A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Friday, August 21, 2009

An Extraordinary Lack of Independent Sources

I'm not particularly invested in this issue, but I need to point out that The Independent (ahem) helps the Borough Council to spin its version of the story regarding the upcoming property tax hike in Matawan when it fails to cover the story using a variety of sources and methods. It's such a modest tax increase that it might as well be a tax cut, the Independent seems to say. In fact, the Borough tells us most everything in the article.

According to the Borough, the Borough plans to use a recent state grant of $105k plus some undisclosed cost cutting and income generation ideas, to lower the budget shortfall that otherwise would have required a sharp hike in local property taxes. Somewhere in the middle of the article, the Borough deigns to admit there will be a modest tax hike, but by that time the Borough is done telling us what it wants us to know and readers are left with an inexplicably warm, fuzzy feeling about the upcoming tax hike.

The Independent then lets Mr. Garofalo wax eloquently about the concept of state aid distribution to communities with extraordinary circumstances. These places would otherwise have to invoke a sharp property tax hike, so it's only right that the state should send them aid. Isn't it? The paper also lets the Borough tell us it is content with the aid it managed to receive and happy there is such a program in the first place. They're on board with the State, even though Matawan received less than 1% of the proceeds of the aid.

Where are the independent sources to provide balance and perspective? What can we learn about why the aid was given out like it was? What can the Independent tell us about the largest aid recipients and what caused them to go begging for state aid in the first place? Those places seem pretty well off based on average income. Why is the state providing $1 million to Roseland? And $860k to Bound Brook? What caused them to get into such financial straits? Did they cut taxes recklessly and are now having to pay the piper? If Matawan's health plan caused problems for its budget, what broke the bank in these other jurisdictions to the tune of millions of dollars? Roseland is receiving ten times the Borough's aid amount.

Unless it wants to serve as a mouthpiece for its subjects, the Independent ought to look beyond Boro Hall for at least some of its answers in such an article. Likewise, the paper should provide a more balanced discussion of the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District than this article, which consists of a series of quotes from the Superintendent of Schools and a school administrator, both paid by the district.


  1. The reporter is brand new to our area and will need a transition period to become familiar with the issues and the people. I'm pleased with her writing style and am confident she'll report both sides of an issue when the opposition presents itself.

    Also bear in mind the Independent, like all newspapers, is having financial difficulty. The paper generally restricts itself to public statements since it lacks the resources to properly investigate a story.

  2. I'm unsympathetic. Journalism is more than good writing. It is the Fourth Estate. It defends against public corruption and authoritarianism. It digs into matters that we can't. The Independent and its writers suffer a burden. The dire financial situation of small town newspapers is the same nationwide -- grim. But I can get public statements at the borough, township, and school district websites. If they are to survive, they need to offer journalism if they want to survive.