Sunday, December 27, 2015

Heavy reliance on crime news exposes print-edition flaws

The provinces of Cuba and the island's flag are painted on the front plate-glass window of La Pola, a West New York luncheonette that specializes in the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano.


If you are the editor of a local newspaper that covers breaking crime news as much as The Record does -- and uses Page 1 to sensationalize murder and mayhem -- you need an editing and reporting staff that hustles, and late deadlines.

Editor Martin Gottlieb has neither.

The ex-New York Times editor often embarrasses himself with stale coverage like today's lead story on an "apparent murder-suicide" in a luxury Edgewater high-rise, where a man shot both his wife and 8-year-old daughter in the head before killing himself (A-1).

The Woodland Park daily managed to get something onto Saturday's front page, but the editors couldn't hold the paper for the prosecutor's press conference on Friday night.

So, all Staff Writer Jeff Green could report was that "three people were found dead on Christmas" before padding the story with four paragraphs at the end that amounted to little more than a shameless plug for the high-rise where the "holiday tragedy" unfolded (Saturday's A-8).

Nothing like the suspicious death of three people to drum up business at a luxury high-rise, but that is so typical of the commercialism that taints too many stories in The Record.

SUV hit-and-run

More dated police news appears today -- the hit-run death of a 59-year-old Teaneck man crossing the street just before 7 p.m. on Christmas Day (A-1 and L-1).

Even two days after the accident, there is not a word on Steven J. Leitbeg, the victim, except to describe him as a "resident of the township."

He's treated as so much roadkill by the lazy, incompetent local assignment editors, Deirdre Sykes and Dan Sforza.

Today's story doesn't say whether he was in a crosswalk when he was hit by an SUV "at Garrison Avenue and Cedar Lane" (L-1).

Nor does the reporter explore whether limited holiday police staffing was a factor in why the driver was able to get away on what is normally a heavily patrolled downtown street.

Law & Order news

After a major newsroom downsizing and 2009 relocation of the newsroom to Woodland Park, The Record's coverage of municipal news declined dramatically.

Thanks to Sykes and Sforza, Law & Order news became the new local news as they scrambled desperately to plug holes in their section with gee-whiz photos of fires and rollovers, police news and sensational trials.

That trend continues today, even though home-rule governments and rising property taxes deserve far more scrutiny than they are getting.

Can local readers hope for a change when Gottlieb retires at the end of January, bringing to a close four years of failure?

Best photos

Once a year, the editors publish images from Record photographers that "stood out" (L-1 and L-3), but none of those photos appeared in a daily fixture on A-2, "SHOT OF THE DAY."

Typically, those photos are supplied by the wire services from all over the world in what amounts to a slap in the face to all of the talented staff photographers.

'Humble' food

On the Better Living cover today, Staff Writer Elisa Ung recalls the best dishes she ate in 2015, what she calls "humble creations" (BL-1 and BL-3).

Ung swoons over mystery chicken sandwiches and a thin-crust pizza, but also touts a pricey platter of sushi.

This feature and Ung's "Informal Dining" reviews on Friday show the limits of her competency as the paper's chief restaurant critic.

She is in way over her head on most Fridays, when she reviews expensive steakhouse and other fine-dining restaurants and ignores how the dishes she sampled were raised or grown.

Readers can see that on Sundays, especially when her Corner Table column makes excuses for why wealthy restaurant owners aren't serving more organic or naturally raised food.

Ramen and pho

On Friday's BL-12, there were a few omissions in Ung's reviews of Menya Sandaime in Fort Lee and Pho Miu in far-off Washington Township.

She reports the Fort Lee ramen restaurant has only 25 seats, but fails to mention customers also are seated at tables in the employee break room to cut down on waiting times.

Ung also didn't report the kitchen can make vegetarian versions of at least two main dishes, as I discovered during a visit on Saturday night.

And her detailed description of the soup at Miu Pho doesn't mention the anise flavoring that sets the Vietnamese broth apart from all other Asian noodle soups.

On top of all that, the headline was a real clunker:

"Where noodles step up"


In the past two decades, The Record has been derelict in covering the obesity epidemic; heart disease, the nation's No. 1 killer; and the large number of uninsured in New Jersey.

The editors prefer to assign medical writers to describe in excruciating detail children with rare disorders or a public official who survived a brain aneurysm.

On Saturday's front page, they were described as "newsmakers."

How would The Record describe all of those the editors routinely ignores?

As "losers"?

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