Monday, December 31, 2012

New year should bring new columnists

When it isn't bogged down in traffic, the New Jersey Turnpike is a playpen for high-speed tailgaters who cut in and out of traffic and terrorize other drivers.

Eye on The Record and tens of thousands of readers are hoping that in 2013 Editor Marty Gottlieb finds fresh voices for The Record's news columns, now written by Staff Writers Mike Kelly and John Cichowski (A-1 and L-1 today).

And while he is at it, why doesn't he give one of the women in the newsroom a news column?

Kelly was on leave recovering from heart surgery when Superstorm Sandy hit on Oct. 29 and when 20 first graders and six adults were murdered in Newtown, Conn., 17 days ago.

Made-up mystery

So, what was the point of his Dec. 25 column last week on the "mystery" surrounding the identity of an elderly woman rescued from flood waters in Little Ferry?

Even his reporting in that Page 1 column was flawed.

He wrote she was rescued from "knee-high" water, but the Oct. 31 photo reproduced on A-1 clearly shows a lower level of water.  

And what can he possibly add today on the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut? 

Kelly, whose started his column more than 20 years ago, has written persuasively about the need to control guns. Why didn't he do so again today?

Text, photos clash

And the editors continue to fail in coordinating the photos used with the text of news stories or columns, as the discrepancy in the water level in Kelly's Dec. 25 piece demonstrates.

On today's front page, Kelly laments about "teddy bears at the makeshift memorial" in Newtown "buried up to their noses in slushy snow," but the photo just above the text shows nothing of the kind (A-1).

Yank his license

Cichowski, also known as the "Road Warrior," long ago gave up doing the legwork of a good reporter, who spends most of his or her time out of the office on the beat.

In the more than 9 years he's written the Road Warrior column, he has totally perverted its mission to report on the commuting problems of drivers and mass-transit users.

In recent years, he sees everything through the unreliable eyes of readers, none of whom are trained observers, who send him countless e-mails complaining of this injustice or that confusing driving regulation.

Get a lawyer, Dave

Today, his column is based on a complaint from "Dave," the father of a 20-year-old driver who got a ticket for failing to keep right on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The woman didn't move over for a cruiser driven by a state trooper, "who stayed less than a dozen feet from her bumper." 

Can anyone believe the explanation from "Dave" for why the woman didn't change lanes or anything else from a man who claims "entrapment," even though the trooper drove behind her for 3 miles? 

Sounds like she deserved a ticket. Get a lawyer, Dave.

'Highway terrorist'

Still, the column is supposed to be about "a tailgater," whom Cichowski rightly calls a "highway terrorist" in the very first paragraph.

Is a state trooper a "highway terrorist"? 

Of course, Cichowski could have compared tickets given to taligaters this year and in years past, and written a compelling argument for more enforcement. 

But that would be too much work. He might actually have to leave the office, get on the turnpike and observe tailgaters. That's legwork, which Cichowski abhors. 

Laugh track

And for the new year, Gottlieb should demote Bill Ervolino from humor columnist to food writer

He excels at food writing and is a flop as a humorist, as his piece on today's Better Living front clearly shows (BL-1).   

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why aren't 'Final Words' on Page 1?

Traffic backed up for about 2 miles on two-lane Passaic Street in Hackensack, Maywood, Rochelle Park and part of Paramus during the rush hour Friday evening. The lack of turn lanes at most intersections along the street stops motorists in their tracks.

It's fitting that "Final Words" -- The Record's most revealing and moving piece of journalism this year -- appears on the penultimate day of 2012.

But Editor Marty Gottlieb makes readers work to find the final thoughts of the four hospice patients, as reported by Jay Levin, the paper's local obituary writer (Pages A-8 and A-9).

Their photos appear on Page 1, but what's with the cold, impersonal use of only their last names under the images -- as if they are little more than suspects in a crime?

