Friday, September 30, 2016

Editors bury Christie's role in fatal NJ Transit train wreck

In this photo from Pancho Bernasconi, train personnel inspect the lead car of the NJ Transit train that crashed and jumped the platform on Monday morning at the Hoboken Terminal, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 others.


The Record today buries readers under an avalanche of words from more than a dozen reporters assigned to cover Thursday's fatal train crash in Hoboken.

No one can absorb this many news stories and columns about the same event, especially when little was done to edit out all of the repetition, and replace that with answers to several crucial questions (A-1, A-6, A-7, A-8 and L-1).

And it's unclear just how many readers will search out Mike Kelly's column on A-7, where the banner headline declares:

"The deadly consequences of neglect"

Even if they do find the column, Kelly as usual buries the lead, this time in the fifth and sixth paragraph:

"You could sense the defensiveness in Governor Christie ... during a news conference ... not far from the wreckage.

"After all, it was Christie, boasting to Republicans of his tax-cutting prowess as he ran for president, who blocked a proposed increase in the state gasoline tax. The new revenue would help" pay "for rail-safety upgrades ...."

Then, Kelly notes Christie dodged a question on whether an automatic braking system -- which federal officials have advocated for 46 years -- could have slowed the commuter train from Bergen County before it crashed.

Readers have to plow through numerous paragraphs of background on previous train crashes before getting to the last paragraph:

"We live with an outdated rail system and a government that is too slow to repair it," Kelly writes with the impact of a wet noodle.

Gets off light

Christie gets off easy today, having fought mass transit improvements since he took office in 2010.

He cancelled an earlier project to build two new Hudson River rail tunnels, and grabbed more than $1 billion in leftover funds to fix roads and bridges, allowing him to avoid raising the low gas tax.

He also cut state aid, forcing NJ Transit to raise fares and cut service; and he's looted the agency's maintenance budget.

Holes in stories

From all accounts, the three-car train and locomotive were traveling about 30 mph, instead of 10 mph, when they entered the station, failed to slow and crashed.

That doesn't seem to justify the screaming banner headline on Page 1 today:

"High speed into chaos"

"Chaos" is a good word to use when describing the scene in the Woodland Park newsroom whenever the editors have to cover a big, breaking news story.

They've shown time and again they aren't up to it.

Today, the name of the woman killed on the platform by falling debris appears on A-6, but for some reason the story doesn't say Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, of Hoboken leaves her husband and their 18-month-old daughter, as reported by other news media.

Today's extensive coverage also is missing information on the makeup of the train -- three passenger cars that were being pushed by a locomotive.

A news story and the Road Warrior column on L-1 conflict on whether the engineer was operating the train from the lead passenger car or from the locomotive pushing the passenger cars or were there two engineers on board? 

And Staff Writer John Cichowski, the so-called Road Warrior, should be ashamed of himself for including so many gory details on the injuries suffered by De Kroon, the wife, mother and innocent bystander who died on Thursday morning. 

Local news?

There is more Paterson news in the local-news section delivered to Bergen County readers than from any other community.

If you are a community activist, you have to have a school named after you before The Record will cover you.

That seems to be the lesson from an L-1 story on Paterson school activist Hani Awadallah.

Staff Writer John Seasly, who is assigned to Hackensack, hasn't covered a single Board of Education meeting, and didn't write a word about Tuesday's City Council meeting, which he attended.

Who is confused?

Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung bestows 3 stars out of 4 (Excellent to Outstanding) on Aquarius Seafood Restaurant in Fort Lee, but calls the dim sum service "confusing" (BL-14).

"We found a language barrier at dim sum," Ung claims, "which may frustrate the 30 percent of the customers who are not Chinese and makes this restaurant hard to recommend to those with no knowledge of the cuisine."

Dim sum and tea are hardly new to North Jersey and especially not to Fort Lee, where Silver Pond Seafood Restaurant served wonderful dumplings and other delights in the same Main Street space for decades.

And if necessary, Aquarius will give you a menu that lists the nearly 50 dim sum in English and Chinese.

Fish story

Where Ung should have deducted a half-star or more, she just warns readers to ask about the price of whole live fish before ordering it.

After years of watching the owners of Greek fish houses in Bergen County rip off customers by charging for fresh whole fish by the pound, the Chinese owners of Lan Garden in Ridgefield and now Aquarius in Fort Lee are getting in on the action.

Ung was shown the whole live bass she ordered -- "wriggling ... in the net, shaking water everywhere and scaring many people nearby" -- but not told about the $28-per-pound price.

Nor was it listed on the menu.

That kind of dishonesty shouldn't be rewarded by a restaurant reviewer, especially one who is on an expense account. 

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