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Jackson moving to CQ/Roll Call

Respected NJ reporter will cover transportation issues

By David Wildstein, January 01 2019 5:09 pm

Veteran New Jersey political reporter Herb Jackson will now be covering federal transportation issues for Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Jackson’s last day as the Washington correspondent for The (Bergen) Record is tomorrow, and brings to a close a 35-year career as one of New Jersey’s most respected journalists.  He began reporting for The Home News Tribune and the Asbury Park Press before moving to the Associated Press and then The Record.

“We are pleased to welcome Herb at a pivotal time of growth for FiscalNote. His talents and depth of journalism experience as a reporter, writer and editor are a perfect match to an already well-regarded editorial team,” said Catalina Camia,  CQ editor and vice president. “Our editorial offering – driven through CQ and Roll Call – continues to be a key investment in supporting our mission to connect our subscribers and readers to their government.”

Gannett, which purchased The Record in 2016, had offered early retirement packages to several experienced reporters and columnists this year.

“I am letting a lot of useful (and useless) New Jersey knowledge go, and that’s a little bittersweet. I’m genuinely curious about how the four new Democrats that Garden State voters sent to the House in November will fit in,” Jackson wrote.  “And if/when Cory Booker runs for president, someone else will be chasing after him.”

Columnist Charlie Stile has turned down the retirement package and will remain working for The Record, according to a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The full text of Jackson’s post is worth reading:

I wanted to share with those who haven’t heard.

My career of covering New Jersey politics and government — which dates back at least to the 1981 race for governor when I wrote for The Daily Targum at Rutgers about the gubernatorial race between Tom Kean and Jim Florio — is ending. My last day for The Record (now known as “NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY Network New Jersey”) is tomorrow.

I start a new job covering transportation for Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call on Thursday. Some of the stuff I learned during my career, such as the politics surrounding the Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson River that needs to be replaced, will still be part of my new job.’

But I am letting a lot of useful (and useless) New Jersey knowledge go, and that’s a little bittersweet. I’m genuinely curious about how the four new Democrats that Garden State voters sent to the House in November will fit in. And if/when Cory Booker runs for president, someone else will be chasing after him.’’

Though I’ll never get a taxpayer-funded pension, I’ve sometimes felt like a public servant as much as the people I’ve covered. I’ve killed forests of trees explaining the state’s property tax system, how the state and federal budgets and tax laws work, and details about federal flood insurance that seem boring and arcane until it’s your premiums going up by $150 a month.

I’ve loved my front-row seat for state history, and for the most part managed to get along with both Democrats and Republicans. I think that’s because I didn’t see it as my job to tell them they were doing something wrong. I preferred to focus on cutting through the fog and telling my readers what their elected and appointed officials were doing. And if the public didn’t like what was being done, so be it. Ditto if the public was OK with it.

People who have a loose connection to government have asked me how I can stand being around politics so much. I usually answer it’s like sports to me: I want to see not only who wins the game, but who makes good plays, who is headed to the hall of fame and who’s probably going to be cut before the season ends.

I’ve found it’s too easy in my business to portray elected officials as cartoon characters, and I generally tried to avoid that because I considered it a disservice to readers. While there’s some officials I’ve dealt with who wouldn’t pass the valet parking test – are you really going to give them your keys and expect to get the car back in the same condition? – far more are trying to do what they think is right.

Maybe I’m naïve about that. My wife tells me I’m a hopeless optimist. And I have a high tolerance for things others find outrageous and disqualifying, probably because I grew up in Hudson County and my checkdown reaction is, ‘You think this is bad? Let me tell you about…’

To me, if someone does the opposite of what they told they voters they would do if elected, that’s a big deal. But if they ran on a promise to go to Trenton or Washington to fight for or against a particular issue, I don’t have a lot of patience for people who are suddenly outraged that they actually do it.

I have also found that people who get outraged about actions by one party do not seem so upset when the party they support does the same thing. Perhaps that’s why I never pursued one of those jobs with the taxpayer-funded pensions: I would have to decide which side’s bullshit I was going to adopt as my own.

Or maybe I’d already chosen a side as a member of what’s derided as the mainstream media. Just as it’s easy to find politicians to vilify, it’s easy to find attack people in the media, especially on TV. Some organizations are founded to provide a political bent, and cable channels that have to fill 24 hours of programming put on a lot of what would never meet the definition of news. Put another way: just because someone is talking about the news on a news channel doesn’t make them a reporter, and branding reporters the enemy because you don’t like what commentators on news shows say is wrong. To be clear, I have seen reporters who were lazy and did not care enough to get things right or fix something they got wrong. But that’s not the same as the whole industry choosing to distort the news to serve a partisan goal.

My friend Tommy Burr, who works for the Salt Lake Tribune and is a former president of the National Press Club, gave a speech at a club dinner this year that took on the characterization of the media as the enemy of the people. He said:

“Reporters are the enemy of people who are corrupt. We are the enemy of people who intend to do harm. We are the enemy of people who take advantage of others. We are the enemy of people who make others suffer. We are the enemy of people who kill schoolchildren. We are the enemy of people who shoot up newsrooms. We are the enemy of people who promote greed over humanity. To be clear, Mr. President, the news media is not the enemy of the people. We are the enemy of bad people.”

I can’t begin to name all the great people I’ve covered New Jersey news with, but there have been a lot, and I hope those who continue keep up the fight.

My first full-time reporting job out of Rutgers was at The Home News when it was still in New Brunswick, and I worked in the paper’s two-person Trenton bureau competing against The News Tribune of Woodbridge. From there I moved to The Associated Press in Newark and Trenton, then to the Asbury Park Press before starting at The Record in 1998. I still have some of my early press passes, just to prove that I really did have a full head of hair at one time.

But follicles aren’t the only thing that disappeared over those years.

The Record, Asbury, and what’s now known as The Home News Tribune of East Brunswick are all part of the USA Today Network and served by the same Trenton bureau. Bureau chief John McAlpin, columnist Charlie Stile and reporters Dustin Racioppi and Nick Pugliese are as talented as any journalists I know. But there’s fewer of them than there were in the Asbury bureau when I worked there from 1994-98 — and we competed against an even bigger Record bureau.

That decrease in the number of eyeballs on government officials is not a good thing, especially in a state like New Jersey. But there are forces outside the control of reporters and editors causing this dropoff. When newspapers had their big Trenton bureaus, their pages were also filled with ads for a job openings, houses and cars. I remember going out and buying a couple Sunday papers when I was shopping for a car, or thinking of testing the job market. Now all those ads are somewhere else, and they’re not coming back.

There are also aggregating websites whose business is essentially built around copyright infringement. If you appreciate how important local news is, I urge you to subscribe to a local outlet. Maybe two or three. We can support these organizations by paying for the work they produce instead of going to aggregator sites.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to make this a critique of the state of the industry, because I continue to be encouraged that young people want to get into the business and break good stories and dig into data and reports to explain why things are the way they are. It’s also interesting to watch new types of news organizations spring up.

And I’m definitely excited about what’s going on at CQ and eager to get started there. I look forward to sharing more info about the ways they’re finding new ways to serve their audience.

Manwhile, if anyone back in NJ wants to read old clips about how governors for 20 years dealt with property taxes, I have a plastic tub full that I’d be happy to share…

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