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Sunday, March 19, 2017

What the Borgs started at The Record, Gannett is finishing with a vengeance

Trevor Irvin of PoliticalCartoons.com calls this caricature of Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager and now counselor to President Trump, the "I-have-no-evidence con job."

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

In less than a week, 141 employees at Gannett's North Jersey Media Group -- publisher of The Record of Woodland Park -- will have worked their final day.

This the second major slashing of the payroll since November, when Gannett redesigned the print edition and NorthJersey.com website.

Gannett has laid off a total of about 350 employees since buying NJMG from the Borg family last July.

See: Borgs take the money and run

This second round of 141 includes about 50 reporters and editors, who were offered one week's pay per year of service and told they can apply for unemployment. 

But Gannett hasn't said who will stay after March 25 and who will go, so readers scanning bylines in today's paper have no way of knowing whether Travel Editor Jill Schensul, for example, has written her last column (Better Living cover).

Ex-staffer's take

When the second major round of layoff notices went out in late January, a former reporter had this reaction on a restricted Facebook page called Bergen Record Cast of Characters:
"So my former employer, The Bergen Record, recently sold for $44 million or so to Gannett.
"First the top editors got renamed 'directors' of bla bla. Then, artists and photographers largely were gone. People who could retire did.  
"Today, 141 talented, iconic Record reporters, writers, editors...etc. -- those whose knowledge as tenacious truth-seekers, wordsmiths, and fine-tuners of copy -- GONE.  RIP Bergen Record.
"I hope the Borg family -- who I always will be grateful for for owning and supporting a fantastic newspaper -- can manage on $40 or so million.
"Their distasteful handling of the sale -- having talented, dedicated, long-term employees read about it in The New York Post -- is about as shocking to anyone who knows Mac Borg as it is that his family empire would collapse with his son Stephen Borg at the helm.
"The foreshadowing began the day Stephen got named heir apparent many years ago and, in his first staff meeting, compared our toils -- the "product" -- to having the 'shelf life' of a box of cereal. That and no socks in the winter and no eye contact ever -- real fourth-generation charm.
"Today, a great newspaper died.
"And to every single talented person who lost a job today -- I hope and pray your talents are valued elsewhere.
"To Gannett -- and your soulless bottom line and mid-level henchmen who specialize in takeovers and layoffs -- please know being the largest newspaper chain in the biz ain't even close to being the best."

Borg layoffs

The downsizing of NJMG and The Record began about a decade before Gannett bought the Woodland Park daily in 2016.

First, then-Publisher Stephen A. Borg moved printing of the paper to the company's press plant in Rockaway Township, and laid off more than 50 press operators who were printing other newspapers, including USA Today.

About two years later, in 2008, Borg downsized the newsroom staff, including laying off the photography director, copy editors, photographers and other employees who had worked there for decades. 

That came several months after NJMG gave Borg a $3.65 million mortgage to buy a McMansion in Tenafly.

In 2009, The Record and NJMG moved out of its River Street headquarters in Hackensack -- where the paper and family had prospered for more than 110 years -- to an office building overlooking Route 80 in Woodland Park.

In Hackensack, businesses -- including Solari's Restaurant, Naturally Good and others -- lost the patronage of hundreds of customers who worked at 150 River St.

Borg's major editorial changes included:

Folding the award-winning Food section, starting a highly promotional Real Estate section to boost advertising revenue, and permanently assigning a reporter to write expanded obituaries about prominent North Jersey residents. 

Fourth Edition

Now, Borg will likely use millions of dollars from the sale to Gannett to give his four sons the best Ivy League education money can buy.

His big sister, former Vice President and General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg, has joined Pashman Stein, the Hackensack law firm she retained on numerous occasions to represent NJMG.

The Borgs have formed a new company, Fourth Edition, which has offices in the same Woodland Park office building that houses the newsroom of their former daily and weekly papers, magazine and website.

Today's paper

The lead story on Page 1 today is another long, tortured account of alleged fraud in publicly funded charter schools that have their "roots in New Jersey's Turkish community" (1A).

The focus is on a school in Union County, which is far from the paper's circulation area.

Even more space is devoted to a third front-page column in only six days about Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to President Trump whose lies have conned so many voters and reporters, including Record Columnist Mike Kelly (1A).

Local news?

In Local, Road Warrior John Cichowski tackles the ordeal of pedestrians who had to walk in the street because crews failed to clear sidewalks after last Tuesday's big snowstorm (1L).

Is he really that concerned?

No. This is the first time in the more than 13 years he has written the column that Cichowski has bothered to report on how pedestrians are endangered by sloppy snow clearing.