Monday, February 4, 2013

Is another downsizing in the works?

English: US Rep. Bill Pascrell
Meet Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., the newest member of the NHL Hall of Fame, according to a Page 1 streamer on Sunday. Today, on A-2, The Record corrects the boneheaded error.

Thursday's Signature feature section folded last week, the latest sign of an editorial downsizing that long has been evident in thin Local, Travel and other coverage.

For the past two weeks, Travel has had only three pages of stories and photos, apparently because display advertising hadn't been sold to support more pages.

Even the Local news section from head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes has been unusually thin, with less than four pages of news and fender-bender photos.

It's Sykes that has to slim down, not her section.

'A wreck'

A Bergen County reader sent in this observation on Sunday:

"Too bad the Anonymous commentators are so lock-jawed. To not even identify the other media they think are covering the inside story better shows weak journalistic instincts. Maybe the ax will fall more widely. Staffers and Signature aren't the only casualties. The paper has killed the Sunday insert, 'Money and Markets.' If, as you say repeatedly, fat cats are nobles in the Kingdom of Borgdom, the royals have a strange way of stroking their subjects. Of course, with no advertising there was no money in 'Money and Markets.' The Record does seem to be more of a wreck with each passing day." 

Is another downsizing of the staff -- like the one 5 years ago -- in the offing?

In 2008, Publisher Stephen A. Borg and his big sister, General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg, seemingly targeted older staffers in a bloodletting that eventually claimed five Hackensack-based copy editors, four photographers, the photography director and several other staffers.

Eventually, it emerged that several months before the downsizing, Borg had sucked $3.65 million out of North Jersey Media Group in the form of a mortgage on a bigger mansion in Tenafly.

Borg was overheard saying his dream was a newsroom where no one made more than $40,000 a year.

Not long after that, NJMG capped severance at 12 weeks of salary, no matter how many years of service an employee had put in, and some of them had been there for decades.

Imagine how that made lifers like Ron Meyer, Jim Cornelius, Vinny Byrne, Carmine Galasso, Ray Edel, John Cichowski, Bill Ervolino, Mike Kelly, John Rowe and others feel

Other departures 

More recently, there have been other departures, including Features Director Barbara Jaeger -- who preferred to work with younger staffers and made life miserable for older workers -- and her sports columnist husband. 

The same reader quoted above sent in another comment in January:

"Hello Victor,

"I don't envy you these days. [Editor] Marty Gottlieb is a worse target than Frank Scandale. At least Francis displayed occasionally amusing fatuousness.
That's to say that, over the years, I've liked your blog best when it included more about the people at the paper than the paper itself.
Do the street people, the commoners at the bottom of the hierarchy in the Borg kingdom, read "Eye on The Record"? Do they communicate with you? I would love to hear more about more of them than just about Cichowski, [Deirdre] Sykes and [Liz] Houlton. I'm getting my own version of a Margulies cartoon in my head that depicts The Record as a kind of Bleak House for fat and skinny inmates out of a Dickens novel.
What I'm trying to say is: You've done well showing the stultifying influence on product of an ossified privileged class. Can you give us more about the unpriveleged?
Please take heart in the fact that the faults you find at The Record are seen throughout the newspaper business by people who know a lot more than I do. Read the following a stumbled upon on the Web (I don't know where) by a guy named Ron Rosenbaum:

"Cast into outer darkness and dismissed as 'sensationalism' is news that involves the tragedies of ordinary, non-credentialed people. I want to make clear a distinction between tabloid or “true crime” stories and celebrity journalism. Celebrity journalism is about famous people doing insignificant things. The best tabloid stories, by contrast, deal with ordinary people caught in extraordinary, often tragic circumstances. And isn’t the most important story of all -- the hardest of hard news -- how we cope with the inevitable tragedies of life, with suffering, death and mortality? Are people to be condemned for caring about these stories?"

The "unprivileged" at The Record are many, and I once was among them, spending 10 years at the paper as a reporter and nearly 20 years on the dead-end copy desk.

As I got older, I found myself working for editors who were far younger than me, and who knew far less than I did.

I recall the arrival of Dan Shea as editor of the Business section, where I covered the automobile industry.

On a breaking news story, he came over to me as I was on the phone with a bank employee and whispered that I shouldn't identify myself as a reporter.

It's 'my section'

When I consulted the section's copy editor and made a change to the lead paragraph of one of my Sunday cover stories -- reversing his change -- he became enraged when he saw the paper and thundered:

"This is my section!"

One of the first things Shea did was to order Business staffers to cancel their plans for a Christmas get-together at a Hoboken steakhouse and, instead, attend a party at his Manhattan apartment.

He eventually had an affair with Business reporter Stephanie Stokes, and divorced his wife, who was a doctor. 

Later, Shea was put in charge of buying new typesetters, and eventually saddled the paper with cold-type equipment that was designed for magazines, and took 13 minutes to spew out type.

That meant that when I worked in the composing room and discovered a typo or other error 5 minutes before deadline, fixing it would make the paper late, delaying the press run and delivery. 

Make up a story

Variations of my experience are playing out in the newsroom every day. 

Staffers who hustle and cover their beats look around at the least productive members of the  reporting staff, and wonder why head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes is protecting them.

Staffers wonder why so many errors appear in the paper, and how Production Editor Liz Houlton justifies her six-figure salary.

Make up a story about what it's like to be a reporter or copy editor at The Record, and it would probably be true.

Staffers are so cowed by management, that even behind their cloaks of anonymity, they won't tell Eye on The Record readers what is going on in the Woodland Park newsroom. 

Today's paper

Is it any surprise that Governor Christie's wife is at the helm of the Superstorm Sandy relief fund (A-1).

That distracts the media from all of their failures -- from being poor role models during the obesity epidemic to mismanaging the state's economy to trying to destroy the middle and working classes.

Black History Month allows the paper to focus on African-Americans in North Jersey, then ignore them the rest of the year (A-1).

Not too long ago, the only way for black people to get on the front page of The Record was to commit a crime.

There is so little local news in today's paper that Sykes had to run another long story on the theft of a single luxury car from valet parkers at a Fair Lawn restaurant (L-2)

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  1. Alright, I can see Super Bowl coverage on Sunday's front page considering Bergen County will be host of the Super Bowl in 2014. But shouldn't Sen. Barbara Buono's campaign kickoff warrant front page coverage over the money allocation of Superstorm Sandy? That story could have been on page A-3 while the Record could have introduced voters to the only declared Democrat in the upcoming race against Gov. Chris Christie. And congratulations to Rep. Bill Pascrell on his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


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