Category Archives: Bergen Record

Strange Bedfellows in the State House Press Corps

Of all the many changes taking place in New Jersey’s news organizations over the past 12 months, perhaps none carries more significance than the decision by The Star-Ledger and The Record to merge their State House bureaus.

Up until now, the layoffs, cutbacks and consolidations have taken place within the confines of individual news organizations. The merger of the Ledger/Record bureaus marks the first time that two of the state’s competing news entities will be combining forces.

The decision is not without some precedent. Continue reading

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Upcoming Events

The New Jersey Political Science Association will conduct its annual meeting on Friday, February 27, at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University.  I will be one several speakers on the panel discussing New Jersey’s 2009 campaign for Governor.

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My research essay on media coverage during the Vietnam War era has been accepted for presentation at an academic conference in New York City (March 14 at Marymount Manhattan College).

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I will be a panelist at the New Jersey Communication Association Conference (March 28 at Kean University), discussing personal privacy on the internet.

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On April 24, I will take part in “A Fiscal Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” the Annual Symposium of the State Chapters of the Association of Government Accountants and American Society for Public Administration. I will be on a panel that will discuss “How the Media Crisis Affects the Government Crisis.”

Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

With an unprecedented number of layoffs and buyouts, 2008 was a devastating year for journalism in New Jersey.

Or was it?

It all depends on whether you are looking at the glass as half empty or half full.

From the half empty perspective, it was truly sad to witness the struggles the state’s newspapers confronted in order to survive.  Likewise, it was alarming to watch so many talented journalists depart the news industry in New Jersey. Continue reading

In The News

My opinion piece on the historical significance of this week’s Democratic National Convention was published in the Bergen Record on Sunday. Click to read “Historical dimensions.”

In addition, U.S. 1 Newspaper was kind enough to print my research essay on the private lives of public officials, a paper that became topical again with the revelation that former Senator John Edwards had engaged in an extra-marital affair. Click to read “The Press and the Private Lives of Public Officials.”

Summertime Blues

The months of July and August are traditionally slow times for news. Although New Jersey has had a few significant stories break this summer (such as child pornography allegations involving a state legislator), for the most part it has been a slow time for news in the Garden State.

Ironically, it has been New Jersey news organizations themselves that have emerged as the subject matter of several news accounts this summer. Collectively, these developments could very well change the face of journalism in New Jersey.

At the start of July, The (Bergen) Record announced plans to have most of its reporters working as “mobile journalists” before the end of the year and to leave its longtime Hackensack office in the next two to three years.

Later in the month, two major figures at NJN News — anchor Kent Manahan and Director of News and Public Affairs William Jobes announced they were retiring. Senior Political Correspondent Michael Aron will take over Jobes’ job on an interim basis. No word yet on the anchor position.

And before July was over came word that Newhouse News Service, the Washington, D.C. bureau for Advance Publications (which includes The Star-Ledger) will close on Nov. 7.

This was followed a few days later by an announcement from the owners of The Star-Ledger that they are seeking buyouts from 200 of its non-union employees by October 1 – or they will put the state’s largest newspaper up for sale. A similar scenario is taking place at The Trenton Times, which like the Ledger is owned by Advance Publications.

One final item. This won’t have the impact of the other developments, but two Bergen Record reporters also made it into the news this summer. The New York Post on July 17 reported that billionaire Manhattan hotelier Patrick Denihan tried to chase the two reporters off a public beach near his house in Bay Head, N.J.

NY Follows the Garden State for a Change

New Jersey often plays second fiddle to New York in many areas, among them the media. But it was a New Jersey newspaper to first report that New York Mets manager Willie Randolph had injected race into the discussion about his performance at the helm of the club. After the story ran in the Bergen Record, it became a hot topic for media outlets in New York and beyond.

Trading Places on West State Street

The news that Star-Ledger reporter Deborah Howlett is leaving her job covering Governor Corzine to take a job working for Corzine as his Communications Director raised eyebrows in Trenton this week, especially since it came on the heels of a similar decision by another high profile Ledger writer: Columnist Tom Moran is moving to PSE&G to do public policy work.

The raised eyebrows are understandable.

How is it possible to switch roles so quickly? To go from asking aggressive questions of the Governor and challenging his statements to answering those very same questions and defending his statements?

Are journalistic ethics being compromised by reporters who know they are about to take a job that will change their relationships with the organizations and individuals they cover?

New Jersey law prohibits officials from leaving government and immediately becoming lobbyists. Should we also close the revolving door between the Fourth Estate and state government?

From my perspective – as one whose career has included stints in both journalism and government public relations – I see no problem with the moves that Howlett, Moran and hundreds of other journalists have made.

Who better to serve in a communications and public relations role than someone who has firsthand experience about what make journalists tick?

More importantly, journalism is an industry whose members police themselves. By contrast, governments pass laws to strengthen ethics, but they often are ineffective. This is because no one can legislate morality. Where there is a will, there is a way. If someone wants to ignore an ethics law, they will.

Most news organizations have ethics codes or guidelines. And although they do not carry the force of law, they work. They work because by and large the individuals who have chosen to make journalism their careers value the principles and ideals of the profession.

Back in 1990 after I gave my editors at The News Tribune notice that I was leaving my job as a Statehouse Correspondent to work for the State Assembly, I spent my last two weeks at the paper writing a feature series on the New Jersey Lottery while much more interesting and controversial events were taking place in the Legislature.

In Howlett’s case, she told Gannett that she actually has spent more time covering the presidential election than the Governor’s Office in recent weeks.

News organizations also have taken steps to prevent conflicts that may arise when spouses both have pubic identities, such as the Star-Ledger’s Robert Schwaneberg and his wife, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Helen Hoens.

The truth is the problems with journalism today – in New Jersey and throughout the nation – are not with individual reporters and editors. Instead, the issue we should be examining is how media consolidation and the drive for profit are impacting the quality of the news we receive.

Advance Publications, which owns the Star-Ledger, the Trenton Times and several other New Jersey newspapers, also owns many major magazines, including Bon Appetit, Glamour, GQ, Modern Bride and Vogue. Is the parent company shortchanging its New Jersey news operations because there is more profit to be made by investing in its high quality magazines?

Gannett, the parent company of the Asbury Park Press, owns the Army Times Publishing Company, which publishes a series of newspapers for members of the military and their families. Is there a connection between this military company and the crusading efforts of the Asbury Park Press to keep Fort Monmouth open?

The North Jersey Media Group, which owns the Bergen Record, the Herald and News, and a large group of weekly newspapers, appeals to potential advertisers by describing its market as “an area of unprecedented wealth and retail sales.” Does this mean issues that appeal to an upper-middle class and upper class demographic are more likely to be covered than those that are important to the working poor?

I am not suggesting that the answer to any of these questions is yes. But in order to preserve quality journalism and strengthen our democracy, these are the types of issues that should be researched and explored. They are much more important than debating where on West State Street any individual reporter — or former reporter — chooses to work.