Saturday, December 31, 2011

The year ends on a selfish note

Englewood, New Jersey
Image by dougtone via Flickr
Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood. Publisher Stephen A. Borg attended a private high school in Englewood, presumably to avoid minority students.

Today's front-page photo says it all -- 2011 was the Year of Selfishness.

And who better to epitomize that than Governor Christie, shown in a Page 1 photo helping GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney hustle for votes in Iowa -- two millionaires out to preserve the wealth of their conservative supporters.

Not very bipartisan of interim Editor Douglas Clancy, who is capping off a year when Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin climbed into bed with Christie's mean-spirited, budget-cutting assault against the middle class, seniors, women and low-income children.

Bully for the bully

In fact, today's "Looking back" editorial on A-13 is relentlessly upbeat, focusing on bipartisan support for Christie's changes in pension and health-insurance for state employees -- not on how the GOP bully is shifting tax dollars from public schools to elite charter schools.

Nor is there mention of how radical Tea Party Republicans paralyzed Congress in 2011 in an unyielding bid to prevent higher taxes on the rich, including multimillionaire Publisher Stephen A. Borg.

Plantation news

The big news on the front of head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section is vandalism at Englewood's once-segregated Lincoln School, which was more than 100  years old when the last classes were held there in 2008.

But the story fails to tell readers a previous City Council decided turning the school into a community center was "too expensive," likely because it is on the wrong side of the tracks in a predominately black neighborhood.

At the bottom of L-1, there's news of two muggings in Englewood and on L-3, a colorful photo shows the celebration of Kwanzaa at the Bergen Family Center in that city.

Readers will find Teaneck stories on L-1, L-2 and L-3, including a proposed municipal budget that raises taxes slightly but contains no layoffs.

Dissing River City

Hackensack news? Well, Hackensack reporter Stephanie Akin also covers neighboring Maywood, so she wrote a 9-inch story with a photo on the delivery of a single solar panel to town officials.

Take that, global warming.

I guess nothing happened in Hackensack on Friday. Happy new year to the county seat, where The Record was founded in 1895 and prospered for more than 110 years before the younger Borg got his greedy hands on it.

Retirees hit again

North Jersey Media Group has unilaterally changed health insurance carriers for the dependents of retirees and raised the monthly deduction from pension checks.

I paid $784.41 a month for my wife's and son's medical insurance last year; in 2012, I will pay $873.28. 

My pension check for January 2012 arrived Friday, reflecting the change and leaving me with $74.51.

Tomorrow: An open letter to Marty Gottlieb, who is expected to take over as editor in the new year.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

A year readers would love to forget

Aerial view of the New Jersey Turnpike near Hi...
Image via Wikipedia
Turnpike toll hikes are front-page news.

The Record has been taking the easy way out as the end of the year approaches, reviewing the best and the worst of 2011 in a series of stories that require no heavy lifting by the editors.

Today's Page 1 opus on "crazy weather" doesn't mention longtime Editor Francis "Frank" Scandale didn't make it to the end of 2011, getting fired on Halloween, two days after a surprise snowstorm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands.

Since then, readers have noticed a stronger focus on North Jersey -- at least on the front page -- by interim Editor Douglas Clancy, who also put Wayne stories on A-1 more times than many Bergen readers wanted to see.

Tabloid news

Ultimately, Clancy and head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes were so desperate for local news, almost any story landed on A-1, especially if it involved violent or sleazy crime, such as today's tortured tale of a South Jersey woman who alleges she was forced into prostitution.

At the bottom of A-1, a $4.80 toll increase to drive the length of the New Jersey Turnpike is called "a leap." Why is this on the front page?

On the front of Local, a story reports three Democrats may step in where Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, fears to tread -- taking on right-wing conservative Rep. Scott Garret, R-Wantage, in the new 5th District, which includes Hackensack and most of Teaneck.

Road Warrior John Cichowski continues to rely on readers -- not his assignment editor -- for direction, as in today's column on winter driving tips (L-1).

