Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Repeated errors make a mockery of younger Borg's motto

The Record's Local section this past Saturday ran a photo of the old Bergen County Jail, above, but the caption said: "An iron worker working to secure a beam at the construction site of the Bergen County Justice Center next to the jail in Hackensack on Friday." The photo, cropped to show only the top of the beam and the jail's turrets and parapets, confused readers who have watched the slow construction of the Justice Center, below.

Is the beam shown in Saturday's L-3 photo part of a pedestrian bridge that will connect the new building to the Bergen County Courthouse? The Record's caption didn't say. Another photo caption, on Saturday's L-2, described a BMW as a Toyota. 


It's right there under the masthead on Page 1 of The Record every day:


Publisher Stephen A. Borg, who took over from his father nearly a decade ago, made a marketing decision to replace The Record's original motto:


Borg followed with several big, money-saving decisions that resulted in less local coverage -- especially of Hackensack -- and a rising number of errors, which has eroded North Jersey readers' trust in the Woodland Park daily.

Monday's paper carried a story on a nationwide poll that found:
"Trust in the news media is being eroded by perceptions of inaccuracy and bias .... Nearly 90 percent of Americans say it is extremely or very important that the media get their facts correct." 

Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy

Literally hundreds -- if not thousands -- of errors have appeared in the Road Warrior column since the "trusted source" motto was adopted, and few of them have been corrected by six-figure Production Editor Liz Houlton or Editor Deirdre Sykes.

Sykes handpicked Staff Writer John Cichowski to write the column starting in September 2003. 

In recent years, corrections of hundreds of editing and reporting errors by others have appeared regularly on A-2, but The Record rarely corrects an error unless someone calls to complain.

The message drummed into journalism students is "accuracy, accuracy, accuracy," especially when it comes to spelling names.

A perfect example is a story in the local-news section today by Staff Writer John Seasly, who covered the Hackensack City Council on Monday night:

The reporter quoted a resident, and made sure to describe him as someone "who regularly attends the meetings," but misspelled his last name.

Richard L. Cerbo, whose father was a former Hackensack mayor, is the one who called for a tax cut in comments before the council approved a 2016-17 budget of $100.4 million.

Seasly wrote, "Rich Serbo" (L-3).

The entrance to Hackensack's main recreation center, the M&M Building on Holt Street, where voters cast ballots on Tuesday in the city's Board of Education election. I saw three voters ask for someone who spoke Spanish, but none of the 10 or so poll workers did. One poll worker barked in English, "Just go in there [the voting booth] and vote." Poll workers are paid $200 for the day. Most are seniors who have nothing better to do with their time than sit on their asses all day as their contribution to democracy.

School election

In addition to outright errors like misspelling someone's name, the errors of omission erode readers' trust in The Record.

At Monday night's council meeting, Seasly was asked why he didn't do a story on the Hackensack school election, especially the issues involved and the attempted political comeback by the Zisa family, which backed three of the nine candidates.

The reporter said a story was scheduled to appear on Tuesday, the day of the election, but none did.

Today, The Record's coverage of the results in 10 towns devotes the least space to Hackensack, even though the city has the most students and the biggest school budget, not to mention the most candidates.

Voter apathy

Of course, the story Seasly missed is that voter apathy and the status quo ruled the day, with only 795 of about 20,000 registered voters approving the $104 million Hackensack school budget.

A total of only 1,293 residents voted on the $79 million tax levy, which supports an overall school budget that is higher than the municipal budget.

Mail-in ballots weren't counted Tuesday night, but unofficial results show that:

Two Zisa-backed candidates, incumbent Timothy J. Hoffman and former trustee Modesto Romero, were elected along with incumbent Lara L. Rodriguez, who was on another slate (with only 727, 604 and 711 votes, respectively).

(I reported the affiliation of the candidates incorrectly when this was first posted. The Record reported Rodriguez's vote total incorrectly in Wednesday's paper.)

Seasly never reported that school taxes represent nearly half of the total property tax bill or that the ballot was confusing, with candidates' names appearing randomly without numbers or such identification as "Citizens for Better Schools" or "Team Hackensack."

Today's paper

Even though Borg and Sykes continue to ignore Hackensack, they are doing a bang-up job of publicizing medical miracles at Hackensack University Medical Center (A-1).

Borg's older sister, Vice President/General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg, once served as an HUMC board member.

The sprawling medical center calls itself a non-profit, and as a result saves about $10 million a year in property taxes.


  1. It's absolutely horrible that The Record doesn't offer more coverage on Hackensack, especially on city council and board of education matters. No wonder no one comes out to vote. I don't know what the newspaper subscription numbers are in Hackensack, but maybe that's why they ignore the city (doesn't make it right either way). I wonder why Hackensack's school budget is so high. I read some of the other headlines from other towns holding a vote, and their school budgets are half that of Hackensack's. Do you think it's because Hackensack housing prices are lower than other towns, so less is gathered from property taxes?

    1. Thanks, Austin. Will reply in detail later.

    2. The Hackensack board is the biggest and has the most students. The 2016-17 budget is on the board's Web site. I printed it out, and saw that legal fees more than doubled, a Catholic school building is being leased for $500,000 to $600,000 a year, and that school administrators are numerous and being paid huge salaries.

      The school board, including the incumbents and a former trustee elected on Tuesday, have done nothing to improve poor test scores. One, Francis Abolino, is retiring after 24 years of sitting on his ass during all those meetings.

      A parent called me last night and said he asked Albolino at a meeting what he has accomplished in all that time, and the trustee was unable to say.

      Keep in mind board members are volunteers. But why should the board have nine members when the council only has five?

      In this election, the seniors in the Prospect Avenue high-rises promised to apply for mail-in ballots and vote against the budget, but they failed us.


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