Monday, April 4, 2011

A reader indicts Road Warrior columnist

Guardrails save a vehicle from a long fall c. ...Image via Wikipedia
The Road Warrior column often resembles a car going off a cliff.

Editor's note: Commentary on today's paper appears at the end of this post.

 A loyal reader of Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski sent Eye on The Record this detailed indictment. 

I have no doubt of its accuracy, being familiar with factual errors and other problems in Cichowski's columns that I saw when I was a news copy editor at The Record and since I left the paper and became a subscriber.

Of course, much of the blame for the column's deficiencies lies with head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, who gave him the column more than seven years ago and promptly forgot about him, and Deputy Assignment Editor Dan Sforza, who now spell-checks Cichowski's column before waking up a news copy editor to write a headline for it.

RE:  Road Warrior’s Transportation Reporting Deficiencies

The Road Warrior reports on a wide variety of topics.  The Road Warrior has considerably more knowledge and access to resources and officials than most readers.  Many of his articles provide good information and insights about a topic that most readers would not be aware of.

However, a majority of his articles contain mistaken information, assumptions, and claims, which are misleading and sometimes dangerous to readers.  A summary of the types of mistakes in too many of his articles are noted below.   All of these mistakes could be easily avoided if proper investigations and review/editing of these articles were done prior to publication. 

1.  Writing many of his articles based on his unsubstantiated or very simplistic assumptions and claims that are included in the article.  If you take his “wrong” assumptions and claims as being supposedly valid, then it's a great article.  If you know anything about the reported subject or do a little further Internet research, you find the article to be worthless and potentially dangerous if you relied on any of his info/advice.  Many times, readers challenge his “wrong” assumptions or claims, or the Road Warrior realizes the information that he originally provided is not correct.  In one of his follow-up articles, he tries to provide “correct/updated” information or acknowledges the readers comments, but ends up trying to dig out of his original mistakes by offering alternate misleading, impractical, and even more ill conceived suggestions and information.

2.  Using his articles to direct anger about a situation and trying to rally readers' anger around his cause.  Many times, he misdirects the blame to commuters, drivers, trade associations, companies, or wrong government departments, legislature, or executive bodies.  It is typically based on inaccurate reporting and unsubstantiated accusations against government, business officials, or road/traffic conditions.

3. Reporting on issues as if they are Lose-Lose for the government and its citizens in order to generate readers’ anger, when I find it to be a Win-Win based on research on the reported issues.

4.  Quoting stupid or incorrect statements/claims by officials and others as if they were valid.  Those statements should never have been included in the article since they could have easily been verified as not being correct, as I have done, if he invested more time to investigate.

5.  Quoting readers or others in articles with verbatim "quotations", rather than simply summarizing their statements, when in fact they never said exactly what was in "quotations".  In many cases, these quoted people have said something somewhat similar about the quoted topic.  In some cases, the inaccurate quote is taken out of context based on the complete circumstances of a situation that was described.  In some cases, quotes are attributed to the wrong person. 

6.  Over exaggerating and quoting readers outlandish comments about the state of road conditions (i.e. potholes, roadside garbage, uncut grass, etc.) in order to rail against these conditions in his article.  While many times there is truth to these claims, many times the cited road conditions are nowhere near as ugly as the article suggests and do not justify publishing the article. 

7.  Reporting info that is simply not correct.  These mistakes could have been easily verified and corrected if the Road Warrior made the time to properly investigate and substantiate prior to the article, as I have done upon reading his article.   

8.  Clueless reporting with misinformation on traffic situations/conditions at various locations around NJ that demonstrate a complete ignorance of actual conditions or not driving there to verify it.

9.  Citing an out-of-date study or a recent study to reinforce his article's story line even though many other extensive studies, which can be easily Googled, contradict his findings.

10.  Not doing any independent verification of deceptive claims and just parroting the misleading false claims or incoherent data submitted by the very biased insurance industry, companies associated with recommended hardware, or local city/state governments, all of whom have a vested interested in income generated  based on a recommendation in his article.  Independent studies have shown these supposed “correct” solutions or offerings to be hazardous to road safety, violate motorist rights, or simply do not provide the advertised benefits. 

11.  Misunderstanding the facts, basis, and conclusion of reports that he cites in his articles, which he then uses to reaffirm his mistaken assumptions/conclusions about the cited report.  Typically, when I read his cited report, I become flabbergasted at his inability to correctly understand the report, which includes information and conclusions that are in contradiction to his article.

12.  Repeating info from an out-of-date version of a statute, or misinformation and very incomplete info about the referenced statutes.  In some cases, citing the wrong statute numbers (sometimes it’s simply due to a typo) or only citing one statute number, even though there are multiple statute numbers that are applicable and offer a better, and sometimes a completely different understanding on the topic of his article.  John uses all of this misinformation to reinforce his unsubstantiated claims.  These mistakes could easily be corrected by carefully reading the latest referenced statues, as I have done, and accurately reporting on their intent.

13.  Misinterpreting or ignoring applicable sections of statutes to reinforce his story line based on his unsubstantiated assumptions and claims, which in many cases are in contradiction to the statutes that in many cases adequately cover the questions raised in the article or identify clear exceptions to the Road Warrior’s stated requirements in his article based on the statutes. 

