Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is PSE&G responsible for two deaths?

Dunkin Donuts logoImage via Wikipedia
A Public Service Electric and Gas Co. truck was parked outside a Dunkin' Donuts.

An 86-year-old woman and her 88-year-old husband died on Monday morning in a fire linked to a kerosene lamp in their first-floor bedroom -- in a Teaneck neighborhood without electricity since Saturday -- and where does The Record play the story?

Any real editor would have mentioned it prominently in either of the two storm-related stories on Page 1 on Tuesday, and an editorial should have asked whether painfully slow restoration of power by Public Service Electric and Gas Co. contributed to their deaths.

But coverage of the severe damage from the nor'easter on Saturday has been pathetically weak in the Woodland Park daily, and I guess we can thank the laziest head assignment editor in the state, Deirdre Sykes, and her clueless minions for that.

Telephone story

On Sunday, the A-1 storm-damage story focused on only eight towns -- with all reporting based on telephone calls to mayors or the police. In other words, no reporter actually left the newsroom to work on the story.

Hackensack, one of the hardest hit communities, was not one of the eight.

On Monday, there were at least five major storm-related stories, but about 175,000 utility customers had lost power in North Jersey -- more outages than from Hurricane Irene.

The big lie

The lead paragraph of the Page 1 story Monday reported "tired cleanup and utility crews continued to clear roads and restore electricity" on Sunday -- counter to the experience of angry residents who had no lights, heat or hot water for a second day.

In Hackensack, Teaneck and Englewood on Sunday, I saw not a single utility crew repairing wires. As of today, I have seen only three utility trucks, including one parked in front of a Dunkin' Donuts on Cedar Lane in Teaneck.

On Tuesday, a fallen traffic light pole blocked a lane near the Garden State Parkway, and a single wire hung down, blocking a lane of Passaic Street in Rochelle Park.

Already old news

Today's story on the nor'easter isn't even on Page 1, even though 58,000 customers in Bergen and Passaic counties remain without power -- and powerless, as their local paper continues to regurgitate Public Service's excuses for why it apparently doesn't employ enough repair crews.

How rich is it that a utility called Public Service has become known for Public Disservice?

Apologist for utility

Today, on the front of Local, Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski is another apologist for the utility, claiming that putting electric wires underground is "impractical and cost-prohibitive." And he calls himself a journalist.

Sadly, Cichowski rarely leaves the office. Otherwise, he'd know utility and telephone poles and all the wires they support are incredibly ugly, especially when there are no trees to hide them.

The poles and wires are part of North Jersey's outmoded infrastructure, and seem to complement narrow streets and roads clogged with traffic that Cichowski also accepts.

Resident wimp

In an editorial on Tuesday (A-10), Editor Alfred P. Doblin pouted that utilities' estimates of restoring all power by the end of this week "seems like an awfully long time for those in the dark [italics added]."

With an editorial page editor like Doblin, a publisher like Stephen A. Borg and a paper like The Record, readers have been in the dark for years.

Expanded coverage

Also on Tuesday, news coverage of storm damage was expanded to 11 towns -- out of the 90 or so in the circulation area -- but again many were based on phone interviews.

Meanwhile, while news was letting down readers, Better Living responded to the nor'easter with useful advice stories.

On Tuesday, Food Editor Susan Leigh Sherrill told readers "what to keep, what to toss from the refrigerator." Unfortunately, sloppy editing missed a repeated  word in her second sentence.

Today, Better Living publishes "a survival guide for parents and grandparents."

'In The Record'

Francis "Frank" Scandale, former editor of The Record, was scheduled to speak on Nov. 21 to a class of senior citizens at Bergen Community College.

On Tuesday, administrators of the college's Institute for Learning in Retirement hadn't heard that Scandale left the paper. The course is called "In The Record."

They said Monday's scheduled speaker, Bill Ervolino, had broken his leg, and that Doblin, the editorial page editor, filled in.

At least one senior was planning to ask Scandale why the paper does such a poor job of covering issues of concern to the elderly.

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