold.

How did Kibret Markos, the reporter assigned full time to the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, miss the Sept. 1 filing of a lawsuit that alleges a cover-up (L-1, second Rimbach story)?

On L-3, readers learn that in addition to all the harm Governor Christie has done to the middle and working classes, he's bad for the environment. Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club says Christie "may go down as the worst governor in history." Was this deliberately buried?

Back of her hand

Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung seems to like the food at Simply Vietnamese in Tenafly, but she insults Chef K.T. Tran with a review bestowing only a half-star more than her two-star rating of a faux-Caribbean chain restaurant in Wayne called Bahama Breeze, where the scallops she ordered were delivered raw or undercooked three times.

Bahama BreezeImage via Wikipedia

I guess she was upset dessert at the Vietnamese place "is entirely incidental and somewhat unpredictable." The poor thing. She was denied the 1,000-calorie concoctions she is in the habit of consuming with great gusto. She usually samples four.

The restaurant has 40 seats -- 16 more than its predecessor in Englewood -- but it's a "cramped space" to Ung. And it's "not a great value for anyone focused on atmosphere." Does anyone know what she means?
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The lazy, hazy days of winter

Garden State Parkway shieldImage via Wikipedia
Why won't saving millions in salaries and benefits by switching to private toll collection on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway lead to lower tolls?

When newspaper editors practice lazy journalism, they can't hide it from readers, as The Record of Woodland Park amply demonstrates today, especially on the front page. 

You'd think staff cutbacks, the merger of The Record and Herald News, a wage freeze and other austerity measures would spur greater productivity, but some newsroom employees are doing much less now and getting away with it.
Of course, you can't discount the corrosive effect of Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who has no journalism background and whose "good enough" standard undermines the quality of reporting, writing, editing and photo journalism. His chief concern seems to be his own finances.

Lazy editors

In the newsroom, failed Editor Francis Scandale and lazy lifer Deirdre Sykes, who is head of the assignment desk, haven't been able to inspire their staff for many years now. Their backup -- such sub-editors as Barbara Jaeger, Liz Houlton, Tim Nostrand, Jim McGarvey, Dan Sforza, Christina Joseph and Rich Whitby -- essentially are useless.

Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson leads the paper today, reporting that New Jersey Republicans and Democrats relied on "shaky and sometimes contradictory" statistics about health-care reform, but the debate has been going on for months, so why didn't he write this story before the House voted to repeal it?
In fact, Jackson seems only to be expanding on a wire-service story that ran inside a couple of days ago. And the headline is baffling. It says the same thing in the main and drop heads. Hey, it's "good enough."

Lazy reporting

At the bottom of A-1 today, Staff Writer Karen Rouse reports the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is seeking proposals to privatize toll collections on the turnpike and Garden State Parkway, but in this second front-page story on the subject, she is silent on why the millions of dollars in anticipated savings won't lead to lower tolls.

Rouse wrote a rare winter story on the plight of pedestrians who, because of uncleared sidewalks,  have to walk in the street, in danger of being hit by passing cars. But she ventured only a few blocks from her Hackensack apartment, and never reported on uncleared bus stops or mounds of snow between parking meters and sidewalks.

Hey, it's "good enough."

More lazy reporting

For the third day in a row, the front page promotes Governor Christie's charter-school initiative, But why doesn't veteran education reporter Leslie Brody, in today's and Wednesday's stories, tell readers how many of their tax dollars Englewood and other public school districts will have to fork over to help run the 23 charter schools approved by the state on Tuesday?

Guess what? It's "good enough."

I can just see the Orthodox Jews on Englewood's East Hill laughing all the way to the bank, if a charter Hebrew immersion academy opens in that segregated city to serve children now attending hugely expensive Jewish day schools.

On A-5, a photo of Christie and wife Mary Pat arriving at the White house for dinner Wednesday night speaks volumes about why the governor scuttled the Hudson River rail tunnels and a new station under Macy's. He said at the time his wife -- who doesn't appear to be very fit -- complained she would have to walk too far to connect to the subway.

Now you see them ...

On Sykes' Local front, the 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH are two assemblymen. The editor still is unable to find any local people we should be watching for this feature, which is "brought to you by" Benzel-Busch Motor Car Corp., according to the six-column ad above the fold.

What a concept. Why not attach an ad to every story? For example, the story on neighbors fighting a 19-story, acute-care hospital proposal in Hackensack could be "brought to you by" Hackensack University Medical Center. Charles Stile's political column could be "brought to you by" the Governor's Office or the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Hackensack reporter Monsy Alvarado's byline appears today for the first time since Jan. 13.

Also on L-1, a story on a new hospice by Staff Writer Mary Jo Layton -- one of those now you see her, now you don't reporters -- appears to err in her list of other hospices in New Jersey. She omits the Prospect Heights hospice in Hackensack, where News Copy Editor Michael Thaler died three years ago.

 Waiting for inspiration

On L-3, a story reports that the first and only African-American on the Bergen County bench is retiring -- disappointed there are no other black or Asian-American Superior Court judges, despite large ethnic communities in the county. He also expresses the hope courts become more "user-friendly."

Gee, I can't recall Staff Writer Kibret Markos, who wrote this profile of departing Superior Court Judge Elijah I. Miller Jr., ever before reporting on the lack of diversity on the Bergen bench or on access to the courts. 

Not only has he covered the Bergen County Courthouse for three to four years, he is black himself. He actually works out of a press office in the building five days a week, so you'd think he knows it pretty well.

Markos' stories could be "brought to you by" the Bergen County Bar Association or the Administrative Office of the Courts. Only if he writes them, of course.

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