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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, November 30, 2010

Watchdog journalism a community effort

Tonight the Saratoga Springs City Council is expected to wrap up a 2011 budget, one way or another. At The Saratogian, we are talking budgets, too. At 8 a.m. this morning, the publisher, ad director, circulation director and I talked with our corporate bosses about our plans for content and revenue for the months ahead -- and the focus of course is on growing our digital audience even faster than it Is growing now.

Whatever strategies we use to draw readers, there's only one thing that will keep them coming back: Good content. A big part of that, I believe, is watchdog journalism, holding our officials and institutions accountable. Even the smallest news organizations can do it -- but it isn't fast or easy. However, with your help, readers, we can do a lot.

Share your ideas, issues, photos and videos -- you are the eyes and ears of the community. The other day a reader sent photos of DPW trucks asking why there were so many if the commissioner was saying there was only one on the road. We looked into it and got an answer, and responded; in this case the commissioner misspoke or was misunderstood. Still, it was a heads up move by the reader and worth the time to pursue.

Keep 'em coming.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day: So many reasons to be grateful

I am writing this on Thanksgiving Eve as one by one the newsroom empties, our small crew of writers and editors wrapping up and heading home to family, pets, happy hour or Price Chopper. Still plugging away diligently are Paul Tackett and Angela Valden paginating news pages, Kyle Leach and Nicole Russo working on sports, Emily Donohue mapping out which stories will run when over the next few days, and the newest newsroom member, Lucian McCarty, banging away stories for tomorrow. New guy pulled short straw for Thanksgiving Day reporting, too.

I am thankful to be working with so many interesting, enthusiastic, talented and hard-working men and women during this incredibly exciting and challenging revolution of how news is told.
Actually, I’m thankful that I’ll be having Thursday off and sharing the day with 10 members of my family, including my father.

I’m glad that one of my sons, David, will be there, and hoping that we’ll be able to catch my other son, Joe, on Skype from Spain. I have to finish this up because I promised David I’d be home in 35 minutes so he can come over and we can fight over how to brine the turkey and I can complain how the dust in his supposedly former bedroom, where his Uncle Ron and Aunt Darlene will be sleeping tomorrow, was thick as the Sahara.

Among the many things to be thankful for is the good news that my friend Kathy Dollard, a fellow graduate from Voorheesville High School, Class of None of Your Business, has finished her breast cancer treatment and is feeling good — so good that she has a bike-riding trip planned for Italy in the spring. OK, Class of 1972. We each have a husband and two sons of about the same age, and keep in touch not nearly enough. Her attitude from the discovery of her cancer in a routine mammogram through all the treatment was typical, positive Kathy. Perhaps you are lucky enough to know people like her, too.

Also on the mend and in my thoughts are Joe Condon, whose voice many of you more mature readers, like me, know from his many years on area radio, especial B95.5. He thought he’d ducked heart surgery, but his heart had other plans. He’s getting better, though. Ditto with Ed Lewi, the amazing PR man. Those are both guys whose only ticker trouble should be having hearts that are so darned big.

I can think of many more things that I’m thankful for, especially family and friends who have been through some tricky times. So this will be continued.

We have a rare early deadline on the night before Thanksgiving, in part to allow time for inserting of all the advertisements in the Thursday paper, which is as much a tradition as green bean casserole and a big, fat turkey — which, as promised, is about an hour away from being Zip-locked into a bag of water, salt, sugar, lemon and oranges.

Hope your Thanksgiving is a happy one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Friday: You may love shopping, but that means someone else has to work

