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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.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Journalism loses a gem with passing of Jay Gallagher

A top-notch reporter on the New York state scene for years, Jay Gallagher was a first-class journalist and a truly decent human being. He'd been battling pancreatic cancer for a while, documenting his experience on a blog. It was with sadness that I learned of his death, and as a tribute of sorts I'd like to share with you his obituary, below, which was provided by the New York News Publishers Association.

It was my privilege to know and work with Jay while he was with Gannett News Service. The Saratogian was a Gannett newspaper prior to becoming part of the Journal Register Company. As a member of the Gannett group, The Saratogian published legislative news originating from the Gannett News Service's Albany bureau, so Jay's byline was frequently in The Saratogian. His work was insightful and analytical, the benefit of years of experience, a sharp mind and a dedication to the craft. And he was a really nice guy to boot. My condolences to his family.

Obituary for Jay Gallagher (1947-2010)
Jay Gallagher, award-winning journalist and passionate observer of New York state government for more than a quarter century, died Monday from pancreatic cancer. He was 63. Jay's dogged determination to bring depth to his reporting led to "The Politics of Decline," his 2005 book which linked political machinations to economic decay across the state.

Gallagher was born on April 30, 1947. More than most, Jay had ink in his blood. His father and uncle worked as reporters and editors at newspapers in Salem and Lynn, Massachusetts; Jay was was born in Beverly and raised in nearby Danvers. As a boy he became a rabid follower of all Boston sports teams, especially the Red Sox. In his online memoirs, he wrote of his first visit to a ballgame in 1953: "If I ever get to heaven, my arrival could be no sweeter than that moment I saw Fenway Park.''

While earning a bachelor's degree at Colby College (Maine), he met the woman who would give him a happy life, Emily Kreinick, of Brockton, Mass. After their graduation and marriage in 1969, Jay took his first reporting job at the Waltham (Mass.) News Tribune, then moved on to the Providence (R.I.) Journal. He worked there until a fateful work strike and a day on the picket line. After refusing to pipe down when a police officer ordered, Jay was arrested and quickly determined he'd move on from Rhode Island. He next spent eight years at the Rochester (NY) Times-Union, then joined Gannett News Service's New York Capitol Bureau in 1984. Named bureau chief in 1989, Jay coordinated state coverage for Gannett's eight statewide newspapers for the next two decades.

He covered the administrations of governors Mario M. Cuomo, George E. Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. He wrote the weekly New York Angle column, a staple in many Empire State newspapers. He also shepherded the careers of many journalists and student interns who worked at the Gannett bureau. He was a regular panelist on "New York Week in Review,'' a statewide public-television show, and has appeared on the CNN show "Inside Politics'" and "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer'" on PBS. In the last year, he became a co-host on "The Capitol Pressroom," a statewide public radio program.

Among the numerous awards Jay received for his coverage of state government were the 1998 and 2004 New York Newspaper Publisher's Association Award for excellence, the 1997 and 2004 Legislative Correspondents' Association award for outstanding reporter, and the 2002 beat reporting award from Capitol Beat, the national association of state capitol reporters, and the 1993 New York Common Cause award for best commentary on New York state government. He was a favorite among fellow reporters and a staple at the LCA's annual theatre shows.

During this time, Jay and Emily raised daughters Janice and Ellen. Jay passed on his love of politics to both daughters: Ellen works to promote the integration of immigrants into communities across the country, and Janice is a PhD student in Political Science, focusing on human rights and international law. His friends knew countless hours of rooting for his beloved Boston teams from the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics to the New England Patriots.

In 2003, Jay stepped back from daily reporting to tackle the question of how New York's intractable political problems contributed to its economic decline. Growing out of a series of in-depth news articles, Gallagher's book, "The Politics of Decline," (Whitston, 2005) detailed government's major failures: the failure to address the loss of manufacturing jobs, to stop runaway Medicaid costs and to find a balance in funding for public education system. He laid the blame not only on special interests and the lack of political leadership, but also an apathetic public.

Jay always took care to balance work with his personal life. He was a big sports fan, and also liked hiking, kayaking, and cross-country skiing with his family. He was a passionate and competitive tennis player, until a bad hip forced him to switch to golf. In high school, he played on the hockey and football teams; in college, hockey and track. And he always attended all the girls' athletic events, even doing a stint as co-head coach of a girls' soccer team with daughter Janice.