Coffin nails

At the bottom of L-1, a story reports the urge to smoke proved fatal for John P. Tamburro, 55, of Maywood.

Tamburro's nicotine fit hit just before midnight Monday, and he was struck and killed by a car "while walking to buy cigarettes."

The driver, a woman who wasn't identified, got off scot-free.

In Hackensack news, two people were injured in a minor auto accident (L-3).

The photo caption notes a "white station wagon" flipped on its side. Manufacturers stopped making "station wagons" years ago; today, it's a crossover or SUV.

If you believe this ...

Also on L-3, occupants of a house in Park Ridge that burned down on Christmas apparently convinced the Woodland Park daily to run their account of the fire -- which contradicts official statements the likely cause was a cigarette igniting a sofa in the garage.

The occupants' version seems aimed at the insurance company and people who believe in the Immaculate Conception. The vast majority of readers couldn't care less.

There is so little local news today, the editors had to run two wire service obituaries of people no one has ever heard of before (L-5 and L-6).

Handout arrives

In Business, the editors waited for the press release that said none of the 14 Sears and Kmart stores in North Jersey are on a preliminary store-closing list released on Thursday (L-7).

In Better Living, Staff Writer Elisa Ung couldn't be bothered telling readers whether Justin's Ristorante in Hawthorne offers a low-mercury fish alternative to the high-mercury halibut she sampled.

Or if the pork osso bucco and stuffed chicken were raised naturally. She lists entrees at $12.95  to $21.95, but the halibut special was $24.95.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Royal screwing of Hackensack is complete

Hackensack Sears
Image by joseph a via Flickr
A photo of the newly painted exterior of the Sears Roebuck and Co. store on Hackensack's Main Street has never appeared in The Record.


Hackensack and most of Teaneck -- two Democratic strongholds -- have been moved into the congressional district of a right-wing conservative, but they might as well as be on the Moon for all the attention they've gotten in The  Record.

In four days of coverage -- three days on Page 1 and today's story on the Local front -- the historic political realignment of two of Bergen County's most diverse communities is mentioned only in passing.

Thanks to the lazy assignment desk run by Editor Deirdre Sykes, there are no interviews with municipal officials or voters of either party. 

And an editorial on Wednesday didn't even mention Hackensack or Teaneck.

F.U. Hackensack

That's more really bad journalism, and Publisher Stephen A. Borg again shows how much disdain he has for Hackensack, which he abandoned physically a couple of years ago, scattering hundreds of employees to Rockaway, Woodland Park and other communities.

Now, Borg's royal screwing of Hackensack is getting a big assist from Rep. Steve Rothman of Fair Lawn and the commission that drew the state's new congressional districts.

With Hackensack, Fair Lawn and other Bergen towns now in the new 5th District of arch-conservative Rep. Scott Garret, R-Wantage, many Democrats like me won't be able to vote in the 9th District race between two Democratic rivals, Rothman and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of Paterson

We won't be able to punish the cowardly Rothman, who has put his ego above the need to get rid of Garret and his conservative baggage.

Wayne on A-1

Thanks to interim Editor Douglas Clancy, Rothman's controversial move dropped off the front page today to make room for a 23-year-old story from Wayne and some nonsense about an amateur soccer team in Bergen County. 

Two letters from readers slam Rothman for taking "the easy way out" and setting up a "devour-our-own primary" against Pascrell (A-20).

In his letter, reader Peter J. Peirano of Ridgewood notes Garret "will not spend [money] to help children, the needy or the elderly."

Reader Jill Cozzi of Washington Township says Congress has a 9 percent approval rating "largely due to the intransigence of right-wing extremists like Garret."

Sykes' lazy journalism disenfranchises readers, denying them a voice in the news columns on such compelling issues as the state's representation in Congress.

News hacks

In Hackensack news, for the second day in a row, a police officer who sued suspended Chief Ken Zisa was dealt a setback in the courts (L-3).

The Record also reports Hackensack has changed insurance carriers after being dropped by a company that claims the city is too much of a liability -- but it took six days to get the City Council action into the paper (L-3) .