I'll confess to having gone once with my father-in-law to Wal-Mart on a Black Friday morning out in Geneseo, when he wanted to buy a flat-screen TV, but it was at the relatively civilized hour of 7 a.m., still in plenty of time to get a bargain for a mere 32-inch set but not so early as to be labeled crazy.
Shopping before dawn, now that's crazy.
I'm in a business that never closes, so I know what it's like for myself and my staff to have to work before, during and after holidays, sometimes days and sometimes nights, when most people are enjoying long weekends. There are many other fields when we expect people to be there when we need them -- police, fire, medical. Somebody's monitoring the water and sewer plants, somebody's selling gas, somebody's fixing a power line.
What bothers me is that in order for people to be able to shop, other people have to work. Yeah, we are all happy to have jobs. But there's something wrong when we can't declare that places that don't HAVE to be opened will let their staffs have the time off -- to be with their families, to travel, or to just sleep through the night.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

iNeed Your A-ssistance with iPad

I have a cool new toy and I am hoping you'll help me play with it.
It's an iPad.
The Journal Register Company, whose news companies include The Saratogian, is sending an iPad to each of its top editors. Mine came about a week ago, and I've just begun to fool around with it. I've been following the "reply to all" among editors sharing tips about the apps they've found useful.
But I think the iPad should be much more than a tool for doing my job. It should be a window (sorry, mac) into how people seeking and finding information, so I can better envision how The Saratogian be positioned at an essential source.
This afternoon I met a friend for coffee downtown and asked her for a pen to jot down an idea for The Saratogian website. "Where's your iPad?" she said. "You should be carrying it around, and you'll never have to borrow a pen."
Good point.
So, readers, what are your suggestions for my new iPad?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Saratogian Community Media Lab inaugural session something to brag, and blog, about

I am so psyched. Tonight was the introductory session of The Saratogian Community Media Lab. Ten interesting local people came to the news building to learn about becoming more involved in The Saratogian as citizen bloggers.

The purpose of the Community Media Lab can be boiled down to four goals:
1. To improve the community, as citizen bloggers shape Saratogian coverage with their ideas, blog content, and frequent communication with news staffers.
2. To provide a forum where readers can turn for topical and provocative information and opinions.
3. To help bloggers improve their craft through training provided by a combination of Saratogian staffers, fellow Community Media Lab members, and other local experts.
4. To help bloggers expand their reach through social media, cross-promotion, giving their posts exposure in print and online outside the blog, and adding blog-enhancing features like links, photos and videos.

An introductory session for another group of potential Community Media Lab members is scheduled for a couple of weeks from now. When it all shakes out, I hope to have a solid dozen active Community Media Lab members who will work with us to take blogging up a notch at and be an advisory board of sorts for content.

The Community Media Lab is not about simply taking existing blogs and placing them under a new heading. That wouldn’t wash with John Paton, CEO of Journal Register Company, which owns The Saratogian. It wouldn’t fool you for a minute, either. Although some of the CML bloggers are familiar, their relationship with The Saratogian is new. For instance, CML members have a standing invitation to join in on our nightly news conference, which is where the editors decide on the top stories for print and online. They will be receiving training on social media, along with members of our staff. We’ll have quarterly get-togethers with staff and bloggers, and in between we'll have CML updates.

Topics of particular interest to the bloggers at our inaugural session included politics to the left and right, the environment, good government, tourism, parks, technology, and leaving behind big city life for Saratoga. We kicked off the Community Media Lab earlier this week by introducing "Shine a Light" by Maggie Fronk, who is brand new to blogging but well-versed on issues of domestic violence and women’s safety on a local level and beyond, as executive director of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County. In addition to her post under the Community Media Lab button on, you’ll find a video of Fronk talking about this new venture with The Saratogian.
I want to publicly thank Online Editor Emily Donohue for her role in the Community Media Lab and all things online for The Saratogian, including her frequent and patient one-on-one social media tutorials for yours truly. I also want to acknowledge Joe Rocha, whose multiple hats include that of editor of Ballston Spa Life, which appears weekly in print and at, and who will be assisting bloggers with refining content, and reporters Mareesa Nicosia and Patrick Donges, who write popular business and city news blogs. All three are Community Media Lab Support Staff, along with Assistant Managing Editor Betsy DeMars and Advertising Director Lauren Rose, who jointly write a Media Moms blog.
Emily Donohue assured the group tonight that short, interesting and frequent posts appeal to readers, and that a blog entry need not be 700 words. Since I’m approaching that, I think it’s time to wrap up.
One more thank you is in order, to Sandy and Tom Lewis. Tom has been in the forefront of local blogging, showed me Twitter long before I appreciated its potential for reaching new audiences, and had a number of helpful tips tonight for fellow Community Media Lab members. Sandy gets a thank you for baking what Tom promised would be the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. They were gone at the meeting in no time flat, and Tom was right — which means there’s at least one thing he and I will always be able to agree on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Be a volunteer: Find out how on Monday, Nov. 22