Jay's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in June 2009 came as a shock. But he immediately began to chronicle his fight in a blog carried by several New York newspapers. With wit and grace, he took his readers through the ups and downs of chemotherapy, conflicting medical opinions and wrenching family decisions.

Jay was predeceased by his parents, Joseph and Hazel Bromley Gallagher and his sister Anne Bromley Pramas of Dracut, Mass. He is survived by his wife of almost 41 years, Emily Gallagher, his daughters, Janice Gallagher of Ithaca, N.Y., and Ellen Gallagher (and her spouse, Allyson Goose) of Somerville, Mass. and his brother, Neil Gallagher, of Berwick, Me.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to Friends of Five Rivers, 56 Game Farm Road, Delmar, NY 12054 or the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany Endowment Trust, 405 Washington Ave, Albany, NY 12206.

The memorial service will be held on Tuesday, June 1 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 262 State St in Albany. Doors will open at 7pm and the service will start at 7:30. For further updates please check Jay's blog at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ben Franklin would be proud of Journal Register Company experiment

The letter below went to all the employees of the Journal Register Company, the parent company of The Saratogian, from CEO John Paton, who in a very short time has done remarkable things to turn around the image of JRC in the news industry.

Anyone can publish nowadays, as you well know. We in the news business take pride in doing it well, with credibility and consistently.

Paton created what is called the Ben Franklin project: Can you produce a newspaper using only free, online tools? Can you?

Two of the newspapers in the company became the sites for this experiment. And they did it!

I'll be writing more about this and what it means in the days ahead. I'm learning about it myself. There's lots of info about it that you can Google if you want to jump ahead. Below, I'll share the letter from Paton, which includes the challenge to all of the JRC newsrooms.

FROM CEO John Paton:

We did it.

On April 21 we launched the Ben Franklin Project. Our ambitious idea was - from content creation to sales, ad order entry and customer relationship management - to actually produce and print products using only free, web-based tools. We were to bypass costly proprietary systems and the legacy editorial process by going straight to the web and the audience in our communities. And we were to do all of this at one of our dailies and one of weeklies within 30 days.

Well, we did it – in 29 days.

The amazing staffers at our daily, The News-Herald in Lake County, Ohio and our weekly at Montgomery Media's Perkasie News-Herald reinvented almost every process it takes to produce a website and newspaper and involved our communities every step of the way.

See VP of Content, Jon Cooper’s post on The Ben Franklin Project site for details on how our brilliant and innovative colleagues just pulled off what must be a first for our industry.

Our journalists dove deep into their communities to find out what they wanted and collaboratively developed stories. Working the crowd and the cloud they worked on stories including blighted neighborhoods and dangerous intersections.

Our production folks bravely dropped all of the familiar tools of our industry and figured out how to do their jobs with no budget just a connection to the web.

The result has been groundbreaking for our Company as we have changed our focus and culture from legacy based to Digital First.

I don’t know if Ben Franklin would be proud but I sure am. The Journal Register Company is now a company to be watched and that is because of you.

So, what next?

How about starting Monday, and 30 days from then, every one of our 18 daily newspapers pulls off another Ben Franklin Project? What do you say?

What happens when Girl Scouts grow up?

Tonight (May 20) I will be speaking, briefly, to people who are supporting Girl Scouts by attending the regional organization's annual dinner. My talk will be about seven minutes on the news media's role -- and our responsibility as a society -- in fostering an informed citizenry.

I'll be in excellent company. Five women, including a high school student, are being honored as Women of Distinction. You surely know at least some of them: Jane Wait, Janice White, Janine Dykeman, Patricia Hale and Sarah Rubenstein. Read a little about them in today's Saratogian:

I was surprised last week to learn how many sister Soroptimists had been Girl Scouts, but didn't know it. I think Girl Scouts deserve more recognition than they get for instilling a commitment ot community service. And I do love the Thin Mints.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blocks away from the would-be Times Square bomber

