Saturday, December 12, 2015

Departing editor didn't ease crisis at our local daily paper

Editor Martin Gottlieb of The Record in the Woodland Park newsroom. Reporter Lindy Washburn, the paper's chief medical writer, is at left in this photo by Staff  Photographer Carmine Galasso.


Today's news story on the retirement of Editor Martin Gottlieb of The Record comes at a time of crisis -- a troubled period at the Woodland Park daily the veteran journalist did little to ease.

The Record's local news content, and the quality of editing and reporting, have declined dramatically since Publisher Stephen A. Borg ordered a major downsizing in 2008, and moved North Jersey Media Group and its flagship paper out of Hackensack in 2009.

Gottlieb, who took over the newsroom in January 2012, inherited several lazy, incompetent editors, but never cleaned house.

They include Deirdre Sykes, head of the local assignment desk; Assistant Assignment Editor Dan Sforza, Projects Editor Tim Nostrand; and Production Editor Liz Houlton, who has missed hundreds of errors, typos and bad headlines.

Gottlieb also did nothing to curb several veteran columnists, including Charles Stile, Mike Kelly, John Cichowski and Bill Ervolino, printing everything they wrote, no matter how pathetic.

Local news?

Today's Local front story on Gottlieb lists as his main accomplishments:

"Leadership of The Record's coverage of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal," and becoming "a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in local reporting for a series examining the spread of heroin in the suburbs" (L-1 and L-6).

But his hands-on editing resulted in stories, especially those on Page 1, becoming longer and less accessible to readers.

And the front page showed a far greater emphasis on national and international news.

All of that came at the expense of covering municipal news in Bergen County, especially in Hackensack, where the Borg publishing family prospered for more than 110 years. 

Today, for example, Staff Writer Todd South is reporting on a Nov. 24 incident for the first time:

Hackensack Board of Education Attorney Richard Salkin has been charged with harassment for allegedly threatening Health Department Registrar Maria Tartaglione (L-1).

'Drop dead'

Salkin was applying for a license to marry former City Clerk Debra Heck, but was told by the registrar "she could not provide the certificate because errors had been crossed out in the license form he provided and corrected in pen," South says.

"You're a piece of shit, drop dead," Salkin allegedly shouted, Tartaglione complained, according to The Bergen Dispatch, which reported the incident on its Web site on Nov. 30. "Do you want me to bury you?"

South, with the approval of his editors, has managed to avoid reporting on the city's Board of Education; the school budget, which this year exceeds the city's own; or anything else to do with the schools.

The board approved a new contract with the Hackensack teachers union on Nov. 12, but that wasn't reported until Friday, when the Hackensack Chronicle carried the nearly month-old news.

Another screw-up

Today's local-news section again shows Sykes' and Sforza's desperation to fill space, with long wire-service obituaries on an obscure Native American activist and an even more obscure crossword puzzle champ (L-6).

Page A-2 carries Houlton's correction of a Road Warrior column last Sunday, in which Cichowski tried to drum up business for a volunteer ride service for seniors.

Unfortunately, the addled, error-prone reporter published the wrong telephone number, and none of the editors who looked at his story actually dialed the number to see if it was correct.

1971 to 2016

Gottlieb, 67, began his journalism career in 1971 as a municipal reporter covering Bergen County towns for The Record.

Then, he worked as a reporter or editor at the Daily News, The New York Times and the Village Voice before returning to the Daily News and The Times, the latter in 1995, working there until he was named editor of The Record in January 2012.

Today's story says he will leave The Record in January, four years after he arrived, basically his way of cruising into retirement.

His departure from The Times, where he was global editions editor from 2008 to 2011, has never been explained.

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