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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Friday, January 4, 2008

No newspaper when the network lets you down

A week or so ago, I heard that Paul Vandenburgh, the longtime local talk-radio host who recently joined investors to start their own station at 1300 AM, was on the air griping about Verizon.
Vandenburgh was frustrated, with good reason: The connections at his new station wasn’t working, and the communications company wasn’t getting the problem fixed with any sense of urgency.
You can’t have talk radio if people can’t call up to talk. Poor guy, I thought at the time. How awful to be at the mercy of a communi¬cations company.
Over the last week, I’ve felt Paul’s pain, and then some.
Last Saturday, The Saratogian lost the connection provided by Verizon that enables us to use our computers to publish a newspaper. We could turn on the computers, but we could not turn on the newsroom writing, editing and page layout programs. We could not access the stories, photographs and ads in the system. We could not transmit any already completed pages to our print site at The Record in Troy. We could not get to any Associated Press stories. We could not access e-mail or any other aspect of the Internet.
We waited, and waited, and waited for Verizon to do what it is Verizon needed to do to patch up the connection. Someone was calling someone. Someone was looking into the problem. Some¬one was working on something. Someone was going to be there any minute now. Someone thought they’d have an answer in half an hour … an hour … two hours. Or in three hours, they’d be able to tell us how long it would take them to figure out what’s wrong.
The thing is, with a newspaper you can’t just shrug, snap off the lights and call it a night. As the minutes and hours tick by, you’ve got to pick a cut-off time and turn to Plan B.
For us, that meant editors packing up and heading down to Troy, where The Record staff made room for us. The photographers e-mailed their photos from their homes to the Troy news¬room. A reporter typed on a laptop and e-mailed his work via the wireless Internet at Uncommon Grounds.
The company that owns The Saratogian and The Record gave both papers the same editing sys¬tem, which is great to have as a backup. But it’s not a perfect pairing. We couldn’t send Saratogian pages to Troy’s proof printer, so we had no draft pages to proofread. And we couldn’t see that on some computers pages would come out with what we call “blown out” type, where the intended font is replaced by a bizarre version of Courier, the typewriter-style type.
The connection problem vanished for a while, but returned with a vengeance all of Monday, ruining some staffers’ New Year’s Eve plans, and continuing into Tuesday, ruining my plans to baby a minor hangover and, worse, requiring the editors to drive through the New Year’s Day snowstorm to Troy to bring you Wednesday’s paper. Ads were carried to Troy on a CD, loaded into their computer system, and placed on pages one at a time by the editors. Local stories and photos were again transmitted by e-mail. Proofs were again unprintable.
Yet, no surprise, we published. It was kind of nice to be in the building where the paper is printed, to be able to literally get a copy of The Saratogian hot off the press. But it was much nicer Wednesday to have everything up and running on good old Lake Avenue.
Being in the newspaper business is a labor of love, but there are moments when it is a love-hate relationship — such as when your workday, your day’s plans and your product are all at the mercy of a communications company.


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