Blogs > Fresh Ink

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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Universal Preservation Hall: An investment in the future

I had an occasion on Saturday to visit to the Universal Preservation Hall, the church-turned-venue on Washington Street that is undergoing what, when done, will be a $4 million rehab. It has come an amazing way since it was saved from the wrecking ball by local people with a vision, perseverance, volunteerism and the ability to roll up their sleeves, literally and figuratively -- participating in the labor and raising the money.
Good news for the UPH last week came in the form of a $225,000 matching state grant. That's a great boost toward the construction of what they're calling a "community plaza" -- a welcoming entrance to the towering structure. It will creates a reason to walk down Washington Street from Broadway, further expanding the scope and appeal of downtown.
How does one decide when a project is throwing good money after bad, when it's time to say it's not worth it? No simple answer to that. After an evening in the second floor hall, one comes away with a renewed respect for those working so hard to not just preserve an old structure, but to give it new life.
This rehab, I hope, will be remembered as work that began at the turn of a century to create a downtown gem for centuries to come.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Encouraging discourse, while keeping it civil

This morning I received a phone call from a reporter at another newspaper asking if I'd like to comment about Commissioner Ron Kim's press release.
Company policy generally sends requests for comment to the publisher, I said, adding, "What press release?"
A call to Kim's cell phone interrupted him at a public safety department budget meeting; he promised to have the release faxed to the newsroom and we would speak later.
The fax (which his campaign spokeswoman swears was supposed to have been sent to us, too) makes some reasonable comments in a needlessly adversarial way. The release makes it sound as though there has been a longstanding problem with racial slurs by commentors to online stories, and that no one did anything about them.
"For several months we have noticed an increasing number...." the press release begins, quoting spokeswoman Georgana Hanson.
Of course this concerns me as editor of The Saratogian. We are learning as we go, but we pay attention to complaints to comments.
In separate telephone conversations later in the day with Hanson and Kim, no one knew who the "we" is who had been noticing this for "several months." And neither could explain why no one reported the offensive comments. Every post after a story on our Web site offers readers the opportunity to report the comment as abusive. Personally, I tend to err on the side of taking a comment down. A couple of times, I banned an IP address whose owners were not content to merely be idiotic.
In an ideal world, we would have a staff person whose job was to review every submission ahead of posting, assess them and then either reject or publish them in timely fashion. To move the comment conversation along, instead we rely on community policing. You see a comment that's offensive, you report it, we act on it. It seems to work. But it does depend on community members taking the trouble to click "report abuse."
Kim wonders whether no one reported comments likening him to a Korean dictator because no one considered it so offensive that it should be removed. I agree with him: it is offensive, and I don't want such comments associated with The Saratogian.
You can criticize Kim and you can criticize me, and readers know that some of you out there have made that a part-time job. But credible criticism doesn't devolve into name-calling.