Out of focus 

The front page focuses mostly on Villa Marie Claire, the hospice in Saddle River, and Dr. Charles Vialotti, its medical director.

But this scene setter would have worked much better inside, allowing room on A-1 for the words of the terminally ill and one of the terrific photos by Carmine Galasso to grab readers' attention right away.

You can guess how this happened at The Record, an editor-driven daily newspaper where the news judgment of the reporter and photographer come last.

Sadly, most of the editors were mediocre reporters, and couldn't edit their way out of a paper bag.  

No news today

Most of the rest of the paper is filled with "YEAR IN REVIEW" articles.

For head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and her deputy, Dan Sforza, reviewing the year's events is a convenient excuse for not reporting any local news today.

But why is far more space devoted to reviewing events in Paramus, Saddle Brook and other communities than in Hackensack, the most populous Bergen County town, the county seat and the paper's home for more than 110 years before the Borgs abandoned the city (L-1 to L-7)?

Fattening up

In Better Living's 2012 dining review, Staff Writer Elisa Ung says, "We are all still watching our pocketbooks."

Of course, we readers would like the paper's dessert-obsessed restaurant reviewer to watch her waistline, her cholesterol and her sugar intake, just as the majority of us are, knowing we are not going to live forever.

Flunking the prof

On the Opinion front, the "2012 box score" on Governor Christie is from Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law whose ponderous style puts readers to sleep.

She sums up all the middle-class pain Christie delivered in four words: "His budget slashed programs."

And she ignores Christie's battle to preserve tax breaks for millionaires -- to the detriment of everyone else -- and how he has done nothing to solve the state's twin crises of mass-transit and traffic.   

Smelly Kelly

At the bottom of the Opinion front, readers get a last look in 2012 at Staff Writer Mike Kelly's photo, complete with shit-eating grin, but are spared another column from the reporter who has been pushing around words for more than 20 years.

Kelly wrote a column last week, his first since taking a leave to recover from heart surgery. 

In Real Estate, the lead story, "What every seller should know," says nothing about the greed of banks and real estate agents or the endless repairs every homeowner faces. 

Traveling music

On the Travel front, Staff Writer Jill Schensul's kvetching is of little practical use to readers who might be looking for a reliable taxi or limousine service to the airport.

It seems weird that the travel editor of a North Jersey daily doesn't know about Air Brook, a limousine service that has always come through for me in the past 20 years.

And am I the only reader who thinks the statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur on T-1 looks like he is saluting Hitler?

Photo filler 

On T-3, "The Record on The Road" photo feature continues to show minorities either don't travel or have absolutely no interest in appearing in the Woodland Park daily.

An entire page of reader-supplied photos also lets Schensul off the hook from providing more consumer-oriented travel journalism -- like the names of the offending taxi services she fulminates about in her column today.   

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Zisaville still stinks to high heaven

English: This is a photo I took myself of the ...
Founders of Hackensack are turning over in their graves at the Church On The Green. (Wikipedia)

Politically connected lawyers continue to rule Hackensack months after the conviction of the former police chief, The Record reported today and Friday.

A Page 1 story on Friday reported:

"Hackensack zoning board attorney Richard Malagiere, lawyer Carmine Alampi and Anthony Errico -- the owners -- were not cited for any violations at 236 Johnson Ave. since they purchased the [house] in 2008, even though the previous owners had been issued such citations several times."

Hackensack is known as "Zisaville" after decades of rule by the Zisa family, including former Assemblyman and Police Chief Ken Zisa, who was found guilty in May of official misconduct and other charges.

Cousin on payroll

Ken Zisa's politically connected cousin, Joseph Zisa, remains as the city attorney.

Joseph Zisa's name doesn't appear in Friday's A-1 and A-8 stories on Malagiere, Alampi and Errico, or today's story on L-2, but the paper reported:

"Critics of the city's leadership, long dominated by the Zisa family ... say allies such as Malagiere, who has received at least $822,000 in fees from Hackensack for legal services since 2010, benefit from their ties and exert huge influence."

