By Dan Jacobson, also published in the October 13th edition of the triCityNews
So I’m running as an Independent for the state Assembly. And there’s been one campaign appearance I’ve been anticipating above all others.
The interview with the Asbury Park Press editorial board for their endorsement!
Yup, for almost 13 years I’ve been trashing that paper for their hypocrisy, moving out of Asbury Park…you name it. So fireworks were expected.
The interview took place earlier this week. All the candidates for both state Assembly and Senate in the 11th District were there.
I don’t know who threw the first projectile. Maybe it was me. Maybe it wasn’t.
But I can swear to this: It wasn’t me who threw the chair. Fortunately, Senator Jennifer Beck is one hell of an athlete. She dove out of her seat like a third baseman snagging a line-drive to deflect the thing before it went crashing through the floor-to-ceiling window on one side of the conference room.
OK, OK. None of that happened. Dammit! You bet I’m disappointed it didn’t go down that way. I always envisioned the flying chair, the shouting. Denying I threw the first projectile. It would have been great.
But it was not to be. Actually, it was quite a sedate affair. The seven candidates for Senate and Assembly only faced Press Editorial Page Editor Randy Bergmann and editorial writer Michael Riley. That’s it. Veteran reporter Larry Higgs was there to report on the discussions.
Bergmann is a surprisingly low-key guy, given how his paper’s editorials regularly infuriate me for their hypocrisy. Yeah, he was gracious. Big deal. I wanted fireworks.
As for Michael Riley, I know I blasted the shit out of him about ten years ago for some column he wrote. I’m sure he forgot about it – hell, I can’t even remember it at this point. So he was quite friendly. Screw him!
In addition, former Press food critic Andrea Clurfeld is now an editorial writer and board member. I’d been brutal with her in the past – for justifiable reason – about her food reviews. Never met her. Would have loved it. But she wasn’t there! I should have walked out right then.
Adding to the sedation is that the other candidates themselves are all very gracious and intelligent people. In fact, I like my opponents. It’s the whole Goddamn system that’s pissing me off. That’s what I’m running against.
(I face Republican Assembly incumbents Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande, as well as Democrats Vin Gopal and Kathy Horgan. There are two Assembly seats. Beck is running in a separate race for Senate against Democrat Ray Santiago.)
I did have one interesting observation at the editorial board, however. Way back in 1986, I worked as a reporter for about a year at the now defunct Daily Register in Shrewsbury. And I’ve always loved old newspapers and newsrooms – like the one in the old Asbury Park Press building in downtown Asbury.
Journalists have always been characters. The old newsrooms and buildings matched them perfectly. So I mean this as a compliment: Looking across the table at journalistic veterans Bergmann, Riley and Higgs reminded me of those old-time newspaper characters. There aren’t enough around like them anymore. Hypocritical editorials or not.
And as much as I welcome the demise of the Asbury Park Press – because they’ve been such a destructive force in our region – there was something poignant about seeing these three guys in that quiet and sullen building. It’s a metaphor for the whole newspaper industry.
That Asbury Park Press newsroom was opened back in 1985 when they moved out to Neptune. That was the advent of a long-ago era, just as newspapers were transitioning into soulless corporate cultures at full gale. The ensuing corporate conformity, and of course the internet, would decimate journalism as we know it – and the excitement and character that came with it.
I thought back to the first editorial board meeting I attended in that same conference room. It was 26 years ago – when the building had just opened. It was my first run for the Assembly at the age of 23. (I lost that one, but won the seat four years later and served a term.)
Back then, the paper was locally owned by Don Lass and Jules Plangere, who both ran the place. Present at that long ago meeting in 1985 were the four candidates for the two Assembly seats, as well as a room full of editors. Must have been about seven other people there, including several senior editors. Plus the reporter specifically assigned to the race. (That practice of assigning a reporter to each legislative race went by the wayside years ago.)
I remember tons of energy in that brand new state-of-the-art newsroom. And a brisk and confident manner of all the editors in the editorial board meeting. They knew they were a force in the community, and they didn’t have to answer to anyone else. The future was exceptionally bright in their gleaming new suburban headquarters 26 years ago – they had moved far beyond their beautiful little building in downtown Asbury Park, the then struggling city of their birth they had just abandoned.
Of course, the Plangere and Lass families sold the paper to the Gannett corporation at the right time well over a decade ago. Today, Gannett papers are sucking wind, collapsing as advertising revenue and circulation plummet. The Asbury Park Press is no exception. It’s a joke.
And those at the Press – including the three journalistic vets sitting across from me earlier this week – answer to much higher, and much more remote, authority. Specifically, Gannett corporate headquarters down in Virginia. Who in turn answer to Wall Street analysts and the stock market.
That’s a big difference from answering to the two owners who had their offices down the hall. When slow economic times came, those owners could hold off on cutting people. They had no fear of Wall Street analysts and earnings reports. They owned the place. And they could invest in the journalism however they wished. It was their money.
In the end, I still hate the Asbury Park Press. But I’m more than ever convinced that it’s the corporate takeover of journalism that’s responsible. Gannett doesn’t give a shit about those three guys who sat across from me in the editorial board meeting – they’d lay them off in an instant if that’s what it took to satisfy Wall Street. That’s the system, man.
At this point, working for the Press is like working for a pharmaceutical or insurance company. And Bergmann, Riley and Higgs are definitely not corporate cogs by nature. They’re clearly journalists. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t know how they do it. I couldn’t.
In the end, I’ve got to say that Press writer Larry Higgs was more than fair with the story. I actually saw the words “triCityNews” on the front page of the Asbury Park Press for the first time ever. They had to say what I did. That was fun.
Now if they’d just endorse me. Not that it makes that much difference with the voters. Who cares what the Press says?
It only makes a difference to me – I’d have a ball with the headline in this paper! And I could have a field day mocking myself in the process. Hey, I’m not exempt from taking hits in this paper – even from myself.
Don’t expect an endorsement though. That’s asking way too much of these hypocrites.
(The 11th District where I’m running includes: Asbury Park, Long Branch, Red Bank, Ocean Township, Neptune, Neptune City, Interlaken, Deal, Allenhurst, Loch Arbour, West Long Branch, Eatontown, Shrewsbury Borough, Shrewsbury Township, Tinton Falls, Colts Neck, Freehold Township and Freehold Borough.)