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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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A night with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center can be a life-changer

I think I saw the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra -- of 2031 – at tonight’s performance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

An exuberant boy in sneakers with flashing blue lights stationed himself on the walkway at the lower end of the lawn at the foot of the center screen. Inspired by Beethoven’s lively Symphony No. 7 in A major, the boy mimicked conductor Charles Dutoit, adding his own arm waves and body twirls.

He made my night, and I was already having a lovely night.

The boy’s family was only a few yards back. At the end of the concert, they all wandered off before I could catch up with them. I wanted to tell them how great it is to see people bringing kids to the orchestra. It baffles and saddens me that with free lawn admission for kids (and free ice cream courtesy of Stewart’s on “kids night”) more people don’t experience the richness of live orchestra (and before that, ballet). (You have until Aug. 13, folks.)

I arrived around 7:30 with my lawn chair, umbrella, tomato and mozzarella salad and bug spray. With the discount from my sustaining membership, I bought the least expensive inside seat ($31 reduced to $23) as “rain insurance” rather than the $20 lawn ticket. Turns out the clouds passed and I was able to stay the entire evening on the lawn, where I could see and hear the orchestra as well as the star-filled sky.

The star that drew me to SPAC this evening was on the stage: The gracious and talented Saratoga Springs native David Hyde Pierce narrated “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a charming piece that literally introduces the listener to the four sections of the orchestra and the instruments within them.

In a pre-recorded interview on WNYT, he talked about how terrific it was “to a grow up in a small town with an incredible emphasis on the arts.”

I felt the same way at SPAC Thursday night, when my husband and I joined up with my neighbors, the Dart family, for “A Symphonic Night at the Movies.” The entire film “Casablanca” was shown on the six screens while the Philadelphia Orchestra performed the score – a very cool idea that drew plenty of people for inside and the lawn. The weather cooperated, too.

At tonight’s concert, SPAC President Marcia White said in her welcoming remarks that coming to SPAC as a child was a life-changer for David Hyde Pierce, who was a musician before becoming an actor.

Who knows, maybe it will turn out to be a life-changer for the little boy in the sneakers with the blinking blue lights.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

New owners, same mission: Local content

Beverly McKim, the editor of WG Life, a weekly paper The Saratogian publishes for the Wilton- Gansevoort area, was first in the newsroom to notice the email sent at 2:15 p.m. Thursday to all employees of Journal Register Company.

“We’ve been sold,” she said.

She read aloud the email from John Paton, the CEO of The Saratogian’s parent company, announcing that the Journal Register Company had been bought by Alden Global Capital.
“That’s a good thing,” he wrote of the sale, noting that the hedge fund had already been an investor in the company and has other newspaper company investments. “They know what we do, they like what we do, and today they are putting their money behind our efforts. Today’s announcement is a ringing endorsement of your efforts and demonstrates Alden’s confidence in our business model. Importantly, it also positions us well to continue to pursue our Digital First strategy and expand our company going forward.”

I believe him. I believe in our company strategy and the management team Paton has pulled together, which he said will remain in place. And I believe in The Saratogian and care about the communities it serves.

Paton’s email admittedly caused a bit of a distraction Thursday afternoon, Googling Alden Global Capital and following the emails of a handful of JRC employees in other states who “replied to everyone” to vent about long hours, low pay, outsourced jobs and feeling underappreciated and being frustrated by technology that falls far short for a company whose turnaround has centered on the mantra “Digital First.”

Those are frustrations with which I think many people in the news business, and not just those in JRC, can identify. Paton responded evenly, cc’ing everyone, in emails acknowledging the company’s goals, shortcomings and challenges, and asking simply, “Is your preference that the company remain bankrupt then simply go out of business?”

The Journal Register Company came out of bankruptcy under Paton’s leadership. He reinvented its mission and totally turned around its image, in a positive way, within the news industry. Evolving into a company that sees the future and has a future hasn’t been painless and we’re really still in the early stages of the changes that are in store. Paton has said time and again that the key to the company’s survival is to “invest in our core competencies, which are content and sales, and look hard at reducing our infrastructure costs.”

One of our Community Media Lab bloggers posted the news of The Saratogian’s sale and expressed uneasiness about being owned by out-of-town investors.

Actually, The Saratogian has been owned by out-of-towners since 1934, when Col. Walbridge sold The Saratogian to the Gannett Company. I wasn’t around then. But I was there 60 years later, when Gannett was unloading some of its smaller properties and sold The Saratogian to the Journal Register Company, which saw a synergistic opportunity because it already owned the Record in Troy.

