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.


  1. You describe Mac Borg as ailing. What is he ailing from, and where did you get this info from?

  2. Definition of ailing: To feel ill or have pain.

  3. Let me elaborate. Mac Borg was an alcoholic for many years and, after he gave it up, he was ordered by his doctor to stop smoking. He did that, only to see his weight balloon.

    I saw him in April. Though he was dressed beautifully, he was very overweight, his breathing was labored, he moved slowly and he seemed a little slow in the cerebral sense, too.

    In conversation with his daughter Jennifer, he referred to his wife as "Mother." I guess that's a white, ruling-class kind of thing.

    Can you imagine Mac being asked a question and not being allowed to answer?

    I asked him what he thought of a photo in the paper of a young woman who had been arrested and who gave The Record's photographer the finger? Jennifer Borg told him not to answer, and he didn't.

    Not long before I left the paper in May 2008, I arrived at work in Hackensack near my 5:30 p.m. starting time as usual and as I was getting into the elevator, I bumped into a man I didn't recognize. He was dressed casually and he moved slowly toward the exit. I finally realized it was Mac. He looked terrible. He certainly looked ailing to me.


  5. Good one.

    That was quite a marriage. Mac's father ran The Record and her father ran United Jersey Bank (remember that).

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