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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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A son's appendectomy and a midnight trip to Boston

For years I wrote a weekly column in The Saratogian in which I often shared the lighter side of the familiar trials of raising two boys. Now one, Dave, is a college grad whose entertainment blog appears on The Saratogian website, for whom bad publicity is any in which his name is misspelled. The other, Joe, is a college sophomore who, unlike his brother and despite being the lead singer and composer of a band in high school, would just as soon not be mom's column subject.

Sorry, Joe.

Last month, he called home one Saturday afternoon to report a bad stomach ache. Must have been bad, to call home. He's in Boston for the summer, teaching music to city kids at a nonprofit organization called the Hyde Square Task Force.

Mother of the Year called sister-in-law, the relative closest to a doctor and the matriarch of a family famous for intestinal ailments, who said their speciality is diarrhea, but suggested Gas-Ex. Joe made the trek to his neighborhood CVS for the medicine. But a couple of hours later, the pain was much worse. His girlfriend came home from work in the nick of time and a trip to an emergency room was in clearly in order.

Long story short, at Beth Israel Hospital, they removed his appendix around midnight, as my husband, other son and I headed to Boston -- arriving just in time to see him in the recovey room. What was amazing was how laproscopic surgery made it possible for him to go home the next day and return to bike riding and tennis less than two weeks later.

Funny how I felt too busy to take a trip to Boston, but had no hesitation about going at 10:30 at night -- especially when Joe said, "Are you coming?" You bet we are, I assured him. How old is too old to want to be at your kid's side?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who'll have the last white and blue license plate?

I'm hoping it will be me.

Just received my registration renewal forms from the DMV. There are three options: Renew for $53.50. Renew and get the "new" blue and gold plate with a new plate number: $78.50. Or, the third and final choice, renew and get the new plate with the same old number: $98.50. Ninety-eight fifty! Give me a break.

I haven't backed or fronted into any frozen snow banks or parking lot concrete blocks lately, so my current plates are not cracked, bent or in any way noticeably damaged. I am not inclined to donate an extra $35 of my income to our dysfunctional state for the privilege of changing plate color. I placed quote marks around "new" above, because the blue and gold are just a retread of the old combination.

And I resent have to practically double the cost of renewal just to keep my old plate. It's tempting to have one less new thing to have to remember. But to be honest, I'm never sure I correctly remember the plates I have now. And so long as I have a key that makes the car honk at me, who cares?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ed and Maureen Lewi, masters of promotions, turn over reins to Mark Bardack

I was a guest at a recent retirement toast and roast for Saratoga Springs resident Ed and Maureen Lewi. As one speaker at the party noted, Ed and Maureen did not run an ad agency. They did much more. They are promoters. They come up with ideas. Some are wacky, most work. And many are big things, that Saratoga Springs have come to be known for, like the Hats Off and Final Stretch downtown music festivals that bookend the racing season.
Also, the party helped me see them through another lens, as parents. One of their sons, Joey Lewi, shared tales about growing up as a Lewi kid -- including sharing a piano bench at SPAC with his brother and Michael Jackson, then with the Jackson Five. Hope that made up for the times he and his brother had to dress up as characters in Storytown.
The Lewis have sold their successful Ed Lewi Associates marketing firm to the very capable Mark Bardack. Mark has worked for them for a dozen years; his good work is familiar to those of in the media inundated by Bardack press releases and publicity pitches. He and his team at the firm are respected for the quality of their work, integrity, helpfulness and reliability. I wish him well.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Wanted: Liberal blogger for Saratogian site

A reader named "Patriot" asked me why The Saratogian doesn't have a left-leaning blogger to offset Tom Lewis's far one.
My answer: I'd LOVE to add one on our site.
If you have any suggestions for a LOCAL blogger who would fit the bill, or you write one yourself, Patriot, please email me at (which replaced my email). I knew about Tom's blog and invited him on board, hoping it would generate discussion AND that a counter-blogger would step up.
And, yes, Patriot, I agree with you that the "mainstream media is left" is a lot of garbage.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Way to go, Saratoga County's Will Clarke: Good luck in the Special Olympics!

