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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Many readers say editors from Gannett have turned once-great Record into a rag

For news of the extensive downtown rehabilitation in Hackensack, you'll have to do your own reporting. After The Record abandoned Hackensack for Woodland Park in 2009, stories about the city have been few and far between. The project shown above is on Atlantic Street, near Main.
The pavement of Main Street in Hackensack, above and below, has been left in disrepair in anticipation of the conversion of Main to two-way traffic sometime this year. State Street was converted to two-way traffic last year.
For drivers, Main Street is a rough ride.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- I've dropped The Record of Woodland Park, the once-great local daily newspaper I read for nearly 40 years.

I refused to subscribe to the Gannett Co. strategy of offering less local news coverage for a lot more money, and stopped paying for 7-day home delivery in December (now about $180 a year).

When I tried to call about renewing for weekend delivery only, I could never get through.

So, Gannett kept on delivering the paper every day for three more months, finally cutting me off in March.

On Monday, a front page story from Dustin Racioppi of The Record, above and below, tried hard to mislead readers into thinking Governor Murphy planned to raise taxes on the middle class, but has now changed his mind.
A few months ago, Gannett editors changed bylines in The Record to read "North Jersey Record," a publication that doesn't exist.


Many readers now refer to The Record as "a rag."

The biggest losers in the July 2016 takeover of The Record were the 350 employees of the publishing company, North Jersey  Media Group, who were laid off in the next eight months or so.

Close behind were the vast majority of older readers who found most of Gannett's resources were poured into the paper's website, NorthJersey.com, even as editors cut space for local news in the print edition.

That also was troubling, because the tens of thousands of older readers were less likely to use the computers or smartphones they need to take advantage of the digital platform, with its annoying pop-up ads.

And the layoffs in March 2017 included a veteran reporter who wrote expanded obituaries of prominent local residents and had started an aging beat, so many of the concerns of older readers are no longer being addressed. 

Hackensack news?

There is far more news of Paterson in Local -- the single section that purports to cover the 90 or so towns in The Record's circulation area -- than of Hackensack.

As part of a sweeping downtown rehabilitation project, hundreds of apartments are under construction in Hackensack, the county seat and the most populous town in Bergen County.

But no stories have appeared on the delays plaguing the biggest project, at Main and Mercer streets; to provide a timeline for conversion of Main to two-way traffic, and other redevelopment news.  

Food news?

Gannett's decision in 2016 to drop the weekly restaurant review removed the last piece of critical food reporting.

Now, coverage of the best dishes the food writers ate in the last month or a roundup of places where chefs eat is so totally promotional they sound like advertising.

In the latter article on April 11, The Record not only misspelled Restaurant Serenade in Chatham as "Seranade," but got James Laird, owner and chef of the fine-dining restaurant, to admit one reason he likes the cheap, low-quality burger at Five Guys is "I can eat it as I drive."

By the way, a cheeseburger is listed on Laird's lunch menu at $20, though the beef isn't described; at Five Guys, mystery beef cheeseburgers are $8.69 and $5.69.

Last Wednesday, an article in The Record's Better Living section listed 10 restaurants where you can eat outside, none of them in Bergen County, where the majority of readers live.

Antibiotics in food

The Record has never covered controversial food news, such as the use of harmful antibiotics and growth hormones to raise animals or the large amounts of pesticides needed to grow vegetables and feed crops.

On the March 25 Better Living front, Food Editor Esther Davidowitz did announce a major project:

"Over the next few months, The Record and NorthJersey.com will be presenting a slew of features on ... pizza," Davidowitz said.

"Consider this the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about pizza in North Jersey."

I didn't know I needed a guide to pizza, let alone an "ultimate" one.

Also on March 25, a story from USA Today on the Business front discussed extra-cost grocery delivery services.

A quote from a consultant was enlarged and used next to the headline:

"As more people get used to it, it's become more popular."

Gee. How enlightening.


The art of headline writing -- which I practiced as a copy editor at The Record of Hackensack -- no longer exists at the Gannett-owned paper.

On April 27, the front-page headline on the tabloid Hackensack Chronicle declared:

"New school board
may help mend bridges"

I'm pretty sure the headline writer meant to say "mend fences" or maybe "build bridges."

Veteran reporters

Some of the veteran reporters kept on by Gannett also are among the least productive.

On March 25, in the lead position on the front page of the Sunday edition, I was shocked to see the rare byline of Jean Rimbach, who continues her nearly decade-long coverage of a lawsuit filed against the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

The big news? 

"The family of a reputed mobster slain execution-style in 2007 moved a giant step closer on Tuesday to obtaining sealed records from a more than decade-old organized crime gambling investigation at the heart of its claims of corruption" in the prosecutor's office.


Four veteran columnists -- Mike Kelly, Charles Stile, John Cichowski and Bill Ervolino -- apparently have been told there is no limit on how much they can write -- as Gannett editors desperately try to fill the space once taken up by state and local news.

Cichowski, the so-called commuting reporter, largely avoids covering the biggest story on his beat: 

The decline of mass transit, and growing traffic congestion and pollution at the Hudson River crossings.

Instead, he writes column after column about pedestrian bridges being in disrepair and other obscure transportation subjects.

As for Kelly, an opinion columnist, loyal readers often slog their way through his overwrought verbiage, only to exclaim they don't know where he stands on an issue.


Another veteran, Staff Writer Deena Yellin, tackled a subject rarely discussed in The Record:

Home-rule communities trying to limit nepotism -- the hiring or appointing of family members to town or school district positions.

But she didn't mention Hackensack, once derided as "Zisaville" for the large number of Zisa family members, cousins and other relatives in city positions.

Nor was Englewood Cliffs discussed.

Another sign that her story was less than exhaustive is Yellin admitting she called the New Jersey League of Municipalities, but could not come up with a "precise count of towns with anti-nepotism ordinances."

For another perspective on the decline of The Record, see the discussion on Hackensack's Community Message Boards:

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