Blogs > Fresh Ink

Barbara Lombardo writes about journalism, local news and anything else that strikes her fancy. She is executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News, sister papers in the Digital First Media family. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

After 38 years in the newsroom, it's a wrap

My workplace since June 20, 1977.
On Thursday I’ll help put together The Saratogian’s Pink Sheet racing section for Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course, and then call it a day for the final time – ending 38 years at my full-time workplace since grad school.
I was in college during the Vietnam War and Watergate and was stirred by the power of the press to do good. I discovered journalism was fun, and I was good at it.
I lucked out landing a reporting job at The Saratogian (where Linda Glazer Toohey was my first of 11 publishers) and rose up the ranks in a great place to live and work. Christy Bulkeley made me one of the few women managing editors in the country; there was never a line at the ladies room during national editors’ conferences.
I’ve loved most of the job: the chase of a “good” story, depth reporting and strong writing, news that somehow makes a difference, the simple joy a well-written headline that fits in print, helping staffers improve their craft, the hectic deadline-driven environment, meeting interesting people who do amazing things, getting to know (at least a little) about a lot of stuff.
After years of running The Saratogian newsroom, I was promoted in 2014 to be top editor also of our sister paper, The Record, merging the two newsrooms into a single reporting and editing operation and striving to serve the audiences of both dailies, not to mention the readers of our weekly Community news in southern Saratoga County.
Newsrooms are not known for their feng shui
But that consolidation was nothing compared to the single most exciting – and challenging – change in the news business during my career: the Internet.
It is fantastic to be able to report any time, from any place (with an Internet connection), unshackled by the constraints of a press. I love that content can be delivered to your phone. The challenge for news companies is to keep that content coming, and for the public to be savvy consumers of reliable news sources.
We aren't in it for the awards, but we're proud of them --
and we win an inordinate number for a small operation.
My belief in the importance of reporting – regardless of how it’s published – is as robust as it was four decades ago when I caught the journalism bug. When the company made its recent offer to accept voluntary layoffs, it felt like the right time for me to move on, allowing Louise Kilbara in advertising to continue her unchallengeable reign as the longest-tenured employee. I have tremendous faith in our products and staff in all the departments here at The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News.
When people ask me, “What are you going to do,” I offer the same reply my husband and I gave our first-born when he wanted to know what we did for the first nine years of marriage before he came along: Have fun.
Seriously.
I will continue to teach a journalism class at the University at Albany, which I’ve been doing since 2008. I intend to get back to writing regularly, stepping up the pace in this blog
. I will continue my volunteer work. I will no longer have lack of time as an excuse for the condition of my garden, my tennis game and my gut.
Before signing off, I want to tell you that I feel bad, to varying degrees, that I:
• Praised deserving staff members too infrequently.
• Didn’t write more.
Superhorse welcomes
visitors to 20 Lake Ave.
• Sometimes caused inadvertent pain for people in the news and their loved ones, an occupational hazard for journalists.
• Might lose touch with people in the community who have generously shared their off-the-record insight with me over the years.
• Don’t dare acknowledge colleagues in this column for fear of leaving some out.
• Claimed to always put my family before my job, but didn’t.
That said, there’s plenty I feel good about:
• My kids turned out more than OK, my husband is patient and supportive, and my sense of humor remains intact.
• I beat the big boys at the metro papers in our company in an editorial writing contest, one of the most satisfying of my national and state awards.
• I’ve never been doing it for the awards (though I wouldn’t turn down a Pulitzer).
• I’ve launch the careers of dozens (I think it’s in the hundreds, actually) of journalists and had the privilege or working with countless gifted, amazing, dedicated people.
Most important, I feel good to be leaving this newsroom in the hands of talented, hard-working men and women who believe in the importance of what they’re doing and, I hope, will continue to have fun doing it.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Northshire: Saratoga's community-minded bookstore

Northshire owner Barbara Morrow opens the June 2
Saratoga Springs event featuring the amazing David McCullough,
who was a lot happier and livelier as speaker
than he looked in this photo.
When I sing the praises of Northshire Bookstore in downtown Saratoga Springs, it’s not only because it's a fantastic shop, but because the owners are truly community-minded.
Three examples from this week: the sold-out City Center appearance by historian David McCullough on Tuesday (he was fascinating, talking about the Wright Brothers and more), tonight’s bookstore visit by Jane Smiley (I love her work, but will regrettably miss her visit), and this weekend’s generous offering of support to the projects funded by the local Soroptimist service organization.
If you tell the check-out person on June 6 and 7 that you support Soroptimists, 20 percent of your purchases those days will go toward the club’s programs, which include support for domestic violence victims and other projects that improve the lives of women, girls and their communities, locally and globally. They will also be selling tickets to the Secret Gardens Tour, which will be on July 12 (see soroptimistsaratoga.org for details). As a member of the group, with firsthand knowledge of the initiatives it supports, I am grateful to Northshire.
I am also just plain happy that Northshire is here. My husband and I demonstrate our appreciation by shopping there. That’s the most effective way to say thank you.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wouldn't getting the finger goad you, too?

