Monday, January 10, 2011

Editor Frank Scandale's decade of failure

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...Image via Wikipedia
On Sept. 11, 2001, smoke rising from the Twin Towers after they were hit by passenger jets was visible from The Record newsroom in Hackensack.


Francis "Frank" Scandale will mark his 10th anniversary as editor of The Record on Jan. 24. 

He may have outlasted all the others who were brought in from bigger, out-of-town papers to run the former Hackensack daily, but he also holds the distinction of being the worst editor ever.

Sunday's front page spoke volumes about his failings. Instead of clearing the decks for a story of national and international importance, he conducted business as usual: 

He crammed the shooting of a congresswoman under a one-column head to make room for a huge photo of a professional football player and a minor scandal over land purchases for the defunct Hudson River rail tunnels. 

He even relegated to an inside page his own Washington correspondent's story -- comments from the New Jersey congressional delegation on the sharp partisan rhetoric that has divided the country since the election of Barack Obama.

A day late

Today's front page tries to make up for the woefully inadequate coverage of the Arizona rampage on Sunday, but it's a day late. Why didn't the assignment desk under Deirdre Sykes know on the day of the shootings that a North Jersey woman was among those killed? 

But even today, instead of giving the entire front page to the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords and the slaying of six others, including a federal judge, Scandale runs yet another A-1 story about DuPont pollution in Pompton Lakes. 

And where is the story on the failure of gun-control laws to keep weapons out of the hands of mentally unstable people like the suspected gunman?

Failed journalist

Still, the flawed coverage comes as no surprise to anyone who saw Scandale fall flat on his face when he faced the biggest story of his life -- the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Manhattan. 

Barely eight months after he came to The Record, Scandale rolled over and played dead for the business side, rejecting a potentially Pulitzer Prize-winning photo for the front page on Sept. 12, 2001. He was told it would "cost too much" to remake A-1 for the photo.

Given the  chance to score a clear beat with the photo and make the paper stand out from every other daily across the country, he turned his back on Staff Photographer Thomas Franklin's image of an inspirational flag-raising over the ruins of the World Trade Center. That set the tone for all the failures that followed.

Palooka Prize

Scandale was assistant managing editor for news at The Denver Post, where he led coverage of the Columbine High School massacre, for which the staff won a 2000 Pulitzer Prize, according to a Web site called NJ Creatives Network.

Did Publisher Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg hire Scandale, hoping he could win a second Pulitzer for The Record? 

If so, all the paper has won is the Palooka Prize for endless investigations that signified little or nothing, such as the nearly three year probe of former lawman Michael Mordaga under the unsteady guidance of Sykes, the head assignment editor.


When circulation started to slip, Scandale ordered special coverage of 20-year-olds -- a "failed strategy" that was condemned by Stephen A. Borg when he took over from his father in mid-2006.

Scandale spurned readers in the baby boom generation who had the money to buy advertisers' good and services, and also showed disdain for baby boomers on the staff, including their need for ergonomic furniture. 

His "ageism" produced numerous stories about autism, few about Alzheimer's disease and nothing about the challenges facing older drivers.

Mobile journalists

Scandale's mobile journalist initiative led to decentralization of news gathering and the staff's loss of a shared purpose. 

It also resulted in a huge plunge in productivity, as reporters with laptops, mobile phones and cameras were scattered far and wide, and no one seemed to know that they were doing everything but covering their towns.

Minorities in the newsroom

Scandale dumped the paper's only Hispanic columnist, Miguel Perez, and its only black columnist, Lawrence Aaron. 

Minority reporters came and went, and the minority journalists he brought from Denver were poor replacements.

In a related matter, Scandale threw objectivity out the window by allowing two Castro-hating Cuban exiles to cover Cuba almost exclusively for the paper.


  1. As pointed out once before, Scandale likes to take credit for the Columbine Pulitzer, but he wasn't in the office when the news broke and an assistant made the initial assignments, not paging Scandale until later.

    "All I thought," Scandale later complained to American Journalism Review, "is why didn't they page me sooner?"

    Right, it's always all about you, Frank!

    I can guess why they didn't page him sooner -- probably didn't want the stumbling glory-hound getting in everyone's way and making assignments based on office politics rather than ability to do the job.

  2. I disagree with your assessment of Frank as a newsroom leader, and feel compelled to say something on his behalf. I worked fairly closely with Frank for 4 years and always found him engaged, articulate and measured, and his news judgment sound. He's also just simply a really nice guy.

    When (or if) people read this stuff, I really hope they consider the motives of the writer. For the record, I also worked with Victor and found him to be an able, if not a little difficult, copy editor.

    It's just a shame that somehow it has gotten to this point. It's sad, really. We're talking about good people just trying to live their lives.

    Deirdre is one of the most caring, giving, loveliest people you could ever hope to know. She's so bright and such a good newswoman and it really sucks seeing her put down like this. I do take some consolation in the fact that I know she doesn't read word one of this.

    What I don't understand is why The Record doesn't just cancel your subscription. Hell, at least make you go to the store and plop down 50 cents to tear them apart.

  3. Tom:

    It's so pathetic how you are still kissing their asses, knowing you'll be welcomed back with open arms should AOL Patch implode.

  4. Or I could really mean it. ... Can you at least allow for that possibility?

  5. Give me a break, Tom.

    You should allow for the possibility that Francis and Deirdre treated other newsroom workers like they were so much shit.

    When you praise them like that, you become a laughing stock.


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