On L-6, two local obituaries show readers once again they are surrounded by interesting neighbors, but that the editors can't be bothered until they die, and then will bury the stories.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cowardly Rothman is heading for a fall

English: US Rep. Bill Pascrell
Image via Wikipedia
Many Democrats will be voting for Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, above, if Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, opposes him.

In two straight days of Page 1 coverage, The Record didn't bother to interview any rank-and-file Democrats who think Rep. Steve Rothman is a coward and a traitor to his party by slinking away from a fight against the conservative values that are destroying the middle class.

I am not the only Democrat who plans to vote for his rival, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, to teach Rothman the 2012 election isn't about him staying in office now that a new congressional map was approved for New Jersey.

President Barack Obama is engaged in a titanic battle against Tea Party Republicans, racists and other arch-conservatives, such as Rep. Scott Garret, R-Wantage, and Rothman is a coward for not going head-to-head with Garret.

What chutzpah. Rothman even plans to move, possibly back to Englewood, where he was mayor and where visitors entering the city from Route 4 and Grand Avenue are greeted by a big "ROTHMAN REALTY" sign.

The editors, who have been in bed with Republican Governor Christie for nearly two years, love the prospect of Rothman facing Pascrell in the new 9th District, instead of Garret in the 5th District. 

Editorial 'glop'

An editorial, likely written by Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin, calls Rothman's decision "an interesting development." How lame.

On the front of Local, Road Warrior John Cichowski ran out of ideas for his commuting column so long ago he has to repeat himself endlessly, as in today's piece on roof snow (L-1).

Curiously, Cichowski doesn't ask why trucking companies aren't installing equipment to clear roof snow, which he refers to for the umpteenth time as "dangerous glop." 

And though roof snow killed only one driver in recent years, he has written far less about older drivers who have killed far more people.

Filling space

The assignment desk under Editor Deirdre Sykes is so desperate for copy, it doesn't care what Cichowski writes, as long he faithfully fills a lot of space three times a week.

Meanwhile, one assignment editor has another transportation reporter, Karen Rouse, reporting lane repaving on Route 80 rather than telling readers why NJ Transit refuses to replace decrepit, decades-old local buses (L-2).

However, the assignment desk is doing a great job of keeping readers abreast of utility pole news -- even when there are no injuries or power outages.

On a presumably busy news day, it found room for an L-2 photo reporting repairs to two poles knocked down by a truck in Lodi.

Wait for the handout

On the first Business page, a story reporting the closure of Sears and Kmart stores doesn't say whether the downtown Hackensack Sears is among the 100 facing extinction (L-8).

The Business editor is waiting for the next press release and not even bothering to list the number of employees at North Jersey stores that might be closed.

Cholesterol editor

On the Better Living front, Food Editor Susan Leigh Sherrill managed to corral several killers for her weekly recipe from one of those free cookbooks she loves to promote -- three and a half sticks of butter, nine egg yolks, nearly two cups of sugar and nearly one cup of heavy cream.

The result is "Crack Pie," which probably would be more harmful to your health than crack cocaine.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boring readers with the process

Teaneck High School
Image via Wikipedia
Why has Teaneck High done a better job than high schools in Englewood and Hackensack in keeping a diverse student body? You won't find that story in the Woodland Park daily.

"More precise, uniform teacher evaluations statewide" and "a new tenure law" may be laudable goals, but does The Record really expect readers to follow every step of the process leading up to them?

Yes. The story dominating Page 1 today purports to be an inside look at supervisors "learning to conduct more keen-eyed classroom observations." 

If you're not asleep yet, take a gander at this sentence, also on the front page:
"For four days this fall, a dozen principal and supervisors visited classrooms in groups of three or four for 10 minutes, then met in a conference room to trade notes."

Only 10 minutes in a classroom? Trade notes? How exciting. Even Leslie Brody, one of the paper's top reporters, can't save this snoozer.

Hey, Deirdre Sykes, as chief assignment editor, why are you wasting your staffers' time on this drivel? Hey, interim Editor Douglas Clancy, is that all you had for A-1?

