Record reporter breaks career-making NJ Transit story

Karen Rouse. Photo provided by Karen Rouse.
Karen Rouse. Photo provided by Karen Rouse.

By Matt Taylor

After 20 years working as a journalist, Karen Rouse, J/MS 1993, has found the story of her career.

A senior writer and traffic beat reporter for The Record (Bergen County), Rouse received attention and acclaim for researching and reporting on a cover-up involving at least 15 executives and managers from NJ Transit who were aware of the fact that many locomotives and passenger cars were left in low-lying rail yards during Hurricane Sandy, resulting in more than $120 million in damages.

The exposé was hailed by many as the one of the biggest New Jersey stories of the last two years (except for Bridgegate). However, the former Scarlet Knight saw things a bit differently.

Karen Rouse exposed a $120 million scandal at NJ Transit resulting from Superstorm Sandy. Credit:
Karen Rouse exposed a $120 million scandal at NJ Transit resulting from Superstorm Sandy. Credit:

“When you’re a reporter,” Rouse began, “you’re just doing the story of the day. You don’t necessarily think it will be huge.”

Rouse’s investigative work involved suing NJ Transit for the release of public documents, where she learned that the agency had a plan for relocating its equipment to higher ground but that the plan was ignored. Gov. Chris Christie had offered the explanation that a rogue, low-level employee moved the equipment to the low-lying areas on his own, but that explanation later proved unsatisfactory.

Rouse pressed agency officials who admitted NJ Transit moved trains into the rail yards because it never expected them to flood, and that data available showed the chances of flooding were small.

Because of her dogged pursuit of the story, legislative hearings are to begin shortly into the NJ Transit mess, and NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein resigned earlier this year.

While Rouse is proud of her work on the piece, it’s the smaller, more personal stories she’s done throughout her career that she cares for the most.

“It’s always important to write about people — that’s what’s important to me,” said Rouse, who specifically mentioned an article she wrote recently about a community of immigrants bonding over a game of cricket in North Jersey. It has become a favorite piece from her career.

Since graduating, Rouse remarked that the newsroom has become “a totally different world” than the one she originally entered. Yet the changes in the field have not slowed her career down in the slightest. She wrote for papers in Fort Worth and Denver before returning to New Jersey and getting a position at The Record six years ago. She has covered a variety of topics, including education, business and state government.

Rouse credits Rutgers, where she double majored in Journalism and Media Studies and Political Science, with giving her the necessary building blocks to be a successful reporter, saying that she “loved “ her four years on campus.

“Rutgers is beneficial because it’s a huge university,” she said, praising the diversity of the campus. “It really gets you ahead when you [graduate]. It’s a real plus for Rutgers students.”

Rouse still looks back fondly at her time in J/MS as well as at the faculty who taught her. She specifically mentioned Professor Ronald Miskoff as one of her biggest influences and as someone whom she has kept in touch with since graduating.

“At this point, he’s a friend,” said Rouse, who believes that Miskoff’s investigative journalism class was one of the most influential courses she took while attending Rutgers. “He’s done so much for me.”

Having a passion for jour­nalism is, in Rouse’s eyes, an important quality to have, and she encouraged all current J/MS students to “really pursue a career in journalism” if they believe it is their calling.