Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More poor news judgment

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - JANUARY 16: Jean-Claud...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Why doesn't somebody arrest "Baby Doc" Duvalier?

Here's something for readers starved of local news: Charter schools apparently aren't the magic bullet Governor Christie is making them out to be in his assault on public-school teachers. The lead story in The Record of Woodland Park reports some of them under-perform, even in such troubled districts as Paterson.

From there, today's North Jersey Page 1 is all down hill, thanks to the skewed priorities of desperate Editor Francis Scandale and head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, who have led the staff stampede away from covering local municipal news.

Mike Kelly's Sunday column on our weak gun laws belonged on A-1, but his overlong, overwritten piece on Glen Rock unfurling a new flag for a dying Vietnam War veteran has Local front written all over it. Is it on the front page today out of Scandale's loyalty to the borough where he lives?

Every word a gem

Poor Peter Sampson, one of the hard-working newsroom veterans and a former United Press International reporter. What is all this on A-1 about the FBI using cellphone calls to track suspects' movements -- a story that takes up three-quarters of a page inside, complete with complicated graphics?

Readers already are intimately familiar with the tracking technology from "Law & Order SVU," "Fringe" and many other TV dramas. 

A really powerful package of international news appears inside -- the puzzling return of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and the new government that replaced the corrupt Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his rapacious wife in Tunisia.

Surely, there must be Haitians and Tunisians in North Jersey to tell the story through, if the clueless assignment desk would just send a couple of reporters out to find them.

Putting the twin dictators on A-1 would show readers that Scandale just doesn't exploit the human misery of earthquakes, floods, mudslides and disease when he scrambles for a powerful image the inflexible Page 1 designers demand every day.  

News killer

For months, The Record and other media have quoted Republicans as saying they want to repeal health-care reform because it is a "job-killer." On A-7, a story quotes experts saying that claim is basically unfounded -- even as the effort is getting under way in Congress.

What took everyone so long? I guess the sound bites and hot buttons are too hard for news people to resist.

Conflicting messages

Readers of Sykes' Local front must be wondering whether the Englewood-based Benzel-Busch Motor Car Corp. -- that's the six-column ad above the fold attached to the 2011 PEOPLE TO WATCH series-- is the kind of responsible company discussed by consumer advocate Malaak Compton Rock, the subject of today's article.

Also on L-1, Columnist Charles Stile finally identifies John Wallace as the only African-American on the state Supreme Court when he was denied renomination by Christie, but he refuses to confront the governor on the nonsensical reasons cited for his removal.  

Stile and other reporters consistently fail to explore the racial angle, given that Christie's nominee to replace Wallace is a white woman. 

Drive-by reporting

On L-3, a brief identifies the 16-year-old Ramsey girl who was killed by a train, and her death is called a suicide. Readers are told nothing else about her. 

As far as The Record is concerned, her life, and the lives of innumerable others who died in one-car accidents or were run down crossing the street, have no news value.
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