Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Less than earth-shaking news

East coast earthquakesImage by °Florian via Flickr
Map shows the epicenter of Tuesday's earthquake in Virginia.

I didn't feel the earthquake on Tuesday -- nor was I moved by the nearly three pages of coverage in The Record today. 

Editor Francis Scandale had more than 30 newsroom staffers -- including a photographer, a graphic artist, and an unknown number of assignment and copy editors -- working on the story, supplemented by The Associated Press.

The Record did manage to come up with one of the best quotes I heard on any media, the one from Bloomingdale's shopper Cheryl Alexander: "The mannequins were definitely moving .... I actually thought they were coming to life."

Staff infection

But two of the photos used -- of people standing around outside courthouses in Hackensack and Manhattan (A-1 and A-8) -- seemed redundant, and the long AP story on why the quake was felt from Georgia to Canada never actually answers the question.

Liz Houlton's news copy desk couldn't resist the cliche "shaken, not stirred" in the headline for a staff-written story on how the quake affected Washington, D.C.

Staff Writer Scott Fallon managed to find a seismograph near the Woodland Park newsroom (A-9). And I got a kick out of the tweet reporting "there's an earthquake in Hackensack ... so freaked out."

Of course, that was the second quake to hit Hackensack, the first coming when North Jersey Media Group and The Record pulled up stakes, leaving Main Street merchants high and dry, and depriving city residents of local news. 

The aftershock will be the demolition of that huge pile of bricks at 150 River St. to make way for a Walmart.

It so appropriate for the greedy Borg family that capitalism will trump journalism.

Road kill

The sad state of local news continues today with a story on the naming rights for the New Meadowlands Stadium on the front of Local.

In his L-1 column today, Road Warrior John Cichowski shoots himself in the foot and shows just how out of touch he is with commuting when he poses this question:

"Other than car-pooling, what are the options for avoiding" the Port Authority's Hudson River toll hikes?

The arrogant, office-bound columnist then answers his own question:

"How's your backstroke?" 

He goes on to mention swimming, taking a ferry, using PATH, driving out of the way to use the Tappan Zee Bridge or walking or bicycling across the GWB.

But the moron completely ignores NJ Transit trains and express buses that carry thousands of North Jersey commuters to Manhattan every day.

Who is to blame?

Karen Rouse, the transportation reporter I criticized on Tuesday, isn't fully to blame for the lack of meaningful reporting on mass transit. 

Most of the blame rests on Editor Deirdre Sykes' assignment desk, the laziest in North America, South America, the Caribbean and Antarctica.

When Rouse came to The Record several years ago, I read her brief bio, saw her photo on the bulletin board and introduced myself.

She had studied Spanish in Peru and had been assigned to the transportation beat, so I suggested she take NJ Transit's No. 780 bus from Hackensack to Passaic for lunch at one of that city's Peruvian restaurants.

In the process, she could develop a transportation story to answer this question: Why are the largely minority riders of local routes such as the 780 forced to rely on rickety, decades-old buses that are long overdue for replacement?

Rouse never took the bus to Passaic, and several weeks later explained her assignment editor wouldn't allow her to leave the building unless he was certain she would come back with a story.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained" seems to be the motto of this dysfunctional news organization.

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