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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, March 10, 2011

A disappointed Ohio State University grad asks, Gee, President Gee, are you kidding me?

This morning I sent the e-mail below to the president of Ohio State University, where I received my master's degree in journalism. I'll let you know what I hear from him.
There are a lot of grays in life, but some things are black and white. It's no challenge to do the right thing most of the time. What counts is whether you do the right thing when the consequences are ugly and regrettable. For all I've read on the subject, OSU Football Coach Jim Tressel failed by that measure.
Worse was the OSU President Gordon Gee's flip response. There is also a five-page letter to the NCAA from Gee that amazingly concludes that what Tressel did was "indecisiveness ... as opposed to a blatant disregard of NCAA legislation. ... We recognize that he should have forwarded this information in some manor to the appropriate institutional officials. With the exception of this mistake, he is a man of integrity and high moral standards."
What happened, in a nutshell, was that OSU football players sold their memorabilia to a tattoo parlor owner, in violation of NCAA rules, and one may have receive a break on tattoo services. Not the worst thing in the world, but violations. Tressel has been informed of the violations. He not only did nothing about it, and then didn’t own up to it when it came to light.
The students are going to miss five games – next season. The coach is going to miss a mere two games – next season. The school can’t jeopardize this season’s bowl game, of course. The coach is also being fined $250,000, a sizable chunk of change, but then again, he has a multi-million-dollar contract.
It’s swell to have a winning college football team. But when this is the way violations are shrugged off by the people in charge, everyone loses.

You can read and see lots more on this topic on the website of the Columbus Dispatch.
Here’s my e-mail to President Gee. I will update you when I get a response.

TO: Gordon Gee, president OSU
FROM: Barbara Lombardo, managing editor of The Saratogian and 1977 OSU master’s graduate
DATE: March 10, 2011-03-10
RE: Coach Tressel and your comments.

As a graduate of Ohio State University, I am aghast – a word I don’t think I’ve ever used before – at what has been reported as your response to whether Coach Tressel would be let go.
Here are the words you are reported saying: "No. Are you kidding? I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."
Are you kidding? Who is running Ohio State University? How can you justify that remark?The relatively minor punishment for Tressel was bad enough. I am stunned that you could say something so flip and, in my judgment, inappropriate.
I have the OSU journalism program and some of its fine professors in the 1976-77 school year to thank for much of the knowledge and confidence I gained while obtaining my master’s degree. I am the managing editor of a daily newspaper, and I intend to share my comments and your response with my readers, in print and online.
I can be reached at this e-mail address,, and by telephone at 518.583.8711.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Charter change and reader's views

Note: This blog post was accidentally posted onto a different Saratoga staff blog -- The Document Library on Jan . 17. It still exists there, and now it's here as well.

A reader's view about the proposed change to the Saratoga Springs City Charter has generated a number of comments, including some inaccuracies about The Saratogian's position on the topic.

For decades, The Saratogian has criticized the five-headed monster that is the commission form of government for many reasons, particularly the lack of a point person for action, information and accountability; the inefficiency of a system with departments that can't or won't and don't have to work together; and for a City Council whose members are both legislators and administrators.

If you want a simple example, try to find out whether there's a snow emergency in effect, who calls it, and who calls it off. The public should have one place to call for questions, not be bounced from one department to another by well-meaning people who are hamstrung by an inefficient system.

That said, The Saratogian editorialized against the 2006 charter change referendum, which ultimately failed. The newspaper has not editorialized on the specifics of the current proposal.

It's easy to observe and criticize the deficiencies in an existing system. It's more complicated to determine whether a proposed, long-term replacement to the current form of government would be an improvement. The Saratogian is not taking its responsibility lightly, and does not want to cavalierly weigh in on the merits and shortcomings of the latest proposal.

Another issue that's being discussed is how many words are allowed in letters and reader's views. We state "preferred lengths" as a guide. We never give more or less space to a reader's submission based on the newspaper's editorial position on an issue. The editor who is placing letters and reader's views on the printed page is trying get them in quickly, erring on the side of giving people a chance to have their fair say, and thus encourage intelligent and civil discourse. If you feel you haven't been given that opportunity, talk to me.

Border's closing a loss to downtown Saratoga Springs

Note: This blog post was accidentally posted onto a different Saratoga staff blog -- The Document Library -- on Feb. 22. It still exists there, and now it's here as well.

I am bummed about Border’s closing the store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. I was lulled into the false hope that a store that always looked so busy would surely not be a victim of the corporation’s bankruptcy.