While the street vendor called police about the smoking vehicle in Times Square, two friends and I were just a few blocks away, watching the Kentucky Derby on a TV in an Irish pub in Manhattan's West 50s. It wasn't until 8:30 p.m., as we were walking down Broadway back toward our hotel that we realized something was going on. But what?
The Times Square area was cordoned off and non-committal police were stationed along the barriers. Hundreds of New Yorkers and visitors were milling about. The mood at that point was not the least bit panicky, just curious. "Bomb scare," was all we could pick up.
We took a detour to the hotel and turned on the TV as soon as we got to our room. But it took days for the story to really unfold.
I was impressed by the quick and excellent police work in tracking down the suspect -- but disturbed by how close the would-be bomber came to getting away. There is system to snag suspects trying to board a plane -- but it works only if the steps are followed, without fail. What happened to the employee of the airline who should have prevented the suspect from boarding the plane? Thank goodness the final backup system revealed the suspect to be a passenger -- before the plane took off.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

University at Albany grooming tomorrow's journalists

The only sounds I can hear as I write this are the soft clickety-clicks of 20 keyboards, the muffled roar of the air conditioning, and the hum of fluorescent lights.

I am in a classroom in the Science Library at the University of Albany where the students taking Introduction to Reporting and News Writing are taking the final exam. This one class on Tuesday nights is a little sideline from my full-time-plus job here at The Saratogian.

It's been gratifying to work with some young men and women who "get it" -- they understand how to ask questions and pull together a news story, they are excited about the work, they have talent and potential. One is going to be an intern in The Saratogian sports department this summer; another will be doing some writing for The Scene, our summer downtown entertainment tab.

Then there are some who for the life of them can't punctuate a quote. "That drives me nuts", the teacher said. ARGGGH!!! Yet I can't help but like even the ones who seem to be in the wrong place -- if they are trying.

If they come away with nothing else this semester, I hope they've learned, from me and the guests who were kind enough to speak to the class, that journalism is a labor of love. As Rik Stevens, the AP news editor and former Saratogian writer and editor tells the class, his father, also a newsman, long ago told him, "You'll hate the hours, hate the pay, but love the job."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Join the May 26 Memorial Day parade in Saratoga Springs

Everyone knows that Memorial Day is a Monday near the end of May. But the day to commemorate it with a parade in Saratoga Springs is the prior Wednesday -- this year, May 26.

American Legion Post 70 is organizing the parade and looking for marchers. I'm trying to help get the word out.

This is not the long, sparkly marching band parade we've gotten used to having in Saratoga Springs near Flag Day, courtesy of the Elks. This is a simpler, somewhat more serious and shorter gathering that works its way down from North Broadway to Congress Park, where it ends with a service memorializing American veterans.

The event will support the establishment of the Guardian House, which will be the only shelter for homeless women veterans in the state. The community is being asked to support the effort by buying a Guardian House T-shirt for $10 from either the American Legion on West Avenue (call 587-0236) or the VFW on Excelsior Avenue (call 584-9686).

Meanwhile, organizations interesting in joining the parade should call Jim Coyne or Judy Boyce at 584-4737.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dick Brooks was Saratoga Springs' old-school journalist

For three decades, Dick Brooks was everywhere in downtown Saratoga Springs, notebook in hand, getting the skinny on who was doing what in City Hall. Sure, he had his favorite sources and his critics, but no one could resist finding out what "one wag was heard to opine," a phrase often found in his weekly column.

In later years, he disappeared, local contacts severed or lost. Bad habits and bad health were his sad undoing, and he died Saturday in a nursing home in Bennington, Vt. I hope there will be a good turnout for his funeral Friday at St. Peter's Church.

My first beat at The Saratogian in 1977 was City Hall, and Brooks was already on board as the seasoned columnist.

He taught me to stop at the door of the City Council chambers and take in the scene -- who's sitting with whom, how big is the crowd, what's the mood -- and to sit in the audience, rather than at the table set up for reporters. Better to be closer to the real people who you might need to catch up with during or after the meeting than to be separated and basically trapped with the other reporters.

He also beat this rookie, week after week, with scoops in his column that I tried but failed to get all week long. He charmed the secretaries and got longtime pals to save the juicy stuff for him. Though we worked for the same publication, we were competing for city news. There was no contest.

But it was fun. It was memorable. And no matter how technology changes, there will always be the need for people with a passion for digging out the news and reporting it.