The mix of news on this morning’s front print page of The Saratogian made me sad: police officers supporting the Special Olympics were the happy and positive centerpiece to anchor the cover, but that story was dimmed a bit by one about an officer who was goaded into behaving poorly.

I am disgusted by the driver who intentionally gave the officer the finger and then videotaped their encounter, armed with the knowledge that his disrespect was not in and of itself grounds for arrest. Grounds for being a jerk, yeah. But not for being arrested, according to a court decision.

An investigation into the incident, including the officer’s use of pepper spray, will determine whether the officer over-reacted. Whether an officer is being taped and whether a person is being a jerk are, truth be told, beside the point. The police need to do the right thing. But officers have a difficult enough job without being set up and “tested.” To get respect, give respect.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Some days, mothers just need a hug

With Joe outside
Millennial Park in Chicao
View from the Trump Tower, where Chicago River
 meets Lake Michigan.
I want to tell you that I don’t get hung up on Mother’s Day, a commercialized holiday of compulsory affection. But the truth is I had one of my best Mother’s Days ever.

I was extremely happy to have seen both my sons this weekend – Joe, who lives in Chicago, and Dave, who lives only a mile from me. 

I’m lucky to see Dave pretty often, but I hadn’t seen Joe since Thanksgiving and I was aching for a hug; I’d booked this weekend trip to the Windy City in February.

Getting out on Southwest Friday evening had its hairy moments. Despite great weather in Albany, bad weather elsewhere caused an almost three-hour delay, including an hour sitting on the plane and warnings that our non-stop to Chicago may take off but stop somewhere other than Chicago. But it all worked out.

My husband and I splurged with a stay at the Trump Tower on the Chicago River in the heart of downtown. As we checked in, the man at the reception desk placed before us a small tray with a flower and two steaming rolled-up washcloths. I wondered aloud if my face was dirty, revealing my inner Jed Clampett. “Can I use one right here, right now?”  I could, the man assured me, and I did.

Beverages perfectly lined up
in fridge in room at Trump
Tower, just like at home. 
We lucked out with a complimentary upgrade to a suite with a lovely view of the river, Lake Michigan and the Loop, two bathrooms, and our choice of complimentary bottled Trump water, tap water from the sink in our full kitchen, or $25 Bling water. The tap water was delicious. But even better were the mimosas and omelets Joe made for brunch Sunday morning.

Including photo of Dave from
Christmas so he won't feel left out
of this post.
Joe had moved to a new apartment since our last visit so we got to explore a section of the city we hadn’t seen before, the West Loop, which has become a dining destination. My lunchtime vegetarian sub at the understated J.P.  Graziano’s contained long slices of marinated eggplant, roasted red pepper and fresh mozzarella; for dinner, memorable mushrooms in polenta accompanied my rack of lamb at Nellcote. I pulled the Mother’s Day card on Saturday to squeak in a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago for food for the soul, a generous helping of Monet and Rodin.

Coincidentally, like my husband and me, my brother and his wife had traveled for the weekend to see the second of their two children; I got a kick out of our respective first-borns good-naturedly commiserating on Facebook about how their mothers have apparently forgotten who made them mothers in the first place. Get over it. I mean, we love all our children equally.

Going to see Joe on Mother’s Day weekend – two years in a row, truth be told – was not deliberately timed to the holiday. I went to Chicago not because it was Mother’s Day, but because this mother was overdue for a hug.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mad Men I can live without: But the Power Rankings....

I will miss the mess of once-dapper Don Draper. I will miss Peggy and Joan. I will miss Roger’s moustache and Stan’s ascot. But most of all, as Mad Men comes to a close, I will miss Mark Lisanti’s Power Rankings on Grantland.

As Jessica Rabbit said (not about Mark, and about a different Roger): He makes me laugh.

Even more than the return of the show for the final, final episodes on Sunday night, I have looked forward to Lisanti’s Monday follow-up Power Rankings and Fingerbang Threat Level, even though I’ve never understood what that meant and am afraid to look it up.

Did you get it, I’ll ask my husband week. Got it, he’ll reply. Sure enough, on the kitchen counter will be the Power Rankings printout in nice big type with all the photos. I savor each page, from the “previously” to the “not ranked” and everything in between.

Thanks, Mark. I’ll miss Mad Men. But I’ll miss you more.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Remembering that every day is a gift

It was nice to be remembered
with a cake at the office on my
61st birthday.
A 59-year-old friend done in by a brain tumor was buried last week on my 61st birthday.