A 17-year-old from Greenfield Center, Will Clarke, is competing starting Sunday in the national Special Olympics in Lincoln, Nebraska.
He's one of fewer than 10 kids in all of New York state to make it to this national competition. What a fantastic opportunity.
I am so happy for him and his family. I don't really know Will, but his mother, Roberta Nahill, and I are in the same book club, and sometimes she will mention how her son has been running. And running. And running, sometimes outdoors, sometimes at the Y. He might do one or two five-mile loops a day, Roberta told Sam Hollingsworth in a story on The Saratogian website.

It was heartening to read about the coaching and encouragement Will has been getting from 2007 SSHS grad and neighbor John Farley (now a Siena runner) and Special Olympics track and field coach Larry Shapiro at the Skidmore College campus.
Good luck in Nebraska, Will!
For more information on the Special Olympics, including how to compete, please contact Larry Shapiro at 371-3374 or Gean Pokrzywka at 587-3208. New York’s Special Olympics headquarters, located in Schenectady, can be reached at 388-0790 for more information.
Will has Asperger’s syndrome, which WebMD describes as a developmental disorder with some traits of autism: "For example, they may have poor social skills, prefer routine, and not like change. But unlike those who have autism, children with Asperger's syndrome usually start to talk before 2 years of age, when speech normally starts to develop. Asperger’s syndrome is a lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to improve over time. Adults with this condition can learn to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. And they can improve their social skills."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Only 90 minutes to Williamstown, Degas and Picasso

I enjoy live theater, and my husband and I try to get over to the Williamstown Theatre Festival at least once during their summer season. On Saturday, July 10, we saw an excellent production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Funny! One of the stars was the guy who played an editor on "The Wire" (and a nerdy husband on a casino commercial). Years ago, we saw Christopher Reeve and Terri Garr in a play; the audience was invited to a "cast party." I couldn't work up the nerve to say a word to Christopher Reeve.
Before the show, we stopped at the terrific Clark art museum. A special exhibit through mid-September shows how Picasso was influenced by Degas. It includes many examples of work by both artists that clearly demonstrates the Degas influence.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

See you on the not-so-secret, wonderful garden tour

Keep your fingers crossed for a sunny Sunday! More than 600 people have bought tickets to the Secret Gardens Tour scheduled for today (July 11). It's a major fund-raiser by Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, to benefit Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County and other projects to benefit women and girls. I've been a co-chairwoman and committee member of the Secret Gardens -- NOT because of my gardening skill, sad to say.
I'll be volunteering Sunday afternoon at a home on Woodlake Drive with Tina Morris, whose gorgeous Pinewood Avenue garden was on the tour last year. I'm hoping to pick up some tips from Tina. And I'm sure I'll be inspired by the gardens on this year's tour. (Tickets are $20, available at the Saratoga Springs Visitors Center starting at 11 a.m. Sunday; see more info in the Secret Gardens descriptions published by The Saratogian last month.)
Last Monday, I spent the entire day digging up weeds, making barely a dent. I am so appreciative of the homeowners who put invest their time, effort, money, and more effort to create beautiful, creative gardens that they so generously open up for Secret Gardens Tour participants to enjoy. (Hey, if you have any suggestions for next year's gardens, let me know. I'm on the committee again. STILL not because of my own gardening.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Get your butt over to the ballet

I don't know much about ballet, but I know enough to go see a world-class company when its performing right in my own city.
I lucked out picking Friday night to see the New York City Ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center -- there was a break in the weather. It was warm, but you didn't feel as though you were melting into you seat. There was even the occasional breeze that passed through.
I'll leave the reviews to Jay Rogoff, who has been previewing and reviewing the season for The Saratogian with insightful and accessible commentary.
I'll tell you that I enjoyed the variety of Friday's lineup: Mozart music for the first segment; cool, weird Red Angels; a funny dance that seemed to be an insect-like woman bugging a man; and, last but not least, Leonard Bernstein's sailors on leave.
At 18 bucks for a lawn seat, and kids under 12 free, I can't imagine why people miss this opportunity. We're already down to a two-week schedule ... and you have only one week left.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hey, who's kid is that in the police blotter?

