Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The newsroom's big-butt sisterhood

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Did The Record limit coverage of Hackensack University Medical Center's past expansions because North Jersey Media Group Vice President/General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg sat on the hospital's board of directors?

You don't have to be a woman or have a big butt to be part of the sisterhood nurtured by head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, but it helps.

Staff Writer Jean Rimbach of The Record is an original member, getting away with as little work as possible year after year in a newsroom with many productive staffers. 

Today, her rare byline appears on Page 1 -- in a preview of an eBook on the murders of two women committed by Tenafly contractor Robert Reldan in 1975. Why is this on A-1?

Projects Editor Tim Nostrand is another charter member of the sisterhood. Having failed miserably in Sykes' job of bringing in local news, he somehow survived firing, and went on to smaller and worse things.

Four other members of the sisterhood, reporters Lindy Washburn, Pat Alex, Mary Jo Layton and Leslie Brody, are far more productive than Rimbach. 

Of course, a big butt doesn't guarantee admission into the society run by the fickle Sykes -- to the chagrin of many marginalized workers in the Woodland Park newsroom.

Hospital trauma

The big business of hospitals dominates the front-page today -- as interim Editor Doug Clancy continues a tradition of reporting every hiccup, burp and fart in the battles over the reopening of Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood and the expansion of The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.

The hospitals fighting Hackensack University Medical Center claim that in the first year Pascack Valley is reopened, there will be layoffs and $15 million in losses at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and $24 million in losses at The Valley Hospital.

Vice President/General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg was a member of the board at HUMC while The Record and reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue from the growing hospital campus.

Coverage of The Valley Hospital controversy has far exceeded any of the stories about HUMC's expansion over the years, even though homes were demolished in Hackensack and no demolitions were proposed in Ridgewood.

In fact, Layton, one of the medical reporters, has been careful in several recent stories about The Valley Hospital proposal -- including today's piece -- to omit or obscure the nature of the expansion: It would stay within the borders of the existing hospital campus. 

Port Atrocity

Clancy gives Page 1 play to what amounts to the Port Authority's legal arguments in an AAA lawsuit against the outrageous toll and fare hikes. 

How can The Record pass this off as agency policy, when it's merely a legal gambit to deflect criticism over the improper use of toll money to pay for the new World Trade Center?

Then, Clancy relegates to A-3 a story on the agency hiring outside auditors for $2.2 million.

Doesn't New Jersey and New York have auditors who could perform the agency-wide review of spending ordered by Governors Christie and Cuomo? 

Sykes' assignment desk appears to have asked Staff Writer Shawn Boburg to rewrite the agency's press release, so there's nothing in the story on whether the two firms -- Navigant Consulting Inc. and Rothschild Inc. -- are politically connected.

Has the paper become a mouthpiece for the powerful bi-state agency?

Chewing the fat

With Christie seeming to gain weight every day -- and Sykes and other editors trying to keep up with him -- who knew the state has an "Eat Right, Move More" contest sponsored in part by the Department of Agriculture (L-1).

Winner of the sixth-annual contest and $5,000 is Bogota's Lillian M. Steen School. 

Sykes and Nostrand have conspired with other editors against launching a newsroom project on the obesity epidemic -- to the detriment of readers.

Drives, but can't write

And Road Warrior John Cichowski has conspired with his assignment editor to avoid writing any columns about commuting in a region that cries out for better mass transit to ease traffic congestion.

In his lead paragraph on the Local front today, he writes: "Parents will have to work a little harder" under a legislative proposal on teen drivers. But his third paragraph says, "Too bad committee members chickened out by failing to make parents work a bit harder."

A story at the bottom of L-1 alerts new arrivals to "immigration services fraud" against those who come to the U.S. legally. 

The story is a testament to how little the paper has written about the legal immigration system in the past 15 years -- preferring hot-button stories on illegal aliens.

Scales of journalism

Sykes leads her section today with a $10 million jury award that apparently was missed on Monday by Staff Writer Kibret Markos, who is assigned full time to the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack.

Markos was reporting and writing a story on $2.1 million in damages awarded in the shooting death of a Ramapough Mountain Indian for Tuesday's front page when the bigger verdict was returned.

Today's L-1 story says the $10 million verdict came in "Monday evening" and "late Monday." Without knowing the time, it's difficult to say with certainty that Markos' assignment editor should have gotten this jury award in Tuesday's paper, too.

But it's clear the assignment desk has no intention of asking Markos to tell readers that attorneys for the plaintiffs may receive up to one-third of the damages. 

Or, explain why the life of a visiting 13-year-old Korean boy is worth nearly five times more than a Ramapough Mountain Indian.  

With Hackensack reporter Stephanie Akin assigned to Tuesday's unexpected power outages in Bergen and Passaic counties (L-3), there is no municipal news from The Record's former home in Local today.

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