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, 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. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

'Girls Who Code' founder speaking in Saratoga Jan. 24

Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.
Reshma Saujani is the speaker for the
Cabin Fever luncheon Jan. 24 in Saratoga Springs.
Sign up at soroptimistsaratoga.org. 
Combined, they form STEM, an acronym for what students ought to be studying to fill well-paying jobs in the public and private sectors.
Many of our local schools, elementary through post-graduate, are focusing on STEM. More than a million STEM-related jobs are expected to be open up in the next four years — “but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them,” according to a federal government website, studyinthestates.dhs.gov.
Next Saturday, we have an opportunity to hear firsthand from a woman who has been in the front lines of preparing young women for jobs in technology. Reshma Saujani, founder of the national nonprofit organization Girls Who Code, is the speaker at the Cabin Fever Luncheon on Saturday, Jan. 24, in Saratoga Springs. I’ll be there, for sure, and seats are still available. (See below for details unabashedly plugging the event.)
Saujani’s interests and experience may be rooted in STEM, but her reach is much broader. Her website describes her as “a true political entrepreneur (who) has been fearless in her efforts to disrupt both politics and technology to create positive change.”
It’s not bragging. A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Yale Law School, her recognition includes being named one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women Changing the World, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People, and Business Insider’s 50 Women Who Are Changing the World. Her book, “Women Who Don't Wait in Line,” is about female leadership and, as summed up by the Daily Beast, “talks about running for public office and having the courage to fail.”
Saujani is an Illinois native of Indian descent, has been a lawyer, a congressional candidate, and Deputy Public Advocate of New York City. Her political platform focused on “creating educational and economic opportunities for women and girls, immigrants, and those who have been sidelined in the political process.”
Which brings us back to STEM and Girls Who Code.
The GirlsWhoCode.com website succinctly states its mission and vision:  “To inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.”
Boys ought to have those skills, too. But as people in the STEM fields will attest, girls have catching up to do.
“We believe that more girls exposed to computer science at a young age will lead to more women working in the technology and engineering fields,” explains GirlsWhoCode.com.
Among the exciting things about Girls Who Code and Saujani’s other work is her success in bringing together leaders in the public and private sectors —  educators, engineers, and business — and combining instruction, mentoring, entrepreneuship and civic engagement.   
Now, about the Cabin Fever Luncheon. It is hosted by Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, the local branch of an international public service organization that I’ve belonged to for more than three decades.
Soroptimist efforts address both local and global issues, such as domestic violence, human trafficking, grants to local nonprofits, and scholarships to women and girls improving themselves through education and community service. The group has two big fund-raisers each year, the Secret Gardens Tour (July 12 this year) and the Cabin Fever Luncheon.

To sign up for the luncheon or learn more about Soroptimists, visit soroptimistsaratoga.org or call 581-1201 ext. 4184.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Focusing on local news, across county lines

You are more likely to find me at my
desk than at the gym. (And, full disclosure,
my desk is this neat only the night
before a vacation.)
My standing New Year resolutions include going to the gym, eating healthier, worrying less about my children and writing regularly. And here we are, the first Sunday of the year, and so far so good — for the writing.
Since Jan. 1, I’ve been to the gym, um, not once. I had Chinese food for dinner and leftover Chinese food for breakfast. When my sons call I drop everything, even though they’re 27 and 25 and living independently (while my husband wryly observes that he lands in voice mail).
For me, 2014 was a year of personal and professional change.
The big thing was that I turned 60, an age that I am happy to have attained and yet in denial of having reached. If you’re my age or older, you know what I mean. If you’re younger, just wait.
Professionally, after years as managing editor of The Saratogian, where I began my journalism career, I was promoted last January by Publisher Mike O’Sullivan to the expanded role of executive editor of The Record, The Saratogian and the weekly Community News, which all fall under the umbrella of a company called Digital First Media.
A regional approach already in play in the advertising department under Advertising Director Barbara Fignar and in the sports department under Executive Sports Editor Kevin Moran expanded into the digital and print news coverage under the leadership of Editor Lisa Lewis, News Editor Paul Tackett, Digital Editor Karen Wallingford, and City Editor Charlie Kraebel, who just celebrated his one-year anniversary with us. Happy anniversary, Charlie!
Mid-way through the year, newsroom staff reductions — an occupational hazard in the news business everywhere — necessitated a leap into a regional approach to planning, reporting and editing. One of the challenges has been keeping our eye on news of particular interest to our specific and diverse communities, while recognizing that a regional approach is in fact appropriate for much of the news, especially as it relates to our quality of life, health, finances, jobs and family.
Consider, for instance, some of the top local stories of 2014:
The sprawling Albany diocese, which includes Rensselaer and Saratoga County, got a new bishop, when Edward B. Scharfenberger was appointed by Pope Francis to succeed Howard J. Hubbard, a Troy native who led the diocese for 37 years.
The 62-year-old Hoffman’s Playland in Latham got a new lease on life with new owners a new location for this summer adjoining Huck Finn’s Warehouse & More.
A Schenectady waterfront project was selected for the region’s only full-scale casino, beating out two proposals for Rensselaer County, including one put forth by the owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway.
One of New York’s most power politicians, former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, whose district included Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, was acquitted of charges tied to accusations that he took a businessman’s bribes in exchange for steering state money toward the man’s business interests; the state attorney general subsequently agreed that the state would pay $2.4 million as reimbursement for his legal defense bills.
And there was business growth of note in both Troy and Saratoga Springs, along with milestones like the 50th anniversary of the Holiday Inn, the hotel that spurred the revitalization of downtown Saratoga Springs, and the 30th anniversary of the Saratoga Springs City Center. Those two entities continue today to anchor the two ends of Saratoga’s lively Broadway.
Impressive development in downtown Troy during 2014 included the reopening of the former Proctors building on Fourth Street as home to the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce; the start of renovations to Tech Valley Center of Gravity’s future home; new life breathed into the historic Dauchy Building by Saratoga-based Bonacio Construction; the purchase by Pfeil & Co. — another firm with ties to both Troy and Saratoga Springs — of the historic building that houses the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall; and the debut of the River Street Lofts.
The regional outlook is in addition to, not in place of, local news.
For instance, our daily Community Page in print and the digital Community page under Lifestyle on our websites, troyrecord.com and saratogian.com, contain a running calendar of events submitted by representatives of local organizations as well as a large photograph, usually submitted by readers, to feature a local activity that has occurred or promote one that is coming up. (Send photos to Charlie at ckraebel@digitalfirstmedia.com.)
We realize that our readers’ interests and concerns don’t end at the city or county line. We work, play, seek medical care, study, travel and have connections throughout the Capital Region. And a good human interest story is always a welcome read, regardless of ZIP code.
That said, our niche is what it’s always been — local news — including the celebration of individual achievements in the school and workplace, non-profits and their staff and volunteers, spaghetti suppers and other fund-raisers large and small, neighborhood issues, keeping officials accountable, and providing a forum for opinions.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. You know where to find me: Not at the gym.