Tuesday, April 26, 2016

When incompetence is rewarded, readers are biggest losers

On weekdays, the parking lots at 150 River St., the old headquarters of The Record, are filled with cars from Hackensack University Medical Center, continuing the cozy relationship with North Jersey Media Group first established when Vice President/General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg sat on the hospital board. It's unclear how The Record can be objective about HUMC, a huge non-profit that increases the tax burden on every home and business owner in Hackensack. 

These booths for attendants were built after NJMG landed a two-year $777,660 contract through July 2015 to accommodate the cars of jurors, attorneys and visitors in the River Street lots during construction of a Justice Center and parking garage near the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack.


Less than a week before North Jerseyans have to make hefty quarterly property tax payments, the pages of The Record are filled with anything but local news.

Editor Deirdre Sykes' front page today has readers choking on state and national politics, sports and $2 gas (A-1).

And only a day after Page 1 reported the unexpected death of Teaneck Mayor Lizette Parker at 44, Sykes is so bored with the story she demotes the tributes and outpouring of grief to the Local front (L-1).

There isn't much else in the local-news section today except Law & Order news (L-1, L-2, L-3 and L-6).

You have to wonder why after the death of Parker on Sunday and Prince at 57 just last Thursday, the clueless Sykes hasn't assigned a story exploring why so many blacks die young.

In fact, why hasn't the paper's chief medical writer, Lindy Washburn, proposed such a story instead of wasting nearly two full Sunday pages on a man who is awaiting his second heart transplant in 20 years?

The damage of focusing on such medical freaks is that readers never learn tens of thousands of people who have cardiac surgery every year feel better than ever and go on to leave productive lives. 


As head assignment editor, Sykes and sidekick Dan Sforza ran Local for years, scrambling to fill holes in the local-news report with accident photos, minor fires, crime and court news, and the Dean's List. 

As if to reward their incompetence, Sykes and Sforza were promoted in January, she to editor of the entire paper and he to managing editor, though all he seems to be "managing" is his free time.

Their promotions followed the elevation of Liz Houlton to six-figure production editor after she left a trail of typos and errors in Food and other sections when she was running the features copy desk.

Gannett bid

On the first Business page today, the editors censor a story on newspaper publisher Gannett offering to buy some of the nation's biggest newspapers (L-7).

Gannett owns six daily newspapers in New Jersey, and is rumored to have made offers to the Borg family for The Record.

Today, the editors don't mention those Gannett papers, just like the Woodland Park daily never reported they and the Star-Ledger called for Governor Christie to resign after he endorsed racist Donald Trump for president.


As the business story reports, Gannett long has been associated with cost-cutting and "shedding jobs" after acquiring newspapers (L-8).

But The Record's publisher, Stephen A. Borg, has done that on his own in the past decade.

Those moves include shifting the printing of The Record and Herald News to Rockaway Township, and firing more than 50 printers; a major newsroom downsizing in 2008 and the abandonment of Hackensack in 2009.

The downsizing saw the departure of employees who had worked for The Record for 20, 30 or more years.

Those cuts were made several months after Borg got a $3.65 million mortgage from his family's North Jersey Media Group for the purchase of a Tenafly McMansion, where he lives with his wife and four sons.

Freeze on raises

In the last few years, Borg froze newsroom raises and, more recently, stopped replacing reporters who leave the paper.

All of that has contributed to a drastic decline in the accuracy, quality and quantity of local-news coverage.

A recent example was how Sykes and Sforza ignored the candidates and issues in last Tuesday's school board and budget election in Hackensack, the biggest school system in Bergen County.

Meanwhile, the Borgs anticipate selling nearly 20 acres along River Street to an apartment developer after the Hackensack City Council declared the parcel in need of redevelopment, and awarded a multi-year tax break to the buyer. 

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