What’s The Matter With NJ? NYT Asks, Answers (Kinda)

Given last week’s news out of New Jersey — that corruption scheme, per today’s New York Times, “which involved three mayors, two State Assembly members and five rabbis,” and, as TPM’s Zachary Roth summarizes it today, involves “Apple Jacks, Prada, and Kidney Trafficking” — the Times today wonders “why” the Garden State experienced this “fresh wave” of corruption, “why” New Jersey is such “fertile ground for graft.”

“The answer,” the Times tells us, “has as many nuances as corruption itself,” nuances including: a building boom having flooded Jersey towns with development dollars and wealthy developers seeking waivers and permits; the “firm hold” Democrats have on local politics “turning most elections into sleepy coronations;” and that “the state’s news organizations, once vigorous watchdogs, have been decimated by a deep industry downturn.”

So writes the Times’s Michael Barbaro, (New York) City Hall reporter for the (New York) City desk, in a piece for the Times’s “New York” section. Because, of course, not only have “the [Garden] state’s news organizations… been decimated,” but the Jersey coverage of a major news organization in a next-door state has also experienced…shrinkage.

Back in January, I blogged about a Times editorial declaring now a “relaxing time to hold public office” in New Jersey (prescient, that) on account of the “sour” economy’s “choking” effect on “local newsgathering.” In that editorial, I noted, “readers got numbers and details for staff cuts at a host of [regional] publications but, of the Times itself, only that its ‘regional coverage has been reduced, too.’” But at least that piece — unlike today’s — acknowledged, if in passing, its own “reductions” (which, for the record, include the “emptying out” of both of its Jersey bureaus, Trenton and Newark, and, more recently, eliminating its weekly, stand-alone “New Jersey” section.)

UPDATE: I see the Times web site is hosting one of its “Room For Debate” discussions on the topic of “What’s Up With New Jersey [and Corruption]?” Lots of answers suggested —history, culture, arrogance, more municipalities than California!— but “decimated” news organizations doesn’t come up.

The Times identifies one of the online debaters, Richard Benfield, as someone who “has written about New Jersey politics and government for more than 40 years” and “until early this year… was a member of The Times’ editorial board and wrote editorials about New Jersey.” And now? Does anyone do that for the Times now?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.