Want to find out how to make this an even better place to live by being a volunteer? Want to learn about the many opportunities for volunteerism in our community?
I hope you'll stop by the Saratoga Hilton (the hotel attached to the City Center) between 1 and 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22 for the Volunteer Fair.
Representatives from groups that touch many areas of interest will have tables set up to explain what they do and ways in which you can become involved. It's a great idea for some one-stop shopping about volunteer opportunities. Interested in the arts? Issues about aging? Education, youth, heath, history, museums, human services, recreation? Animals? People with disabilities? Land preservation? All of those and more will be represented.
So many of the great things happen in the Saratoga area are the result of volunteers. Volunteering is such a rewarding and painless way to give back to your community. It's a great way to meet new people. And, since you're selecting your areas of interest, it's fun.
All you have to do is your most valuable commodity -- time --as much as you can work into the rest of your life.
Spread the word to others who might participate.
The Volunteer Fair is yet another program sponsored by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce that focuses on encouraging people to make a difference through volunteerism. For more information, call 584-3255.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

MSNBC Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski coming to Saratoga Springs

Mika Brzezinski: She's smart, sassy and funny. And she's coming to Saratoga Springs on Jan. 29 as the speaker for the 2010 Cabin Fever Luncheon fund-raiser hosted by Soroptimist International of Saratoga County.
Honestly, I can't wait. I'd be going even if I weren't a Soroptimist (which is almost as hard to spell as Brzezinski).
My husband turned me on to Mika, as he is a longtime fan of the lively "Morning Joe" show that she co-hosts with Joe Scarborough. She's the daughter of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a graduate of Williams College, and an experienced journalist.
Proceeds from the event are used by Soroptimist for projects and programs that benefit the lives of women and girls, such as Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County's Project Hope and Power.
While the traditional Cabin Fever Luncheon audiences have been mostly women, I think men should enjoy hearing her in person, too. Hope to see you there on the 29th! Check out for details.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Condolences to family of Lois Collins, former Saratoga Downtowner owner, patron of opera, a founder of local Soroptimists

My condolences to the family of Lois Collins, who passed away Nov. 4. She and her late husband, Gene, were familiar faces in Saratoga Springs for many years, in part because they owned the Saratoga Downtowner Motel on Broadway for 21 years starting in 1979.
As noted in her obituary (available today at, where you can leave message), Lois’s love for local arts and opera were all the richer for her volunteerism and enthusiasm. I knew her as a founding member and guiding light for the Saratoga County chapter of Soroptimist. She poured her heart into the Soroptimist mission on the local, national and international level.
The obituary captured the essence of her personality: "Lois had a way of making people feel at home and comfortable. Her enduring smile, generous nature and positive outlook will be sorely missed by all that knew and loved her."
A service will be held at 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 15, at the Gerald B. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, in Schuylerville, where Gene, who died in 2007, is buried. Local arrangements are by the William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing & Cunniff Funeral Homes (518-584-5373).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Way to "bee" fun at Home Made Theater

I was glad to catch the final performance of Home Made Theater's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." My only regret is that I didn't see the delightful show sooner, so I could have pitched it in this blog. A talented ensemble seemed to be having almost as much fun as the audience (three of whom were recruited to be in the bee, which is apparently part of the shtick).
How funny to see Laurie Poltynski, who was first to show up at the theater with her parents, on stage for a good portion of the show! You're a pretty good speller, Laurie. Come on over to copy edit with me.
This coming weekend is Victor L. Cahn's solo "Sherlock Solo." Call 587-4427 or for details.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boo hoo, bye bye evening light

Oh, how I hate the time change.
It's not as though I normally get out of work while it's still light out. But the odds are reduced from sometimes to never when the clocks move back an hour.
Sure, it's hard to drag out of bed when it's cold and dark. Morning light through the window is a good thing. It's cold, but not so dark. Still, I vote for doing away with the annual time change. It's no fun. And it's too hard to keep track of.
Is anyone out there happy about losing the light at night?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Editorial endorsements: It's OK to for 'em or against 'em

Years ago I asked my then-publisher why a particular elected official was friendly to him but downright nasty to me.

