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Barbara Lombardo writes about journalisml, 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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Saratogian bids farewell to Jim Kinney

The newsroom is losing one of its go-to guys.
After 10 years covering the county, cops, crime and just about anything else that needed to be covered, Jim Kinney is wrapping up his reporting career at The Saratogian.
He’s going to the big leagues — a metro paper. After Feb. 29, he’ll be reporting for The Republican in Springfield, Mass., with circulations of about 85,000 daily and 125,000 on Sun¬day.
People come and go at The Saratogian. That’s the nature of a small newspaper. A lot of peo¬ple are often starting their career right out of school. Many move on to new locations, bigger markets and fatter paychecks.
Kinney stayed longer than most, long enough for him to be the guy who knows who’s who and what’s what — an invaluable resource in a newsroom where reporters turn over faster than the flapjacks at Compton’s.
And in a business where char¬acters come with the territory, his leaving is like losing a major player in a long-running sitcom.
“Jim Kinney here!” he’ll inform callers.
Jim Kinney everywhere, really.
“Send Kinney” may have been the phrase uttered most often by editors in the newsroom since 1998, early in the morning, in the middle of the day, late at night, and on weekends.
Fires. Accidents. Perp walks. Police calls. Funerals. Press con¬ferences. Not to mention county meetings about sewer, water, budgets, bridges, laws, farms, traffic, garbage, airports, ani¬mals, inmates, cell towers, fire towers, elections, construction. You’d need a front-end loader to lift his clip file.
Kinney is nothing if not prolific.
But he will be missed not just because he produces mountains of copy, but because he’s done it with a cheerful, positive, can-do attitude, hour after hour, day after day. He’s a newsman, through and through.
Talk about timing: I just fin¬ished typing that last sentence, it’s after 8:30 p.m. Thursday, and Kinney, who started his day cov¬ering a breakfast speech by the county administrator to the chamber of commerce, just walked in.
“Hey, there’s a firetruck up on Nelson, you hear anything about it?”
Uh …
“I’ll find out,” he said, reaching for his phone.
“Jim Kinney here. Why’s that firetruck on Nelson? A trans¬former fire? Thanks.”
Think they’ll have that kind of excitement in Springfield?
Springfield is a city on the banks of the Connecticut River, trying to redevelop the riverfront as well as the city core while dealing with the crime and relat¬ed issues of places more urban than Saratoga. A place Kinney will surely get his teeth into.
What about fun?
Well, there’s the Basketball Hall of Fame, AHL hockey, a symphony, theater, and muse¬ums of art, history and science. Not to mention the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. How does that stack up against the Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Albany River Rats, Philadelphia Orchestra, Home Made Theater and the Yaddo Rose Garden?
Kinney, who’ll also be moving closer to family, seems ready to take the transition in stride.
What will you do for sports, I asked him.
“Every place has cable,” shrugged the Penn State grad. “And it’s about the same trip to State College for football.”

Barbara Lombardo is manag¬ing editor of The Saratogian. Her column is in the print edition of The Saratogian on Saturdays.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

When is a mayor not a mayor?

When is a mayor not a mayor?
When he’s, uh, when he’s, hmmmm … OK, I’ll bite. When is a mayor not a mayor?
When he’s a private citizen.
Question is, can he be both at the same time?
Scott Johnson, the Saratoga Springs mayor since January, raised that question recently after his letter to the editor was published.
The letter supported one of the two Republicans seeking their party’s endorsement to run for city judge. Johnson was writing his opinion, not speaking on behalf of the City Council or as the city’s spokesman. He was careful to not distinguish himself as mayor, and didn’t mention his position in the letter or as part of his signature. He wasn’t trying to throw his mayoral weight around. So he specifically signed off as plain old Scott Johnson, Saratoga Springs.
The editor placing the letter on the page, recognizing who Johnson was, inserted “Mayor” before his name.
Was it the right thing to do?
I think it was necessary to identify the letter writer as the mayor. When you’re the elected figurehead of the city, you forsake the role of “private citizen,” at least while you’re in office. After that, you’re still likely to be labeled “former mayor.”
It would have seemed like an oversight or an intentional omission to not clarify for readers that this Scott Johnson is the one who happens to be mayor of Saratoga Springs.
In hindsight, though, there were a couple of ways the newspaper could have identified him other than adding the title to his name.
One way would have been to follow his identification with an editor’s note in italics saying the writer is mayor of Saratoga Springs.
That would have made it clear that it was the newspaper, not the letter writer, who was providing that information.
Another way would have been to talk to Johnson and with his approval insert a line within the body of the letter saying something like “I am writing this as a citizen, not in my official capacity as mayor.”
Either way, he’s still mayor. Whether he’s running a council meeting, walking the dog, or writing a letter to the editor, he’s mayor. He can speak his own mind, not acting as a city spokesman. But he’s not a private citizen so long as he’s in office. Being identified as mayor comes with the territory.
So while I appreciate the precision with which he attempted to clarify in his letter that he was not writing in an official capacity, he’s still mayor.
The Saratogian and other newspapers wrestle with identification issues when it comes to letters to the editor.
Some letter writers in elected or appointed positions have had their job titles inserted by an editor. Others, however, have gone through unidentified.
It is a public service to let readers know where a writer is “coming from,” so to speak. It’s also an impossible task.
A few elections ago, at the suggestion of politically connected readers, I tried to insist that letter writers’ political connections were inserted, using the list of party committee members as a guide. However, committee members came and went and complaints flew when they weren’t identified or when letters were supplied by their spouses, neighbors and great aunts.
Trying to say where everyone is coming from is impractical, unworkable and cannot be applied inconsistently.
But when a City Council member is writing a letter to the editor, he needs to be identified as such.
Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Mayor?

Barbara Lombardo is managing editor of The Saratogian. Her column is published Saturdays in the Life section. Contact her at blombardo@saratogian.com.