That, in a nutshell, is why I am trying like heck not to complain about getting older and not to harp on my failing hearing, worsening eyesight, slowing metabolism and the evils of gravity.
It’s why I restocked the bird feeder and took a few moments this morning to enjoy the cardinal that stopped by. It’s why, tired as I was the other night, rather than make a bee-line from work to car, I paused to notice the sliver of a moon flanked by a bright Venus. It’s why I called my father, just to hear his voice, and my sons, to hear their voice messages.   
Watching birds at the
feeder is a simple pleasure.
I won’t lie, it’s a shock to be in my 60s. Where do the years go?
Last weekend I was telling 93-year-old Aunt Madelyn that I never thought I’d someday say, “Oh, to be 50!”  “Really?” she replied without missing a beat. “How about ‘Oh, to be 80!’”


My father says, when it’s your time, it’s you’re time. Yet we of a certain age, and those much younger, have lost beloved relatives and friends “before their time” – stolen from us much too soon. I am so sad for my friend's wife and children, his mother and his siblings.  
Weird as it feels to say I'm 61, I know I am lucky to have celebrated another birthday, and I hope to recognize each day for what it is: a gift. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rape survivors, media credibility victims of Rolling Stone reporting fiasco

The disastrous reporting by Rolling Stone in “A Rape on Campus” is sickening for the doubt it casts on the credibility of rape victims and the media.
Rape on campuses and how colleges handle them are timely and important topics. Zeroing in on a real case as a specific example of a widespread problem makes perfect sense.
But the magazine’s lengthy, detailed cover story made a huge splash that ended in a horrible belly flop. The entire piece was retracted and Rolling Stone conceded its failure to follow the basic tenets of reporting.
Oh, that hurts. Journalism’s single most valuable asset is credibility. Without it, nothing else matters.
What supposedly sets established news companies apart from just anyone with a website, a smartphone and a Twitter account is a commitment to seek the truth and report it fully and fairly, to paraphrase the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
The Code of Ethics (which you can find at spj.org) states journalists should “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work, verify information before releasing it, (and) diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.”
Those guiding principles apply to newsrooms of any size and sort, in print and online, for dailies, weeklies and magazines. I have tried to live by this code and to lead by example for all of my 37 years in the news business. Journalists adhere to them instinctively. We want to do the right thing; we want to make a positive difference.
Yet an independent, 30-plus page review by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism detailed how Rolling Stone got sucked into an essentially one-source story and failed at “basic, even routine journalistic practices” – despite seasoned writers, editors and fact-checkers. These people are not cavalier about their power and responsibility, yet they failed miserably when it counted.
And this isn’t just a black mark on journalism.
“The biggest tragedy here: every future story about sexual assault will live in the shadow of doubt cast by that Rolling Stone article,” wrote Maggie Fronk, executive director of Wellspring (formerly Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County), in her “Shine a Light” blog on The Saratogian and The Record websites.
Only 2 to 8 percent of sexual assault claims are found to be false, studies show. “As we read that story it was horrifying, but it wasn’t unbelievable,” Fronk wrote, referring to the original “A Rape on Campus” piece. “Why not? Because rapes like that happen far too often on college campuses.”
Fronk had just seen “The Hunting Ground,” a film about “the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses and the injustice victims often face when they rely on their college for support and justice.” These stories, Fronk wrote, “are a place to start the discussion on how to change a system that’s not working.”
The stories depend on victims’ willingness to come forward. And the changes must be societal.
No campus is exempt.
In Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College is reviewing its policies in the wake of a recent decision to extend by two years the year-long suspension of a student found guilty of sexual misconduct. The undisputed victim’s decision to go public has drawn widespread attention. More than 1,300 Skidmore graduates reportedly signed an online petition that stated, in part: “The policy should be simple: if you commit sexual violence on this campus, you will be expelled.”
Though it seems unfair to make proclamations without being privy to the details, it is difficult to imagine how anything less than expulsion could be appropriate.
Skidmore is reviewing and revising policies, creating an online anonymous reporting form, working with city police to clarify how local law enforcement can help in a sexual assault situation, and, in the near future, having a trained representative of Wellspring on campus. Other colleges are taking similar steps. Those that aren’t, should be.
Meanwhile, the Rolling Stone fiasco is a wake-up call for newsrooms everywhere to talk about ethics and affirm their commitment to the basics of sound journalism. No challenge facing the news industry is more dangerous than the deadly loss of public trust.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Iceland: A really cool vacation destination


Steam bubbles up in a country created by volcanoes.

A spring visit to Iceland sounded like a cool idea when we signed up last October – before the Interminable Winter of 2014-15 blew in and stayed put. As freezing February dragged on (don’t tell me it’s the shortest month; it went on forever) and March was no better,  a vacation requiring wool socks and long underwear seemed as smart as picking UAlbany to go all the way.
This geyser erupts every few
minutes. What a draw that would
be in our state park!
Turned out that Iceland was a beautiful, fun place. We had 11 hours of daylight, lots of sunshine, and even in the 30s, the weather was usually milder than it was back home on Wednesday, when I had to wipe slushy frost off my windshield.

