Home>Section 2>Good luck.  No comment from me.  Be well.

Good luck.  No comment from me.  Be well.

By David Wildstein

There’s an old saying: never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.

But these days, the Star-Ledger buys their ink by the pint, so people are no longer forced to walk on egg shells in fear of retaliation; if they do hit back, it just doesn’t matter as much as it once did.

The thing about the media is that when it comes to transparency, they are true believers – unless it’s about them.  Then, as some might say, it’s radio silence.

At 9 AM on Thursday morning, NJ Advance Media reporter Steve Strunsky had a big scoop: John Pallone was recovering from heart surgery when he was elected mayor of Long Branch.

Strunsky was a little late on the news: Pallone was elected on Tuesday evening – MMM’s Art Gallagher was first to call the race at 8:47 PM; the New Jersey Globe called it four minutes later.  Later that night, Gallagher broke the story that Pallone missed his victory celebration due to emergency heart surgery.  The Asbury Park Press reported Pallone’s health issue at 9:56 AM on Wednesday, crediting a report from Gallagher’s website.

So after Strunsky ran essentially the same story 23 hours later, without crediting MMM or APP, the New Jersey Globe called him to find out why the day-late story.

“I was asked to follow up on the Asbury Park Press story,” Strunsky said.

Who asked?

“I can’t comment,” Strunsky said, becoming exponentially more nervous.  “The story does not pretend to do anything but report information I gathered.”

Come on, Steve.  Who told you to follow up on someone else’s story?

“I don’t remember,” he said. “I don’t remember if somebody asked me.”

So Strunsky is writing his first story in a week, it’s less than a day after he wrote it, but he can’t remember who gave him the assignment.  He wants to call his newspaper to find out what to say.  He’ll call back later.

He called back a few hours after that. E-mail his editor, he said.  And by the way, this morning was off-the-record. Strunsky was asking for off-the-record status retroactively, more than six hours later.

No dice. Maybe the Star-Ledger offers retroactive off-the-record treatment to those who misspeak; the New Jersey Globe does not.  If an off-the-record agreement is made, then it goes under the cone of silence forever.  Many people have an always-off-the-record deal, so that is assumed.  But never retroactive.

Anyway, Strunsky’s not going to give up his the mystery man.   On to his boss.

Kevin Whitmer, the Star-Ledger news editor, responded to a Twitter direct message request for a phone call.

“To chat about life and the world around us or for something you’re writing,” Whitmer wrote back.

Response: “We can do both, if you like.  But I’m writing about Long Branch.”

“Good luck.  No comment from me.  Be well,” was the editor’s response.

“Good luck. No comment from me.  Be well.”

The quest for the truth was over.  The Star-Ledger had no comment.  Absent a clandestine meeting in the State House parking garage, the identity of the undisclosed man or woman who told Strunsky to follow-up on someone elses story might never be discovered.

And what about the Star-Ledger’s sudden interest in Long Branch politics?  They didn’t cover the campaign for mayor at all.  Not one story.  It’s not like Strunsky couldn’t get to Long Branch – he recently wrote about Point Pleasant Beach mulling a plastic bag ban.  And this one: “Not so fast, Fido.  Seaside Heights won’t lift boardwalk dog ban.”

But there is still a valuable lesson to come out of all this – something that will help the flacks, the wags and everyone in the public and private sectors who are called upon to answer questions about their business.

If a Star-Ledger reporter calls with a question, you only need to remember eight simple words:

“Good luck.  No comment from me.  Be well.”

Apparently, that is an acceptable answer.

“Good luck.  No comment from me.  Be well.”

The serious issue here is that some relics of the old media are living in a sort of zeitgeist where they believe a story hasn’t been reported until they report it.  That kind of grand hypocrisy and arrogance might lead to their demise.

In an era of clickbait headlines, news coming days late – as if it just happened – and with stories sometimes lifted from the works of others news organizations that are just as legitimate and hardworking – it devalues the work of a large group of quality journalists who still work at the Star-Ledger and other places.

“Good luck.  No comment from me.  Be well.”

At least the new line will make Dan Bryan’s day a little bit easier.

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One thought on “Good luck.  No comment from me.  Be well.

  1. Steve is a lifelong, solid, reliable reporter. The Mayor-elect recovering from surgery on election night is what we call news. He has a right to report it. The sports editor could have reported it. There is no duty to inform his readers that another outlet had it first. It is not germaine to the story.

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