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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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Business as Usual at Your Hometown Newspaper

Yes, it's true. We're plugging away, business as usual, to be your No. 1 source of local news and ads in and around Saratoga Springs.
It's no secret that the entire newspaper industry has been struggling, as print readership moves to the Internet, print advertising reflects the nation's recession, and profitable publishing companies find themselves weighed down by debt.
On Sunday, the owner of Philadelphia’s two major daily papers, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, "filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, an effort to restructure its increasing debt load,"as reported by The Associated Press.
The day before, The Saratogian's parent company, the Journal Register Co. , did the same, as did the Tribune Co. in December, and The Star Tribune of Minneapolis in January. Other companies are facing similar challenges.
What does the Chapter 11 filing mean for us and for you? I am optimistic that the reorganization will enable to move the company forward. The Journal Register Company has about 20 daily and 159 non-daily newspapers, including Saratoga, Troy, Kingston, Oneida and the greater Philadelphia, Michigan, Connecticut, and Cleveland areas, and about 3,500 employees.
Without question, we at The Saratogian are no different than we were before the weekend -- a staff committed to bringing you a complete, timely, thoughtful and thought-provoking local news report.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Waiting for the Cable Guy

You can vouch for me: I am home, but I am working, not goofing off. I am writing this column as I wait, not very patiently, for the cable guy.
It’s admittedly comfortable here, stretched out on the couch with my laptop, serenaded by Wilco and the Editors. But, darn it, the Time Warner telemarketer told me the guy (is it always a guy?) would be here between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.
I rushed home and arrived only five minutes late, which for me is early. What if the guy came on time and left?
It is 12:40 p.m. I call to check and I am told that they have me down for anytime between noon and 4:30, and that the guy’s running behind. Can’t they call to tell me approximately when he might arrive? Sorry, m’am. We can’t do that.
Argghh! Patience, Barb, patience.
3 p.m. So far, I wrote a little story for Wednesday’s paper from my laptop, sent my dad an e-mail hello, wrapped up three boxes of Fruit Rollups to send to my college freshmen, picked my clothes off the bedroom floor and put a 3-pound ham in a pan for dinner.
4 p.m. Hold on while I call customer service, again. Ah, from the Glens Falls office, Sonja says she will call the technician (that is, the cable guy) and ask him to call me with an estimated time of arrival. OK.
It was only a week ago that I finally signed up for phone service offered by Time Warner, which already provides our Internet connection and cable TV. Bundle me, baby! Three-in-one! I felt guilty bidding adieu to Verizon and AT&T, figuring every cancellation translates into an eventual loss of jobs somewhere. Besides, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my local and long-distance service. In fact, I like the security of knowing my phone will work even when the electricity is out. But I like even more the possibility of saving twenty bucks a month on phone service. Nothing personal, Ma Bell.
It’s 4:26, and no word from a technician. Let’s see who answers the phone this time. When I get through at 4:30, the winner is Fred, who is also in Glens Falls. He has seen neither hide nor hair of Sonja, who he said works on a different floor and in any case is done at 4:30 and by now would be down the back stairs and out the door. He puts me on hold while he looks into the situation.
4:45. Fred is back, super polite and with the promise that someone will be here today, really. Really? Please connect me to a customer service rep. I imagine a room of people. Fred covers his headset mike and looks around. Who wants to talk to this crazy lady?

4:55. Ben, a tech support customer service supervisor based in Rotterdam, takes the call. Like Fred, he was super efficient and polite, the kind of guy you feel bad being mad at. He doesn't know why I was repeatedly told that a tech couldn’t call me or why a telemarketer told me I could be assigned a two-hour window. But he discovered that the tech was having a heckova time on a call in Ballston Spa and, good news, I’m next. For my trouble, Time Warner would waive the $19.99 fee for keeping my phone number, plus credit my account $20 for waiting so long and impatiently. Woweewow. I’ll take it.
5:02. Fred, bless his soul, calls to make sure I got the message that I was getting from Ben, who was still on the other line listening to me vent.
5:06. Put the ham in the oven. Look out the window. Tick, tick, tick.
Here comes a white truck. Could it be? Yes! And here is Jared, apologizing for not calling while he was on hold with his own tech people for more than an hour trying to get a modem to work in Ballston Spa.
5:48. Husband pulls into the driveway with a non-traditional greeting: What are you doing home? This is way early for me. Cable guy’s here, I explain. For the phone.
6:14. Phone works, Internet is back on, Jared is done for the day, and I can make unlimited calls to places where no one I know lives. And if I remember to cancel AT&T, I’ll actually start saving money. Don’t bother calling to remind me. Now I have caller I.D.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Did the punishment fit the crime?

The overwhelming majority of the 20 students in the UAlbany journalism class that I teach thought The Saratogian was wrong to publish the names and addresses of the Burnt Hills kids who were cited for being at an underage drinking party.
I asked the students to read the story and the readers' comments, and then come up their own opinion.
Some made the point that it was unnecessarily hard on the kids. I can accept that.
One thoughtful commentary concluded that "the article would have been just as effective if they left the names of the children out of the piece." That, I challenge. It was having the names, making the story about real people, that sparked all of the discussion.
What troubled me is that many of the students thought, erroneously, that the publication of their names could haunt the kids forever and, worse, that coverage of an underage drinking party was much ado about nothing.
One student, however, asked whether parents the knew their kids were at a drinking party -- and whether they cared.