Every so often a familiar name pops up for a misdemeanor in The Saratogian police blotter — familiar because the parent is someone well-known locally, perhaps because of an elected office.

The question then arises, do we print that the person charged is the son or daughter of so-and-so?

The general answer, I think, is no.

Why not? Unless there's a compelling public reason to say so, what's the justification for singling out the children of elected officials — especially adult children, and especially for misdemeanors?

There's no rule book for handling these instances, and the treatment varies among area publications. A publication must be consistent and fair. So let me ask you this: If your child is arrested, should your name be in the story?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ben Franklin Day at The Saratogian: A ‘Declaration of Independence’ from newsroom software

The Sunday, July 4 edition of The Saratogian should look the same as always — if all went according to plan.
But it wasn't put together in the usual way.
Most of the news and photographs on the pages, and the layout of those pages themselves, were prepared for publication without using the usual newsroom software for writing, editing, toning, cropping and paginating.
Instead, all this work was done using free software available to anyone on the Internet. And yes, it was hard work. The proprietary software is designed to be efficient, reliable and relative fast for the task of producing a daily newspaper. The free substitutes, not so much.

So why did we do it? Crazy? Maybe. Tired? Definitely. Proud? You bet.
The free software experiment is part of the Ben Franklin Project of the Journal Register Company, which owns The Saratogian, 17 other dailies and a slew of weeklies and has been expanding its online presence with a content-driven, digital-first mentality that reflects where the world of communication is today and where it’s headed.
Part of the Ben Franklin Project is to push us newsies into active engagement with the public as a matter of course in planning, developing and reporting news. The buzzword is crowdsourcing. While it’s not a new concept, the Internet and social media in particular eliminate any excuses about reaching people and making citizens part of the process of shaping their news. That’s the ongoing part of the Ben Franklin Project, which recognizes that our No. 1 product is news content, whether you’re in print or online.
The Ben Franklin Project’s one-shot deal is the preparation of all daily newspapers in the Journal Register Company using free software for publication on the Fourth of July, a symbolic declaration of independence from proprietary software. Last month, a weekly and a daily in the company did it successfully, so the bar was raised for today. It’s a bit of a publicity stunt within the journalism industry, and it’s working. The industry has taken note of remarkable strides in attitudes and practices of the Journal Register Company spearheaded by John Paton, the CEO who has taken the company out of bankruptcy and is leading it into a digital-first world.
The Ben Franklin Project also demonstrates that the technology to publish is out there for anyone to use.
But between us, producing today’s paper wasn’t easy for the newsroom. News Editor Paul Tackett has been working days and nights, on top of his usual job, to set up most of today’s pages in a layout program called Scribus. In the community, Tackett may be an anonymous editor, but you know him through his compelling page designs.
For today’s paper, Tackett has duplicated the familiar components of The Saratogian from scratch, with the goal being that you won’t know the difference between the look of today’s paper and tomorrow’s. Likewise, photographers Erica Miller and Ed Burke have used free software instead of Photoshop for their pictures, and the reporters have filed their stories in Googled Docs instead of Microsoft Word. Online Editor Steve Shoemaker is posting video and stories to a free website, in addition to the regular site at
It’s been a team effort involving other departments of The Saratogian as well as the newsroom.
We in the news industry take great pride in publishing, no matter what the circumstances – and news companies have faced natural disasters much more challenging than anything John Paton or Ben Franklin could throw our way.
Just wanted to share with you the story behind today’s newspaper, to publicly commend The Saratogian team, and, as always, to invite your comments.

Barbara Lombardo is managing editor of The Saratogian. E-mail her at or comment on her blog, Fresh Ink, at