Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Record debuts slow-news edition

Map showing the Jersey Shore shark attacks of ...Image via Wikipedia

Will another shark-sighting story get bored readers to bite?

Governor Christie slashed the Democrats' budget by nearly $1 billion, put the kibosh on the millionaires tax for the second year in a row, and signed his own budget on Thursday afternoon.

So why did it take Editor Francis Scandale more than two full days to get the winners-and-losers story onto the front page today?

News sharks

There are two major shore stories in The Record today, but the best one is relegated to sidebar status on A-6, while readers get yet another one of those nonsensical, is-it-safe-to-go-into-water pieces all over Page 1.

On A-6, Staff Writer Jim Beckerman does a great job contrasting neighboring Ocean Grove and Asbury Park -- a story of interest even to shore denizens -- and puts his musician's knowledge to good use. 

On A-3, readers learn the adventure is over for a baboon that escaped from an amusement park, but not that several others are on the loose in the Woodland Park newsroom.

Why two Georgia immigration law protest stories on A-3 and A-11, and why wasn't a refer used?

WWI, not DWI

On the front of head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section, Road Warrior John Cichowski  must have used a mind-altering substance to turn out his umpteenth column on holiday drinking and driving.

This is writing while "intoxicated."

Hackensack news is still away on vacation.

Christie as savior

In Opinion, an editorial on budget pain and the death of NJN is conspicuous by its absence (O-2).

But Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin found room on the front of the section for a glowing story on Christie under the headline:

A signature accomplishment

The subhead spins all the cuts into "ground-breaking budget reform." What else can you expect from the author, Carl Golden, former press aide to two Republican governors?

Why didn't Doblin use his section front for a column on the budget process by Political Science Prof. Brigid Harrison, who calls all "New Jerseyans the losers" (O-2)?

Scandale on Spencer

You can't keep that Scandale down, despite more than a decade of failure as editor of The Record. 

Scandale once worked for newspaper editor Gil Spencer, and when Spencer died last month,  Scandale ordered the wire editor of The Record to insert his quotes into the obituary that ran in the Woodland Park daily.

Here is Scandale again today, reviving his Opinion front column and making Spencer seem like a journalism god (O-1). 

Anyone who has ever worked for a newspaper knows no editor could be that good. And anyone who has ever worked for Scandale knows none of his praise for Spencer could ever be applied to him.

Another freebie?

Did Travel Editor Jill Schensul take another free trip with other editors and travel professionals in return for today's lavish cover story on guided, private-jet tours (T-1)? 

Where are the prices in the other T-1 story, about Barcelona for foodies? Hey, Jill, readers don't get free trips and want to know what it will cost them before they go.

The Travel section today has two full photo pages of readers on the road, instead of just one, but I guess all of North Jersey's black families stayed home.

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  1. I took this comment from Jerry DeMarco off of Facebook:

    Considered calling CVP "Not the Record," or "They suck, we don't." Another week chockful of news CVP beat 'em on:

    1. Westwood flasher next to pre-school;

    2. Elderly woman hit by truck;

    3. Chase/crash: Teaneck, Bogota, Ridgefield Park (Day late, lame attempt, few details);

    4. Tractor-trailer crash/fire Rt. 80 (major traffic tie-up);

    5. Accountant at IRS office in Fairfield (minutes from West Woodland Paterson Park) smuggles in gun, shoots himself in chest;

    6. Chase through several towns: Elmwood Park, Saddle Brook, Fair Lawn (see #3);

    7. Local boy with brain tumors wins trip to Paradise Island (they don't seem to think this is a story);

    That's just the past seven days.

    June was rife with 'em.

    I could see if they didn't have the weeklies to lean on, but they now have reporters in just about every town as a result and they're STILL missing a ton of stuff.

    BTW: The weekly reporters say they're been told they don't have enough experience to be hired. Some of these kids are sharp, well-sourced and hungry, with good news sense -- the precise addition that could save the place. But they looked down their noses at the weeklies when I was there, and they're apparently still doing it.

    I never told anyone, but I used the weekly staffers a lot when I ran online -- to get documents, phone numbers, police reports. One of them got a photo from a soldier's funeral on her iPhone (in hi res) that was perfect -- and they refused to put it on A1 because of where this kid worked. I was mentoring her that week and they couldn't get anyone into the church. I told her to go and text me during the service. Great story, great pic of the casket on a gurney being steered into the cemetery, with the grieving widow, family, service men all in full view. They didn't even run it. Instead we got the usual on-the-church-steps photo... God forbid I told Mama Crass all else the weekly folk gave me. And she came from a friggin' weekly herself.

  2. You've been busy. They're busy covering their ample asses.

  3. No doubt Gil Spencer was as great as many people besides Scandale say he was, but this column illustrates of one of Scandale's key flaws as a manager and as a journalist. When Spencer visited The Record's newsroom to speak roughly 10 years ago, he offered nothing beyond amusing anecdotes about his career. Other visiting lecturers in the series actually tried to impart some knowledge about their specialties -- after all, that is what these outsiders were being paid by The Record to do and why staffers were away from their desks to hear them. Spencer not only didn't volunteer anything of substance, he even dodged any questions that were more than superficial. For his part, Scandale did nothing during that time to steer the discussion in a direction that would be more beneficial to the staff and thus an even minimally productive use of the company's time and money. I can't say whether Spencer was paid like other speakers or whether he appeared gratis (he was wealthy), but it had the appearance of a handout to a jolly old man and a waste of other people's time, and either Spencer or Scandale should have had the basic common sense to see it.

    This was a classic Scandale moment in that if he likes someone, he or she does not necessarily have to deliver what they've been paid to do, while if he doesn't like a person, he or she will be held to an entirely different standard. This not only has resulted in the departures of some employees who were far more productive than some who remain or replaced them, but also affects the prominence of story play, frequently resulting in essentially useless content occupying cover positions just because certain staffers authored them. To some degree, the latter situation exists in any newsroom, but on better newspapers, the competition for the front page and career advancement is more merit-based, and in The Record's case the problem has reached a morale-killing and product-destroying level. You don't have to be good to get ahead, you just have to munch ass.

  4. John Brennan, Jean Rimbach and others are great ass-munchers, as you say.

    I worked for two great editors before I came to The Record, but really, they were just men with plenty of flaws.

    I don't hear violins or any other music when I think of those years. They weren't journalism gods; they were just trying to do their best putting out a paper every day and then doing it again the next day.

    Francis Scandale is so uninspiring as an editor, his prose so mundane and full of cliches, he can't be trusted to know who is great.

    The program to bring "great journalists" to the paper was a waste of money. The limited mentoring program that started before I left in 2008 was more like it.

    Learning to be a great reporter or editor isn't about making you feel good. You have to be told in no uncertain terms when you fuck up, and how to fix it.

  5. Incidentally, it should be rather clear from comments to this and previous posts, that the Record is extremely vulnerable to the launch of a rival Bergen County Daily. I'd love to see the Cliffview Pilot go daily with Jerry D as publisher and Victor as features editor, despite their occasional minor philosophical difference. Feed a few breaking stories to the AP and the advertisers will start lining up, as the Record can't possibly be delivering for them. Of course you'd need an "angel" or capital investor. But this is Bergen County after all, and I'm sure startup funds would be available. Heck, you guys are already working pro bono, as it were.


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