Funny thing at the time was that local people were worried about us not being a local company anymore – not realizing The Saratogian hadn’t been locally owned since 1934. That meant we were doing our job at The Saratogian then, as now, and that our owners, then and now, know that The Saratogian’s niche in this competitive market is local content. And now, thank goodness, we are emphasizing digital first.

So what happened in the newsroom after we learned about the sale, Googled the company and read the emails?

Online Editor Emily Donohue created a “family tree” to help online readers understand at a glance the connections between victims of the explosion that leveled a house in Washington County Salem.

Photographer Erica Miller filed her day-after photos of the disaster, and reporter Michael Cignoli wrote his second-day story and filed a video taken at the scene, as a young girl creates a memorial with a stuffed animal beneath a tree and an emergency responder explains how they will go about determining the cause.

Betsy DeMars, the assistant managing editor, consulted with reporter Paul Post about his story and video on SPAC’s alcohol crackdown and edited reporter Lucian McCarty’s update on the Family Court case involving the accidental shooting of a 12-year-old boy.

Chelsea Kruger edited the obituaries that would appear online and in Friday’s print edition, then moved on to the police and courts column.

Nicole Russo, the sports editor, convened her crew, including with horse racing writer Mike Veitch, for an all-systems-go meeting in advance of next Friday’s start of the 2011 Saratoga Race Course meet and the season debut of the daily Pink Sheet.

In short, everyone continued to do what we do every day – gather and report your local news. And that’s what we intend to keep doing.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

It Pays to Be Kind to Tourists. Really.

Yesterday morning I meandered my way to work through Congress Park, noticing that the still-brown ducklings have grown but the mama ducks still hover and marveling at that protective instinct with which I so strongly, sometimes maybe too strongly, identify.
I watched two women taking turns photographing each other in between the giant urns not far from the Canfield Casino, and gladly agreed to take a couple of shots of the two friends together. I stopped to look at the area near the Canfield Casino that on Aug. 5 will officially become the Marylou Whitney Rose Garden in honor of the philanthropist, socialite, horse owner and business woman who for decades has been the Queen of the Spa City.
I guess I look local and approachable, because a couple to ask me whether the Casino was the Visitor’s Center. I pointed to the park entrance, where they’d find the Visitors Center across the street, gave them a 30-second explanation about the Casino and encouraged them to check out the building, including the Saratoga Springs History Museum. I asked what brought them here, and they said they were from Virginia, visiting family in Albany. They were just checking out Saratoga Springs for fun, they said, heading into the Casino.
“Ask me,” I thought to myself, “I’m local.”
Joe Dalton, who retired a year ago at the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce’s longtime president, was always telling anyone who would listen about the importance of being friendly to tourists. I couldn’t agree more. We all represent this place, and can enhance (or diminish) the visitors’ experience. If this sounds sappy, tough. It’s true and you know it, from the times you are playing tourist somewhere else. Being friendly and helpful is well worth the effort.
I mention the chamber because today it has re-launched Dalton’s “Ask Me, I’m Local,” a Be Kind to Visitors campaign. Admittedly, “Ask Me, I’m Local,” makes me think of phrases like Don’t Feed the Tourists or Kiss Me, I’m Irish, especially since the pin that the chamber is pushing is green and white.
I don’t need to sport the “Ask Me, I’m Local” pin. Apparently I already reek of local yokel. But don’t let that stop from you from getting in on the action. You can find the pins at various downtown banks and other locations, along with a shiny fact sheet listing key activities and contact info. The sheet was also inserted into Friday’s Saratogian and can be downloaded at by clicking on the Ask Me I’m Local button down the righthand side of the page, or clicking here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Share your horror stories about horrible bosses -- and win two movie tickets

I’ve been lucky. I’ve had many bosses over the years, but not one who was really, really horrible boss -- at least not so horrible that I’d really want to commit murder.
How about you?
Would winning two tickets to the movies make you feel any better?
In anticipation of Friday’s opening of the movie “Horrible Bosses,” we’d like you to share your employer horror stories with Saratogian readers. Eliminate names to protect the not-so-innocent, but include yours – if you dare. We’ll print some of your sagas, and one downtrodden employee will be the random winner of two Regal tickets.
Submit your brief tales of woe to by 2 p.m. Thursday. Employees of The Saratogian newsroom are not eligible!