Lots of lighthouses in Iceland.
Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall,
with a glacier in the distance.
A few highlights: Crossing the tectonic plates, the growing rift between the North American and European continents that form Iceland; walking along a steaming path as boiling water bubbled up from holes in the crusty landscape; floating in the geothermally heated Blue Lagoon wearing a silica mud face mask and slurping a strawberry smoothie while lifeguards roamed in parks and ski masks; spooning saffron-infused fish soup loaded with mussels, shrimp and scallops, and savoring the most moist arctic char ever, two of many excellent meals in lively, walkable downtown Reykjavik; touring a greenhouse where fresh tomatoes are picked every day and a geothermal plant where clean, natural heat is harnessed; letting a 500 krona bill burn a hole in my wallet until I realized it was the equivalent of $3.61; and learning that Icelandic is impossible to speak and words apparently have a 12-letter minimum, including made-up symbols like an A and E joined at the hip and a melting d wearing a hat.

This was my husband’s and my third trip abroad with Edventures, run by an Ithaca woman and her local friend, Mary Huber. Our good experiences traveling with this small group to Italy and Scotland helped us decide to sign up to visit a place that wasn’t really on our radar. We’re glad we had a chance to explore even a relatively small portion of this friendly, fascinating country. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Good news about complying with Freedom of Information Law requests

City Editor Charlie Kraebel had seven reporters do a little experiment over the last few weeks to test how government entities and schools on their beat responded to requests for public documents.  All seven, who write for our daily papers, The Record and The Saratogian, and our weekly Community News in southern Saratoga County, were assigned to make a request through New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

It’s a terrific and important law, designed not merely for the media but for the public. Public institutions are doing the public’s business, and most of what they do should, by law, be available for the public to see. Government agencies even use it when they need to get documents from other public agencies.

The result of our FOIL experiment waspublished in The Record and The Saratogian on Sunday. All reporters received the legally required responses and found their requests filled. We thought there was an exception from the city of Saratoga Springs for records about animal control services, which was graciously accepted in person by the city records officer, who indicated familiarity with the law. They then replied in writing – but the letter was inadvertently mislaid on our end. The city didn't deserve the critical write-up in the originally published version. 

The FOIL request test was timed to coincide with Sunshine Week, described on sunshineweek.org as “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” 

It began with Florida newspapers in 2002 and spread nationwide. The date it tied to the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the fourth president of the U.S., a founder of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights. States have varying versions of Freedom of Information laws, and New York’s is one of the best in protecting the public’s right to know.

Learn more about how to obtain public records, and about access to public meetings, in New York at  www.dos.ny.gov/coog/

Friday, January 30, 2015

'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena' would've been worth the fine

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra, a 2013 novel set in a war-torn village in Chechnya, was recommended to me by a couple of friends.

After borrowing a copy from the Saratoga Springs Public Library and reading the first three pages, I was hooked. I selected it as my book club’s read the next time it was my turn to pick.

I love this book, but one copy suffices. The library initially
insisted I couldn't renew my copy because someone had
reserved it, even though several were in the stacks.
The library's Jeannine Jeter solved the problem.
Marra’s writing is beautifully vivid, his story-telling remarkable. Although the main story takes place over only five days, readers learn in layers about the past and future of the main characters as well as those who pass through in only a sentence. Not a word is wasted in what Ron Charles described in the Washington Post as “fresh, graceful prose.”

I’m about a third of the way through the book. I knew it was due any day now, so when I happened to be at the library yesterday, the woman at the checkout desk scanned my key card: “Tomorrow,” she said. Renew it, please. “Can’t,” she replied. “Someone reserved it.”

Probably someone in my book club.

Over in the M’s, five or six copies awaited a borrower. “There’s a bunch of them,” I said. “Just switch the reserved copy to one of the available ones.”

“Can’t,” she replied. Maybe someone at the Information Desk could help, she said.

At the Information Desk was Jeannine Jeter, who appreciated the absurdity of the situation. But she didn’t know how to outsmart the computer system’s insistence that only my copy of the book would satisfy the waiting customer, even though several were in the stacks.

Short-term solution to avoid a late fee: Check out one of the other copies, and return the copy at home before the end of the next day.

A short while later, though, Jeannine sent me a message: She’d figured out how to switch the reserved book request to an available book, and renewed the copy I’d originally borrowed. So now I have two on loan, one of which I will drop off on my way home from work today. I promise.

I love it when someone won’t take no from a computer for an answer, when someone takes the initiative to tackle and solve a problem, for the satisfaction of getting it done. 

Thank you, Jeannine.