Sunday, March 27, 2011

What the Road Warrior doesn't want you to know

emissions testingImage by ario_ via Flickr
Twice this month, the Road Warrior columnist gave the wrong advice on emissions tests.

Should Staff Writer John Cichowski seek guidance from readers as he researches and writes his Road Warrior columns? 

Or should he instead check with his news sources on the accuracy of the advice he gives, especially when he cites state laws and motor vehicle rules and regulations?

Judging from errors he's made recently, he should start checking the accuracy of his advice, and stop consulting readers before his columns are published.  

How Cichowski works

Eye on The Record recently received an e-mail from a reader:
"As you may know, John [Cichowski] keeps a network of his readers, whom he calls Road Warriors, on an e-mail distribution list so that he can solicit feedback from them for stories he is working on."
Even though I edited Cichowski's columns for many years when I worked at The Record, I had no idea he "solicited feedback ... for stories he is working on" from outside the newsroom, and I doubt his supervisors know this.

In fact, that's not how most reporters work, and it wasn't how I worked during 15 years as a reporter at three daily newspapers, including The Record. 

It sounds as if Cichowski is substituting readers' eyes and ears for his own -- a real no-no in journalism -- so he doesn't actually have to leave the office and do legwork.

Under great pressure

You know Cichowski is under a lot of pressure to fill space, because he's required to write three columns a week, in addition to coming up with enterprise stories, such as the front-page piece he did recently on motor coach safety. 

He simply isn't up to the task, in view of all the repetition readers see -- he'll write a half-dozen or more columns on roof snow and other subjects close to his heart each year until readers are beaten into senselessness.

He often writes floridly to mask such mindless repetition, but as a fellow news copy editor used to say, "You can't polish a turd."

He's also shoots himself in the foot by virtually ignoring a large number of columns he could write about commuting problems and the sad state of mass transit in one of the most congested regions in the nation.

Q&A with readers

Apparently, he also relies on readers for more than guidance while working on stories. 

He created a column he writes every month or so, it seems, in which he answers drivers' questions about Motor Vehicle Commission rules and regulations, and state laws.

This is sort of a motorized version of advice to the lovelorn, but the questions can get ridiculous, such as a driver who complained the other day that he had to move over for a police cruiser with its lights on, only to see them go off after the cop passed him.

Who cares? Why is this in a newspaper column? Why didn't the man complain to the police department instead of Cichowski?

Could this reader possibly be one of those Cichowski consults all the time? Could the reporter be rewarding the reader by including his name, complaint and question in the column?

When Cichowski answers readers' questions about rules and regulations, he sometimes gets it wrong -- as he did twice this month on emissions testing. He was wrong twice, and never ran a correction -- a sure sign he is running scared. 

No oversight

A Road Warrior reader says he got no satisfaction recently when he contacted Cichowski and Deputy Assignment Editor Dan Sforza, who edits the column:
"John [Cichowski] never responded to my original e-mail below ....  I doubt he will ever respond to me about anything else that I may observe in his articles that needs corrections or updates.  I have had several interesting back and forth e-mail debates with him about his articles in the past.  John frequently indicated that he was always right and I was always wrong, no matter the facts and circumstances.
"Dan [Sforza] never believed any of my explanations in the e-mails below or the 2 times I called him. He held fast in his beliefs and always indicated that the ... article was totally correct, even though I presented facts that contradicted some of his beliefs.  However, last week he finally said in frustration that if I stopped calling him, he would have John update his ... statement in an upcoming article.  I'm assuming I have no credibility with Dan to ever question any other misleading or false statement that John might make in the future.
"Clearly, Dan is not providing any proper oversight, even though he said to me he would pay more attention to reviewing John's articles."
Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes named Cichowski to the job after the departure of the original Road Warrior columnist, and then simply forgot about him.

Chick, I knew the original Road Warrior, Jeff Page, and you're no Jeff Page. 

Let them eat hay

Now, let's get to the Sunday paper.

Giving precious space on Page 1 to a process story on the takeover of The Meadowlands Racetrack shows readers what horse's asses they have in Editor Francis Scandale and Staff Writer John Brennan.

One way to get readers to turn to the continuation or jump page is to mention at least four times on  A-1 that a food pantry has been ordered to close or is closing, but not provide the reason or even say who gave the order.

Get off the road

On the front of Local, two 77-year-old women escape death after one of them drives her car into a train in River Edge.

Sykes, the head assignment editor (or is it assignment editor in the head?), is asking them to be more careful next time, because she doesn't have enough staff to do a story on challenges facing older drivers and the help that is available to them.

Staff Writer Jean Rimbach is being treated for exhaustion after working on two stories that appear on L-1 and L-2 today. 

Really deep doo-doo

Some of the editors are slowly coming around to what a jam Governor Christie has put the state in with unconstitutional cuts in school aid.

Page O-1 has an Opinion column by Carl Golden, a former aide to Republican governors who revisits the millionaires tax Christie vetoed last year.

And an editorial sums up all the governor's cuts in programs for low-income families, women and children so he can offer tax cuts to wealthy business owners (O-2).

"The state must advocate in the interest of all citizens," is all the outrage the editorial writer can muster.


  1. Hi Mr. Cichowski, in 1993 my son received a traffic ticket that he ignored he then moved to Montana that year to go to college and then ended up staying there. In August of 2013 he received a notice that he had to pay for the forgotten ticket which amounted to $1,300.00 and he was told that according to N.J. law he would have to serve a day in jail. My son paid the ticket, which he agreed should be paid and took a flight out to N.J. for one day jail. My son came to N.J. from Montana and spent all of a half hour in front of the judge and was told he would lose his license for one year. To add insult to injury the judge could not believe my son had to come from Montana for one day so the judge stated it was a waste of his time to see my son. My son agreed that he should pay the fine but to have to travel from Montana to N.J. for one day was ridiculous and spiteful. The officer who gave my son the ticket is now the Chief-of Police (who did not appear in court). My son is a physicians assistant in Montana and it is vital that he has a license to go to work in such a remote area, as he stated to the judge but that did no good. I feel the punishment was really harsh and spiteful. When people in authority throw there weight around because of their title we are at their mercy Don't you think this was far beyond what should have been done?

    1. Yes. I do, but I am not Mr. Cichowski. Please look up his e-mail on


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