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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, September 23, 2011

Reporters shouldn't turn over notes and video outtakes lightly

Lucian McCarty was doing his job as a multi-media reporter on the day one man stabbed another in a “road rage” incident in Wilton. He interviewed people, wrote a story, and shot a video.
The video shows the track of blood in the parking lot leading into the Wilton CVS and contains an interview with the clerk who saw the stabbing victim and called 911.
Good work, McCarty.
Next thing I know, I’m handed a subpoena (as head of the newsroom) commanding me (yes, the subpoena includes the phrase, all in capital letters, “WE COMMAND YOU … ”) to appear before the Saratoga County Grand Jury with a copy of the video, including all out takes.

Anyone can see the video on The Saratogian website. But the outtakes? Um, I don’t think so.
A journalist should not impede an investigation or a court proceeding. And sound case law precludes a news organization from being forced to disclose material that it gathers. Exceptions to the rule would be based on this reasonable three-prong test: that the items or information sought is highly material to the case, is critical to the litigant’s claim, and is not otherwise available.
The Saratogian argued that the material sought by the prosecution did not pass that test, and the demand was modified to require only a disk of the video as it appears online.
That was a fair solution. Reporters routinely take more notes and more video footage than they end up publishing. It would be an unnecessary and excessive intrusion for reporters to be expected to work under the cloud of having to turn over their notes or outtakes. Nothing we could have provided would have helped or hindered the case.
Being subpoenad for video was a new experience for us here at The Saratogian. The first time I received a subpeona, I was a rookie reporter ordered to appear before the grand jury for something I wrote. My publisher at the time hired an attorney, a move that blossomed into a relationship (between the publisher and the attorney) and a 30-plus-year marriage.
No romance is in the cards this time around. The subpoena was withdrawn — and my current publisher is already married.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11: We need to remember; we can't forget

Sunday morning, Anne Kauth, the Saratoga Springs teacher whose husband, Don, died in the World Trade Center attacks, is scheduled to be at ground zero for the 10th anniversary 9/11 observances.
“I guess it’s time,” she said to me the other day.
Her youngest child, Cecelia, now 25, is completing a cross-country bike ride in memory of her father. The ride raised some $25,000, which will provide bicycles for a whole village in Africa.
“I’m very proud of her,” Kauth said. “She’s been through a lot.”
She was quick to add that she’s proud of all of her children. Kathleen, the Olympic ice hockey player, was in the limelight a lot over the years.
Sunday afternoon, family and friends of Don and Anne are scheduled to join up at a get-together being put on by Don’s firm at the zoo in Central Park. I am hoping that we’ll be able to connect at least through texts during the day.
I feel kind of creepy asking to let The Saratogian intrude on so personal and heart-wrenching a day. She understands this is my job and graciously shares her cell phone number, with the warning that she’s not the greatest at texting.
I cannot imagine having lived through so terrible and public a loss as that experienced by the Kauths and thousands of families like them, or by people like Leslie Miller, whose son Taylor gave his life in the fighting since 9/11.
I remember the morning of 9/11 I was getting ready for work and my husband told me a plane hit the World Trade Center. I turned on the 13-inch TV in our bedroom in time to see the second plane hit the tower. The rest of the day in the office, everyone glued to the TV, was a blur of horror and the adrenalin rush of publishing the biggest news of my lifetime.
Ten years? Can it really be 10 years?
A wonderful, original and moving novel is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” the story of a precocious New York City boy’s quest following his father’s death in 9/11. It reminds me that it is too easy to mistakenly underestimate the long-term effects of an event on someone, especially a child.
Like Cece Kauth.
I just finished previewing many of the stories being published in special edition that will be the front of The Saratogian’s Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 edition. It’s not easy to look at some of the images from the Associated Press. It’s hard to read some of the stories without choking up. Editor Paul Tackett has designed a dramatic package of local stories, many of them written by reporters who were barely in high school, if that, on the day of the attacks. Interviewing people who suffered a loss in 9/11, and having responders recount their stories, has been education for them, I think. That’s a good thing.
What we can’t remember, we need to learn. We need to be reminded, touched, and humbled, and, in the process, inspired to go on.

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