"I told him you write the editorials," he said with a grin.

True enough. He forgot to mention, however, that he had final say on the position, as well as approval over the ultimate wording.

There have been times, especially in writing editorial endorsements, when the "paper’s position" is not mine. That’s OK. It’s like being in a debate club: The editorials need to be persuasive and intelligent, whether or not the writer agrees with the position.

A former Saratogian reporter and editor, who’s been in the Syracuse daily’s newsroom for years in various capacities, this fall became its editorial page editor. As is the case here, the publisher in Syracuse has final say on the endorsements. That makes perfect sense. The person ultimately responsible for the publication should yea or nay the editorial positions. The tipping point may be positions on specific issues, overall political philosophies, and whether the candidate demonstrates energy and leadership.

Writing the editorial endorsements is seldom easy. Challenges include being consistent in reasoning from one race to the next, acknowledging the good intentions of so many candidates, and, frankly, not having conducted enough original research to thoroughly examine the candidates’ strengths, weaknesses and potential.

Why endorse? Not every paper does. I posed the question to my journalism class Tuesday night. One student explained it well, saying readers should be able to turn to the newspaper endorsement for an informed opinion, to help them decide who to vote for — or against.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Waiting for the polls to close

I am writing this from a classroom at the University at Albany, where on Tuesday evenings I teach Introduction to Reporting and News Writing. The students, meanwhile, are banging away at their keyboards, having just come back from interviewing poll workers at one of the on-campus polling places and a couple of voters. The workers, they reported, are lonely: the on-campus turnout could be counted on two hands, two feet -- well, not much more than that.

I like this bunch of students. They are engaged, they are doing good work, and no more than one student ever falls asleep at the same time. It's a tough gig, a three-hour night class. They don't know it yet, but they'll be getting out a bit early so that I can head back to The Saratogian to help with our election night coverage.

We had an interesting discussion earlier in the class about whether newspapers should endorse candidates. No consensus. But they agreed that citizens should be able to turn to an editorial endorsement for an informed opinion, with which they can agree or not. One student worried that an endorsement colors the perception of the publication's news coverage. I hope that has not been the case for The Saratogian.

By the way, I was voter No. 92 at my polling place at about 10 this morning, and everything went smoothly. My fingers are crossed that the same holds true for this evening as the results are reported, so that we can report them all in our print edition. We'll stick around to update the website with things that happen after the paper goes to press.

Monday, November 1, 2010

You don't need a battery to read a book

You don't need a battery to read a book. That's my mantra.
For now.
I don't know why, but I was startled to learn that one of my book club members -- the president of the club, no less -- is using a Kindle. Kindling is what you use to burns books, not read them.
Then I noticed a young woman in the next row on the plane home from Spain "reading a book" on a Kindle. I guess she was reading. I guess it's a book. But it looked like a dark Etch-a-Sketch with extra buttons.
Confession time: I like the idea of being able to bump up the size of the type. I LIKE THAT A LOT. And I was wowed when I realized you could click to look up a word.
I can't tell you how many times I've come across a word that I meant to look up. I can tell you how many times I've actually gotten off my duff to lug out a dictionary: Almost never.
You can probably also "underline" stuff, which will make it easier to refer to things at book club. Like things about Little Bee's "savior" said made her not so likeable, even though she really did save Little Bee's life. We'll talk about that next week. The club president will no doubt have electronic notations all over the place. Show-off.
I still like the feel of a book.
Besides, a paperback is cheaper to replace than a Kindle when it slips into the tub.
And though I frequently run out of steam when reading at night, a book never, ever needs a battery.