More education questions

What readers really want is a lot more information about Governor Christie's drive to create charter schools, draining tax dollars away from public schools already hurt by deep cuts in state aid.

On the front of Local, a photo of a Teaneck High School class suggests the township has done a far better job than Englewood or Hackensack in keeping a diverse student body.

Why The Record has paid so little attention to increasing segregation in the latter two communities is something only the editors know.

Burning issue

On L-3, a story quoting Fire Official John Hansen reports a cigarette likely sparked the Christmas morning fire that destroyed a Park Ridge house. 

Hansen related what the occupants told him, but the story triggered a backlash, judging from comments on

Here are two of the comments, which seem likely aimed at the insurance company that will be asked to pay for the damage:

  • Marylu Frisco Trenery
    Perhaps Merry Firschein should have found out the facts before she wrote her article. I would consider this article an outright lie in many areas, not to mention terribly insensitive to the people who just lost not only all of their material possessions, but a lifetime of memories. Shame on you Merry Firschein.
    • Jaclyn Kristin · Rutgers University
      I am one of four survivors of this house fire and this article is a complete fabrication of what actually happened. We do not know how this fire started but we know that it destroyed everything that we once called home. We did not get "comfortable" in the garage nor were there couches there to smolder. Our garage doors were not left open for the cats to "feed the fire" and the pieces absolutely do not "fit together". We are so thankful for the support that so many have given us but this article is insensitive and very hurtful to the people who have just lost so much of themselves.

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    Monday, December 26, 2011

    A rare case of heads-up reporting

    Capitol, Washington DC
    Image via Wikipedia
    Of all the issues The Record could report from Washington, the editors pick the obscure deaths of 13 sailors in Libya.

    After reporting thousands of house burglaries in recent years, The Record finally examines the weak laws that has one investigator "arresting the same guys over and over again."

    The editors routinely miss or don't bother with the big picture, leaving readers to wonder how this case of heads-up reporting came about.

    It's likely the lazy assignment desk under Editor Deirdre Sykes had nothing with do with it. So, maybe we can thank a relatively new reporter, Staff Writer Rebecca D. O'Brien, who wrote today's Page 1 story.

    Or, maybe the impetus came from Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who has watched burglaries in Tenafly getting closer and closer to his McMansion -- a $3.65 million jackpot.

    D.C. circus

    With another strong story on A-1 -- the African-American observance of Kwanza --  why did Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson waste readers'  time with an effort to repatriate the remains of 13 sailors who died in Libya in 1806?

    Jackson has sat on his hands all year as Tea Party Republicans have paralyzed  Congress. Is this how he spends his time, looking for the obscure and irrelevant to report and ignoring the big story in front of him?

    On L-1, another apartment fire claims a single victim (a 62-year-old Dumont man who lived alone), and reporters forget to ask whether the victim was a smoker.

    Reversing course

    Better Living food writers continue to increase coverage for the home cook, bringing back a standing feature of the Food section folded by Borg after he took over as publisher in 2006.

    The section was folded -- despite the obesity epidemic and the need for more, not less, reporting on food.

    On F-1 today, readers will find the "Shopping Corner" -- what was called "No Cooking Tonight" when Patricia Mack was putting out the Food section.

    After Mack was hounded out of her job by then-Features Editor Barbara Jager, the new food editor, Bill Pitcher, focused coverage on restaurant and chefs. 

    The new food editor, Susan Leigh Sherrill, said in a speech recently that she had been told to ramp up coverage for the home cook, though she didn't say who gave the order.

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    Sunday, December 25, 2011

    Gifts to readers are hidden inside

    Washington Crossing the Delaware
    Image via Wikipedia
    A new painting calls into question this famous American  image, George Washington crossing the Delaware in 1776.

    Fascinating glimpses of New Jersey history are hidden inside The Record today, wrapped in a front-page dominated by a sports rivalry that is of little interest to the majority of readers.