The legal fees were for zoning board work and Malagiere's "role in defending former Police Chief Ken Zisa in civil lawsuits filed against him by Hackensack police officers."

City Attorney Joseph Zisa has had to recuse himself from defending the chief, his cousin, forcing the city to pay yet another lawyer hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend the disgraced chief in those same cases.

Big production snafu

Friday's front page also contained a glaring production error that was completely missed by the six-figure editor in charge of such matters, Liz Houlton.

Sports fan were stopped dead on A-1 by a big block of missing type in Steve Popper's column about the hapless Nets, who fled New Jersey for Brooklyn.

Popper's breathless account ends abruptly after "Deron Williams" and picks up with part of a quote from the fired coach.

Jock publisher's role 

Sharing the blame for the screw-up is jock Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who fled Hackensack for Rockaway and Woodland Park.

When the paper was printed in Hackensack, some of the first copies off the press were rushed up to the 4th Floor, where copy editors would pore over the sections fronts and leaf through the paper, trying to find and fix errors.

Now, the paper is printed more than 40 miles way in Rockaway Township, where the first, error-filled copies apparently are fed to dairy cows grazing around the plant. 

Appropriately, the headline over Popper's column says, "Wherever Nets go, dysfunction follows."

All of the errors delivered to readers day after day show the same can be said for Houlton and The Record.  

The missing Popper type appears on A-2 today.

Dysfunctional columnist 

How about the Road Warrior column on Friday's L-1, where the lazy John Cichowski tries to alarm readers with a "57 percent rise in fatal New Jersey crashes for this year's 4-and-a-half-day Yule period"?

But only 7 people were killed last year, and that was in 3 and a half days -- so isn't the comparison flawed? (See the previous post for a longer discussion of Friday's troubling Road Warrior column.)

Leaving out Hackensack

On L-3 Friday, the Teaneck and Englewood reporters teamed up on a story about major substation work that is supposed to improve the reliability of electric service.

Did head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and her deputy, Dan Sforza, forget that Hackensack and many other towns in Bergen County also get electricity from PSE&G, and may need similar work?

A story on Friday's L-6 doesn't explain why Carlstadt is biding farewell to its administrator and not firing its police chief, who probably gets paid more than $200,000 a year for going to fetch donuts.

Not worth the detour

In Friday's Better Living, Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung tries mightily to sugar-coat the high prices at La'Mezza, a Lebanese fusion restaurant in Englewood that is more style than substance (BL-14-15).

La'Mezza charges $24 for a red snapper fillet -- or what can buy you an entire fish in many other restaurants.

The Englewood restaurant has only one lure: The owner leaves those unhealthy hookahs (water pipes) and their annoying smoke at his other Lebanese restaurant, La'Ziza in Clifton. 

GOP royalty 

Editor Marty Gottlieb leads today's paper with House Republicans' rebuke to Governor Christie, the GOP bully whose Sandy aid request faces major surgery (A-1).

Is that anyway for Christie's supposed allies to treat the governor, who The Record has already started to promote as a viable candidate for president in 2016?

More Republicans behaving badly appear in a second, front-page story today -- Bergen County's GOP-dominated Freeholder Board defeated a shared-services police contract with Demarest (A-1).

No cause of death

Sykes and Sforza show what poor editors they are with the obituary of former Paterson Mayor Martin Barnes, who died Friday at a relatively young 64.

Today's L-1 account says, "Barnes died of unknown causes."

The huge photo Sykes and Sforza use to fill out Local front today doesn't say whether the police cruiser a state trooper crashed on the turnpike was a Ford Crown Victoria, whose mechanical defects have been linked to the deaths of police officers and other troopers (L-1).

Today's heavy Law & Order report shows Sykes and Sforza are still taking a holiday from municipal news.