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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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Should someone crash the pot party?

I'm not so naive to think that pot smoking and underage drinking doesn't happen on college campuses. But I was surprised by the "whatever" attitude from Skidmore College and the Saratoga Springs Police Department concerning the April 20 party at which about a hundred students openly smoked marijuana from joints and bongs. Would they have done the same if it was beer being consumed? What would a parent there for admitted students day think? Forty-thousand-plus in tuition, up in smoke? I'll be looking into this more for an editorial for Sunday's Saratogian. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Colin Powell and when to follow the leader

My husband and I went this weekend to Colgate University, where our son Joe is a freshman, because Colin Powell was a guest speaker.
Powell's one hour in a packed field house was interesting if a bit rambling. He talked about what it's like being a relatively ordinary citizen after being a VIP who had gotten used to literally receiving the red carpet treatment, about public service and about leadership.
However, he didn't just talk about leaders. He emphasized that it's the "followers" who get the job done, and that these people need direction and deserve recognition.
He didn't get into any heavy or specific issues, like what he told President Bush about going to war in Iraq.
But the general did address, in general terms, how a person can reconcile disagreeing with his boss's course of action. First, he said, it is the person's obligation to give his honest opinion. Then it is the person's obligation to abide by the boss's decision, whether he agrees with it or not, or to step down if he finds the decision morally repugnant.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The unexpected side to localizing a big news story

On the morning of Friday, April 3, my brother called to tell me he'd just received a cell phone call from his daughter Leslie saying police evacuated the house she shares with other Binghamton University students because of a hostage situation and shooting going on next door. She and her housemates were OK; they were all at a diner out of harm's way. The incident hadn't even made the news yet. Could I find out anything more?

I called the Albany Associated Press bureau and Chris Carola, a former member of the Saratogian staff and a local resident, answered. The news was breaking right now; he didn't know anything more yet than we did. Could he have my niece's phone number? Sure. So long as she is safe and she doesn't mind a call, that's a good way to give the story a human voice, a local voice, with whatever bits of information and observations she might have.

Little did I realize that this initial contact would unleash a flood of calls to her and her family from local and national print, broadcast and online media. I'm not sure my sister-in-law has forgiven me. Googling my niece's name and Binghamton brings up 12,100 entries.

I was out of town Friday night when a college friend called my cell phone: "Hey, does your brother have a daughter in Binghamton?" "Yes, she's OK." "I know, I saw it on Yahoo."

On Sunday I was breaking a sweat at the Y when I noticed the Capital News 9 reporting promoting a story for after the break about a young Slingerlands woman who lived next door to the shooting in Binghamton. I realized the reporter was standing in front of my brother's house. I grabbed my cell phone. "Your house is on channel 9." "Thirteen, too," he replied. "I tried to tell them the story isn't about us."

After the break, I watched my niece talk about how she and her housemates evacuated in their pajamas (it was after 10 a.m., you can tell they were college students), what a nice neighborhood it was, and positive things about the community and the college. She didn't make it about her. It was well-edited, for my brother told me later they were there a very long time. Or maybe it just seemed like a long time.

The shootings were horrific. I am so grateful my loved one was never in danger. And I appreciate that she and my brother and sister-in-law were willing to be interviewed, over and over. People are hungry for information, so even a peripheral view from a next-door neighbor means something. Besides, it brings a story home to know that someone you might know lived right next door.