14.  For his Q&A columns, many times including worthless, which are not applicable for 99% or more of NJ citizens, or really, really, really dumb questions.   This is not the same as some readers’ questions, which may simply be na├»ve, or show the reader’s unfamiliarity with a situation, or inability to simply Google/research the answer for themselves.  I can tolerate those questions.  Many of his answers, even to intelligent questions, are repeatedly misleading; mistaken and not based on the relevant facts; very incomplete; illogical non-sense; unacceptable condensed repeats from old articles, provided with wrong Internet address links, or address a somewhat related issue without fully answering the original question.  I usually am able to find much better, more complete, and right answers/options simply thru Internet searches and using common sense.

15.  Offering outrageous, nonsensical, or dangerous advice from his readers, whom he quotes, or from himself for particular situations, when there are much safer solutions based on common sense, the actual “true” facts, transportation studies, or transportation experts.  Relying too frequently on quotes/advice from the same readers that are not correct about various situations.  Many times he repeats the same nonsensical or dangerous recommendations in future articles.

16.  Many times confusing his folksy sense about what is right and wrong that he uses to guide readers in his articles (NO research required!) that is better answered by the science or industry experts for the topic, which would then require further research.

17. Referencing incorrect website names/addresses in an article that are either wrong, out-of-date or misspelled.  This could easily be corrected prior to publication by someone simply checking on the cited web name/address in the final draft version to see if it goes to the intended site.

18.  Misreporting directions (i.e. whether a car was driving East or West) & distances when reporting on incidents.  These could easily have been caught by looking at any online map as I have done.

19.  Making statements/claims that are in contradiction to the laws of nature & science. No need to research or validate anything!  Relying on people (his unknown referenced experts), who clearly do not know what they are talking about.

20.  Reporting on various new, upcoming, or supposedly cutting edge, hardware/technologies, which are presented as one of the next great things since the invention of the automobile, that supposedly can be used to assist drivers or make their driving or lives easier.  In reality, these "upcoming" technologies have not been demonstrated to have any real success based on early testing and are years and years away from any possible commercial deployment.  In addition, any practical use of many of these technologies would actually require violating specific NJ statutes, cause even more distracted driving, which has been shown to increase risk, decrease road safety, reward companies and individuals that support these technologies without reporting on the deleterious and costly impact on drivers or society, can be prohibitively expensive, or can be addressed by much simpler, much less costly current hardware.

21.  Many of his recommended hardware solutions, which he provides or are suggested by his readers, are very impractical, much too costly, and unproven without any warrantees and should NEVER have been published.   Many times, the article incorrectly reports on a benefit/feature, which in reality is not provided, for the recommended hardware.

22. Tending to have a bias and commend law enforcement and police officers, even when the reported situation clearly shows (for those of us who know or further research the applicable statutes) that an officer was not correct in their action or statute citations.  If he's not commending the poor police officer for their misunderstood actions, then he is asking readers whether it really is worth the effort to fight the applicable case in court.
Today's paper

Could there be anything more incomprehensible than the Page 1 column and news story on updating the state's legislative map that lead The Record today? The what-it-means-to-you drop headline is a joke on readers.

On A-6, two maps are missing county and town labels. You could be looking at Afghanistan.

After giving readers at least six stories on Glen Rock's sister-city relationship in Japan and making fun of the survivors' broken English, Editor Francis Scandale must be cheering news "it will take several months" to bring the nuclear crisis under control (A-1 and A-4). 

That means he'll always have a doomsday head up his sleeve when he has no other real news, such as today's desperate filling of the front page with a big photo of a routine fire-death photo.

Readers searching for municipal news will come up short in Local, as head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes run lots of feel-good news among the usual weekend police items.

Religious routes 

The featured story on the Local front has a photo that appears to encourage the dangerous practice of walking in the street. 

Either Phelps Road in Teaneck doesn't have sidewalks or Councilman Eli Katz and his family seem to be daring drivers to hit them. 

I guess Orthodox Jews are forbidden from walking on the sidewalk after sundown Fridays and on Saturdays.


  1. Oh come now, look at all the good John Cichowski has done as the Road Warrior. He's made readers aware of the hazards of the "ice that falls twice" from the vehicles of drivers who don't clear the snow from the roof of their car after a blizzard. In fact, he's even responsible for what's known in the legislature as "Johnny's Law," which make it a crime to shovel snow from your driveway onto the roof of your car before getting on the highway. So give the guy a ham sandwich before you place him in front of the grand jury of public opinion.

  2. I don't get it. Would they indict the ham sandwich or place it on the roof of John's car? And did it ever occur to you that Cichowski never leaves the office in protest of the fact that the Record refused to buy him a Corolla with a big "Road Warrior" sign on the side like it did with Jeffrey Page, although I imagine that was Page's car to begin with.

  3. Another thing to consider is that Jeff Page, despite his size, did tons more legwork for his column than John Cichowski, who is in much better shape, but who relies on his network of maniacal e-mailers for story ideas, questions to answer (incorrectly) and even whole columns.

    1. Amen Jeffrey Page was the Best!

  4. The only Fine i like for "ice that falls twice" is Larry Fine, He's The Best Fine!


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