    The state's past industrial might is revealed in the A-3 story on the history of a 2-million-square-foot Elizabeth warehouse that caught fire -- written beautifully by Amy Ellis Nutt, a Pulitzer Prize winner at The Star-Ledger.

    At the bottom of A-10, AP veteran Verena Dobnik reports a new painting corrects several inaccuracies in one of America's most famous images -- George Washington crossing the Delaware River to surprise and defeat Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776.

    These two stories are gifts to readers that surpass anything on today's disappointingly ho-hum Page 1.

    Don't look for much interesting reading in the rest of the paper, especially the Christmas wish lists or year-in-reviews you'll find on L-1, B-1 and F-1.

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    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Shopping story trumps black man's death

    Part of the film was set and shot in the Mall ...
    Image via Wikipedia
    Is there really any connection between a mega-mall in Minnesota and the American Dream Meadowlands in North Jersey except in the minds of The Record's editors?

    The Record's lazy assignment desk hasn't bothered to answer several questions surrounding the death of African-American Malik Williams, 19, including why a man "armed with tools" was shot five times by two police officers on Dec. 10.

    So, it's no surprise 30 demonstrators joined his mother in a protest march Friday evening, on the same day coverage of Williams' funeral was the main element on the front page of the Woodland Park daily.

    But do readers find the protest on Page 1 today? No. Shopping is more important.

    Thanks to interim Editor Douglas Clancy and head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, they get an ill-conceived story that tries to gauge the potential success of an enormous shopping and entertainment complex in the Meadowlands -- just across the river from New York  City, one of the world's biggest markets -- by sending a reporter and photographer to the middle of nowhere.

    Night and day

    I worked in the same newsroom with Staff Writer John Brennan and Staff Photographer Thomas E. Franklin, and can't imagine what they talked about on this silly assignment to the Mall of America in Minnesota.

    Like me, I'm sure many readers didn't get past the front page of Brennan's long-winded story, but the news copy desk appears to have screwed up the time element in the A-1 caption. 

    The reporter said he visited the mall "last week" and "last weekend," but the caption says the photos are "scenes from the Mall of America ... on the next-to-last weekend before Christmas."  Shouldn't that be the "last weekend" before Christmas, which is tomorrow?

    What a waste of time, money and space -- as the editors force the news staff to scrape and bow before a potentially huge advertiser.

    Gunning for drunks

    Why is a Port Authority police officer shown in a front-page photo today armed with a shotgun while looking for "drunks and dangerous drivers" on the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel?

    Along with the protest over the police shooting of Williams, the front of Local today reports the parents of a 9-year-old boy fatally injured by a car will donate his organs "as living memorials to him."

    But the editors continue to ignore the challenges facing older drivers, and why their vision and driving skills aren't re-tested periodically. 

    The boy was killed by a 79-year-old man who apparently didn't see him, but was charged only with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

    Another fatal accident involving an elderly driver is reported matter of factly by the assignment desk, with no attempt to explore possible changes in the law that would hold such a driver criminally responsible for the death.

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    Friday, December 23, 2011

    Editors can't stomach big issues

    Afternoon sky over Hackensack New Jersey
    Image by Anthony Quintano via Flickr
    What would The Record do without The Star-Ledger sending over stories to fill columns in the Woodland Park daily?

    The Record's continued slide into tabloid journalism may sell papers, but readers lose out when editors avoid exploring the big issues of our time.

    You won't find any reporting on how Tea Party Republicans have paralyzed Congress, the unprecedented shift of wealth away from the middle class, the corrupt campaign-finance system, the obesity epidemic and many other compelling issues.

    Interim Editor Douglas Clancy, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and others at the Woodland Park daily share a short attention span with many other journalists.

    Their immediate concern is filling space -- anything will do, whether it's from their staff, The Star-Ledger or the wire services. There are six stories from The Star-Ledger on A-4, A-5 and A-6 today.

    Unanswered questions

    Today's front page is dominated by the funeral of Malik Williams, a 19-year-old Garfield man who was shot and killed by police after he fled their custody on Dec. 10.