My family has done its part to support the store throughout its decade or so on Broadway. My husband, an avid reader and buyer of books and CDs, broke down not long ago and joined the new super duper Border’s rewards program that requires you to pay a fee to enjoy deeper discounts. It turned out to be a good deal.

This past weekend, the vultures were snaked around the almost the entire first floor, through the magazine section and practically out the door, to get their lousy 20 percent off. Hello, everyone, where have you been?

You can talk the talk about how great it is to have a vibrant downtown. But you have to reach into your pockets, too. That goes for all the other shops, locally owned or chain, that combine to make for such an appealing downtown.

I remember when the site of the Border’s building was a defunct fast food place called the Red Barn, and the building was indeed a fake red barn. For a while it was the home of Pope’s Pizza, before their move to Washington Street. There was some controversy at the time about razing the ugly old barn and whether the two-story brick structure would fit in. Of course it fit, and it was a vast improvement over the fast food joint.

Border's hasn’t been a perfect bookstore; it didn’t do enough, for instance, to carry and push books that were being favorably reviewed in the New York Times. That was a marketing error, in my estimation. But you could usually find what you were looking for, or the friendly staff would help you find or order it.

No question about it, this is a tough time for book sellers. The Lyrical Ballad on Phila Street will continue to be a hidden treasure for pre-loved books. But it will be sad to not have a popular bookstore on Broadway. Border’s has been more than a bookstore, it’s became a downtown landmark and gathering place. There have been some rumors around town that Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vt., was looking at Border’s. Wishful thinking.

Vacant spaces come and go on Broadway, and most of them don’t stay empty for long. I hope that will be the case with Border’s. That’s a big building on a prominent corner to be empty for an extended time.

Condolences to the family of 19-year-old Alex Grant

Shortly after this blog was originally posted, praying against the odds for a happier ending, the body of 19-year-old Alex Grant was found.

My heartfelt sympathies to his family.

What else is there to say? I have been following the search for the missing college kid as a newspaper editor -- and as a parent of two young men who are not much older than this fellow. I can only begin to imagine what his family is going through.

The Associated Press tells journalists that a male is referred to as a “man” at 19. True enough. But a 19-year-old has barely graduated from teenager-hood, is barely out of high school. A 19-year-old is a young man, but he’s someone’s kid. And, if my 81-year-old father is as typical as I think he is in this regard, you never stop worrying about your kids.

The condition that Alex Grant was in when last seen on videotape in the wee hours of Sunday morning does not encourage confidence about his safety. Three days later, I was hanging on to the hope that he would somehow be OK. It was not to be.

There are many unanswered questions pertaining related to this tragedy. We will be trying to answer them on our news pages. For now, I offer my sympathies to the Grant family.

Friday, March 4, 2011

At The Saratogian, we're here for you -- literally

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about working at The Saratogian is its location in the heart of downtown Saratoga Springs.
The Saratogian’s 100-year-old building is literally a stone’s throw from City Hall; a block from restaurants and coffee shops for all tastes and budgets and time frames; and just under a mile from my home.
The newspaper’s owners, the Journal Register Company, has affirmed its commitment to making sure the local newspaper maintains a local presence.
That’s no small thing nowadays in the rapidly evolving world of journalism. The advent of “mobile journalism” means that reporters are equipped with the technological tools to report in words and pictures from virtually anywhere, on the spot.
Mobile journalists have a competitive edge in a digital first world. They don’t have to “go back to the office” or even call in. They can post stories, pictures and video online from wherever they are, and spread the word via social media.
Mobile journalists also present a cost-savings to media companies. Although the tools of the trade aren’t cheap, a company can save money by eliminating a physical base of operations.
That’s the bottom line for the Times Union, which the other day announced that it would soon be closing its Saratoga Springs office, which has been on the second floor of a downtown building. While acknowledging the significant cost savings to the Hearst Corp., the Times Union’s positive spin is that the newspaper will maintain its presence in Saratoga Springs with its “mobile journalists.”
Homeless journalists, if you ask me.
The demand is always increasing (from both readers and bosses) for the immediacy of digital reporting from the field. But at The Saratogian, our feet on the street eventually lead back to our quaint corner building with the cool Superhorse in the lobby at 20 Lake Ave.
Having this place to hang our hat, charge a Flipcam, make calls, interview people, edit video, upload photos, and meet people is not just important for Saratogian employees. It’s important for the community, too.
Community members have never been shy about stopping by, to drop off a news item, place a classified ad, chat with reporters or editors, attend a blogging lesson, be interviewed, have a picture taken or pick up some extra copies of the print edition.
That’s another one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about working at The Saratogian: There’s a real sense of ownership in the community when it comes to their hometown paper. Having a physical presence is an important part of that relationship.