By VICTOR E. SASSON
Echoing the theme of sections in today's Sunday edition, The Record of Woodland Park tried mightily under a former Times editor to hit highs in 2013.
But the sad reality is Editor Marty Gottlieb, who traded Paris for Paramus, continued to be weighed down by the dysfunctional local-news operation he inherited.
Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, who is on a prolonged sick leave, and Deputy Assignment Editor Dan Sforza are two lifers who bungled just about every breaking news story that came their way, as well as routine local coverage.
Decline in quality
And the quality of reporting, writing and fact-checking -- in news stories and columns, headlines and photo captions -- declined drastically.
Publisher Stephen A. Borg's decision to downsize the staff and abandon Hackensack several years ago led to the merger of The Record and Herald News staffs in a smaller Woodland Park newsroom.
The Herald News contributed some accomplished reporters and writers, but the editors and copy editors from the smaller daily have been uniformly mediocre and they have dumbed down content.
Borg's economy moves also led to the dismissal of four veteran copy editors and the departure of Nancy Cherry, who alone upheld standards of writing, grammar and fact-checking as co-chief of The Record's news copy desk.
With the elevation of Liz Houlton to production editor from head of the features copy desk, where she had earned the title of "Queen of Errors," the sad outcome was predictable -- an unprecedented decline in quality.
As a resident of Hackensack and an independent City Council candidate in the May election, I welcomed a dramatic improvement in news coverage that began in June after a reform slate defeated allies of the ruling Zisa family.
But I still haven't seen any meaningful coverage of many other towns or their struggling downtowns, and The Record's transportation reporters continue to ignore increasing traffic congestion and officials' refusal to expand mass transit.
Today's front page is typical, with another couple of thousands of words about who knew what and when they knew it during the politically inspired closure of Fort Lee access lanes to the George Washington Bridge more than three months ago (A-1).
A Page 1 story on whether it will snow on Feb. 2, the date of the Super Bowl, includes a photo caption noting "cars" struggled with snow and ice in Englewood on Feb. 2, 2011.
They must have been some of those Google cars, which drive themselves (A-1).
The reporter also says Dr. James Gallo has "a eulogy to script." Does anyone "script" a eulogy? What is wrong with "write"?
On the Local front, a photo of a police assault team at Westfield Garden State Plaza highlights the irresponsible lack of security at the Paramus mall -- a story the local staff refused to tackle (L-1).
Of course, the cops got there too late on Nov. 4 to prevent a troubled Richard Shoop, 20, of Teaneck from invading the mall with a rifle, firing random shots that panicked shoppers and store employees, and then committing suicide (L-3).
On L-2, more space is devoted to a homeless man who turned in $850 he found on Main Street than to the victory of Citizens for Change in the May Hackensack City Council election.
The dismissal of the city clerk and city manager, who were perceived as allies of the corrupt police chief, Ken Zisa, and former City Council, aren't even mentioned.
On the cheap
On the Business front, the Your Money's Worth column on food prices and the related North Jersey Marketbasket Survey on B-7 continue to ignore the organic revolution.
Similarly, Elisa Ung's The Corner Table column on "dining blessings of 2013," includes heart-stopping food photos and nary a reference to whether restaurants are serving more naturally raised or grown food (BL-1 and BL-11).
Forgotten Main Streets
On the Real Estate front, a story on "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time," a book written by a city planner, could run in any newspaper across America.
There is not a single reference to North Jersey or to cities like Englewood and Hackensack that have encouraged the construction of hundreds of luxury apartments in or near their downtowns.
Judging by the number of empty storefronts on Englewood's Palisade Avenue and Dean and Engle streets, the influx of hundreds of new apartment dwellers in recent years have made little difference in that city's "walkable" downtown.
Of course, The Record has ignored that story, just as it has never reported the impact on Main Street of North Jersey Media's Group decision to pull out more than 1,000 employees from 150 River St. in Hackensack in 2009.
On the Opinion front, Columnist Brigid Harrison calls Governor Christie one of 2013's "political winners" and a potential candidate who can win the White House for Republicans in 2016.
But she and just about everyone else who writes about the results on Nov. 5 fail to say it also saw the lowest turnout of any gubernatorial election in the state's history -- a testament to voter apathy.
Voter apathy and campaign finance reform are two more stories The Record didn't cover in 2013.
My paper was delivered in a plastic bag advertising ShopRite's Super Can-Can Sale and P&G products, including bathroom tissue.
On one side, a Charmin ad notes:
"We all have to go. Why not enjoy the go?"
Sounds like something written on The Record's copy desk and approved by Houlton.
Footnote No. 2
For the first time in decades, the masthead today reads:
The new style means the weather no longer appears below the masthead on Page 1.