    Nearly two weeks after the shooting, the assignment desk still doesn't know what kind of tools Williams "had armed himself with," even though police cited the tools to justify firing five bullets at him.

    Another front-page story -- on how tax-exempt houses of worship are hurting the city of Passaic -- fails to examine the broken system of financing local government through property taxes.

    Wake up, please

    In Local, Road Warrior John Cichowski presents his umpteenth column on the use of cellphones while driving, but he's never explored why manufacturers don't make a hands-free, headset-free Bluetooth system standard equipment in every car (L-1).

    One of two Hackensack stories today reports the postponement of suspended Police Chief Ken Zisa's trial (L-2).

    In Better Living, Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung found the service so bad at the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack she gave it the same 2-star rating she awarded a couple of years ago to a faux Caribbean chain restaurant on the highway in Wayne.

    Maybe the owner, contractor Joseph M. Sanzari, should stick to fast-tracking highway projects.

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    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Reading the daily police blotter

    Hackensack, New Jersey
    Image via Wikipedia
    Hackensack in the 1890s, around the time The Bergen Evening Record was founded in River City.

    Page 1 of The Record today carries an update of the fiery plane crash that killed five, but I've already lost interest in what caused the accident on Tuesday. 

    And I see nothing about the hubris or machismo that drove Jeffrey F. Buckalew, a 45-year-old investment banker from Manhattan, to fly his own plane and sacrifice the lives of his wife, children, a family dog and a colleague, himself the father of three.

    In fact, today's story conflicts with a witness quoted in Wednesday's scatter-shot account that a wing broke off and the plane "went down like a rock" -- words that formed the basis of the banger headline on that day's front page.

    Now, the consensus of witnesses is that the plane "spiraled out of control" and exploded when it hit Route 287.

    The plane truth

    Buckalew's multimillion dollar turbo-prop apparently was brought down by ice build-up. The plane was based at Teterboro, meaning long-suffering Hackensack homeowners will have one less noisy aircraft to worry about.

    Readers looking at Pages A-4 and A-5 today can be forgiven if they think they have a copy of The Star-Ledger, which contributed four stories on those pages.

    The photo on A-7 -- two female sailors kissing -- gives new meaning to the old salt's boast of having "a woman in every port."

    On A-19, a wire-service story reports North Korean madman Kim Jong Il died in bed -- not while working -- but doesn't say whether a young woman was involved.

    Crimes against readers

    The front of head Assigment Editor Deirdre Sykes' Local section looks like a police blotter come to life -- every story involves police or court news or an indictment.

    Seven more police or court stories appear on L-2 and L-3, and more police news is on L-5 and L-6.

    Too bad they don't lock up Sykes and interim Editor Douglas Clancy and throw away the key for crimes against readers looking for local news in the Woodland Park daily.

    See previous post, 
    Ex-editor says he's landed on his feet

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    Ex-editor says he's landed on his feet

    Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...
    Image via CrunchBase

    Former Editor Francis "Frank" Scandale says he's gotten a job -- though you might have trouble recognizing the companies he works for.

    On his LinkedIn page, Scandale lists himself as "president of FKJ Consulting LLC" and "writer/editor of The Gumption Group."

    FKJ Consulting is in Glen Rock, where he lives, and The Gumption Group is in Bernardsville. He says he's been employed since "December 2011."

    Stephen A. Borg, publisher of The Record, fired Scandale on Halloween -- two days after a snow storm knocked out power to 175,000 in North Jersey and one day after the daily's poor coverage of the storm raised howls of disbelief from readers.

    Here are excerpts from Scandale's LinkedIn networking page:

    Frank Scandale's Experience


    The Gumption Group

    December 2011 – Present (1 month) Bernardsville, NJ
    Strategic consulting, writing and editing, communications strategies.


    FKJ Consulting LLC

    December 2011 – Present (1 month) Glen Rock, NJ
    FKJ Consulting LLC provides a focused approach for companies, executives, non-profit organizations and individuals seeking advice when dealing with the media. In addition, we provide writing services that includes press releases, speech writing and position statements.

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