Saturday, December 28, 2013

Local editors continue to flub breaking news

Drivers startled by a huge inflatable rat on State Street in Hackensack might think it's a marketing ploy gone awry for the luxury apartments going up on the site. In fact, members of Carpenters Union Local 254 put up the rat and picket the site to dramatize the developer's use of "rats" -- non-union contractors -- according to the union's Facebook page.


When you compare The Record's Page 1 follow-up today to Friday's sensational lead story on a sibling rivalry that ended in death, they expose deep flaws in local-news gathering.

It's been apparent for years to many in the newsroom that head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, who is taking a prolonged sick leave, and Deputy Assignment Editor Dan Sforza can't handle breaking news.

It's possible the lack of information in Friday's story can be traced to reporters who simply have never developed a rapport with Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli and local police chiefs.

But the assignment editors have encouraged their reporters to cover breaking news by telephone or by waiting for news releases -- like so many beggars on the street -- instead of aggressively mining other sources, including neighbors.

Missing information

Despite references to family photos on Facebook and adopted children, readers on Friday remained in the dark about whether a 17-year-old boy who allegedly stabbed and killed his older sister were among three children adopted by the Gallos in Washington Township (Friday's A-1 and A-7).

Today, thanks to three photos on Page 1, readers learn the brother, sister and a third adopted sibling are black, but that is never mentioned in the text today or Friday.

GOP screws jobless

Thanks to the Republicans in Congress, more than 125,000 New Jerseyans are being dropped from unemployment rolls in the next three months and losing emergency benefits (A-1).

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican whose last name is pronounced "boner,"  has been quoted saying they should be out looking for jobs, not collecting benefits.

LG boycott

A letter to the editor on A-11 today calls for a boycott of LG products as the U.S. arm of the South Korean company moves forward with plans to build a 143-foot-high building that will project above the tree line on the Palisades.

Sounds like a good idea, but you have to wonder why the Woodland Park daily hasn't called for a similar boycott.

Second look

On Friday, The Record ran another wildly exaggerated, error-filled column from addled Staff Writer John Cichowski, according to a concerned reader who maintains the Facebook Page for Road Warrior Bloopers:
"The Road Warrior makes up information about the Jan. 30, 2013, collision of a train and a truck carrying paint cans at a Little Falls rail crossing and exaggerates subsequent crossing improvements.
"The Road Warrior compounded his original errors from his Feb. 1 column, and contradicted The Record’s own reports when he indicated there were eight commuters injured in the Jan. 30 accident and reported a rail-crossing accident in Ridgefield in December.
"As The Record originally reported, five commuters and three train workers were injured in the January accident, and the December accident was in Ridgefield Park, not Ridgefield."

Even more troubling than the exaggeration and errors in Friday's column was Cichowski's recommendation in his original Feb. 1 column a few days after the Little Falls collision that no safety improvements were needed:

"But sometimes crash investigators at places that produce few crashes don't yield much more than headlines, especially if an engineering fix is considered too costly and an unusual driver error is the only readily definable culprit."

Thankfully, no one paid attention to the overpaid but clueless Road Warrior.

For the full e-mail alerting editors and managers of The Record about continuing problems with the Road Warrior column, see:

Road Warrior is off the rails once again

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