Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are Trenton reporter, columnist covering same event?

The NJ Transit transfer station in Secaucus is a pleasant place to wait for a train, but it loses points for not having one of those grand railroad clocks. Instead, small, hard-to-read digital time displays appear in the corners of four boards displaying train schedules and tracks.


Readers who plowed through two versions of Governor Christie's first town meeting in a while may have thought they were at two different events.

Staff Writer Melissa Hayes and Columnist Charles Stile of The Record were assigned to "a town-hall-style" meeting in Middletown, where Christie was blasted by residents who have so far been screwed out of Superstorm Sandy aid.

Sloppy editing

But Friday's news story and column clashed on important details and left out the best Christie quote -- on his seemingly slow weight loss since lap-band surgery a year ago (A-1 and A-6). 

Hayes' news stories on Christie read like columns -- where a reporter is encouraged to express a point of view -- and she has shown herself to be an unabashed admirer of the GOP bully.

Her Page 1 story on Friday begins like a column, and in the third paragraph, she asserts Christie was welcomed in Middletown "with a standing ovation and applause."

Stile, the columnist, sounds more like a reporter writing a news story, always careful to put criticism of Christie in someone else's mouth, beginning his report this way:

"Recast by scandal as a bully whose aides closed off part of the George Washington Bridge as a political revenge plot...." 

Recast by scandal, not by Stile (Friday's A-6).

Hearing problems

But later Stile completely contradicts fellow staffer Hayes, reporting:

"Christie was given a warm applause, but not the rousing ovations he normally receives."

"A warm applause"???

Earlier, Stile said, "The crowd lustily applauded" a Sea Bright man who confronted Christie about his use of private contractors to handle storm recovery, "not Christie."

Do we attribute this factual contradiction to The Record's famously inept editing -- on the assignment, news and copy desks?

If you are going to assign a reporter and columnist to the same event, make sure the same set of editors go over the results, if for no other reason than to get the two staffers to at least agree on basic facts.

Assignment problem?

And maybe Editor Marty Gottlieb should rethink his practice of sending columnists to cover news stories and spin endless pieces on Christie's image, presidential potential and politics, while ignoring the impact of his policies on state residents.

The GOP governor's corrosive politics reach into high places, including the Port Authority and NJ Transit, and hurt residents in myriad ways; Christie's politics shouldn't intrude into the Woodland Park newsroom.

And what's the explanation for Friday's news story and column omitting Christie's answer to why he doesn't seem to be losing that much weight:

"Rome wasn't unbuilt in a day," the governor answered, according to HBO satirist Bill Maher.

Christie comparing himself to Rome? That's rich.

Silver Spoon factor

You know multimillionaire Publisher Stephen A. Borg is running things on the Editorial  Page when the paper reacts to the state's record $40 billion debt by calling on legislators and Christie "to put away the credit card."

There is no mention in Friday's editorial on A-18 about a tax surcharge on millionaires -- which Christie has vetoed time and again -- or raising the state's low gasoline tax to pay for road repairs and mass transit.

The editorial notes Christie has borrowed "about $875 million" for transportation projects.

More snow jobs

A letter to the editor Friday praised Tenafly Mayor Peter Rustin for operating a plow and clearing a resident's driveway after last week's nor'easter.

Residents of Hackensack and many other North Jersey communities could have used the help of their mayors, but instead were left at the mercy of incompetent Departments of Public Works.

The editors, who have short attention spans, quickly ended their focus on uncleared sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stops, streets and highways -- which endanger drivers and pedestrians.

Today's paper carries a Page 1 story on uncleared fire hydrants.

Today's front page also is dominated by Ukrainians in North Jersey (A-1) -- hardly a local story, when compared to residents who pay high property taxes and get such shoddy service from their so-called public servants during snowstorms.

Wrong editor

On Friday's A-2, the correction of a wrong phone number published in the paper shows six-figure Production Editor Liz Houlton has failed to drill a basic lesson into her copy editors:

If a story includes a phone number -- such as the Wednesday's elaborate Better Living piece on the Institute for Learning in Retirement at Bergen Community College -- the copy editor should call the number to make sure it is correct.

When I worked as a copy editor at The Record, I caught a wrong phone number in a restaurant review filed by a freelancer, and she was fired by the food editor.

Given the hundreds of errors that have appeared in The Record under Houlton's watch -- including in the famously flawed Road Warrior column -- she should be the one fired now.


Dhoom in Secaucus, an Indian restaurant on that speedway called Route 3, is, well, doomed to failure.

I continue to wonder how Staff Writer Elisa Ung can give a "good" rating to a kitchen that prepared a $36 order of tandoori lamb chops and served them "mushy" and "almost unrecognizable as meat," or a $36 lobster dish that "emerged tough and stringy" (Friday's BL-14).

She also accomplishes nothing by telling readers the lamb chops are from Colorado, when she should be saying whether they were naturally raised.

And you'll forgive me for noting that photos of two dishes she liked, cooked spinach with cheese and lentil stew, look more like something you'd encounter in a public toilet, not at a pricey restaurant.

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