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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, March 30, 2012

Mega Millions mania too much to ignore

I broke down this morning and, for the first time ever, bought a Mega Millions ticket.
Two, actually.
“Do you want to pick the numbers, or do you want the machine to pick them?” asked Maura Pulver Millar, the new owner of Five Points Grocery.
Ugh. I was going to just grab a machine-generated quick pick. But how would I ever forgive myself if the family birthdays came in?
So, I ended up with one quick pick and one with birthdays and the house address. Hey, that doubles my chances — right? Millar says she heard that one has a better chance of being elected president — when you’re not on the ballot. Meanwhile, she’s been selling five times the normal volume of tickets for this game, which is drawn twice a week.
I read in The Saratogian this morning to secure your ticket by signing the back right away, which I did while still in the store. Then I tucked them in my wallet, which I have obsessively and compulsively checked this morning to reconfirm their whereabouts.
I am not, however, quitting my day job.
Like all lotteries, they’re set up for the house — that is, the government — to win.
I find it appalling that the government encourages people to gamble, and, in fact, counts on the revenue. It reflects poorly on our values as a society. The odds are stacked against the bettors. Yet a few people win enough here and there to incite that “dollar and a dream” mentality. Enough people are interested in the lotteries to run the drawing results daily in our print edition (with the Gamblers’ Anonymous hotline in fine type).
It is exciting to win a million bucks, or even a few hundred grand. Yet I feel a bit uncomfortable when I have The Saratogian, like most media, splash the exciting “news” with the happy winner receiving their oversized check.
To be honest, I wouldn’t mind posing.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Your input is needed to shape our special report on emergency medical services in Saratoga County

What happens when you call for an ambulance in Saratoga County?

Who will show up? How long will it take? What kind of care can they provide on the spot? Where will they take you? What will it cost you?

Those are among the questions The Saratogian news team is investigating for a special upcoming report on emergency medical services in Saratoga County.

The topic is timely. Numerous area nonprofit ambulance corps are struggling for operating revenue. And Saratoga Springs has turned its emergency medical calls over to its firefighters, eliminating a duplication of effort.

Last week, the Saratoga County emergency services coordinator and representatives of several ambulance squads met with Saratogian staffers for an informal and informative discussion about the challenges they are facing. That session helped us to focus on the information we need to gather and the topics we ought to pursue for this project.

We’d like your help, too.

If you have an experience to share, please contact us at You might be someone who has called for emergency medical services in Saratoga County for yourself or a family member. You might be someone who provides it, as a volunteer or a paid employee. Or you just might have some ideas about what we should address in telling this story.

Your comments will be most helpful if you include contact information so we can get back to you, for clarification or more information, or perhaps to arrange for an on-the-record interview. We will accept anonymous suggestions, too.

One day, as a teenager, I was visiting my grandmother in her high-rise apartment in Brooklyn when she passed out. In a panic, I called 911. I don’t remember how long the ambulance took to get there, but it seemed like forever. My grandmother came to and was all right by the time the crew arrived, but that frantic waiting, waiting for help stuck in my mind as a definite downside to living in a big city.

Growing up in Brooklyn, constant sirens became background noise. As an adult living in the small city of Saratoga Springs, a siren registers these passing thoughts: Could a loved one be in an accident? Is this the sound of a news story? I hope everyone is OK.

Unless you see a medical emergency or are having one, you don’t think much about what happens when you call 911. Yet if you do call it, you expect help — fast.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of our special report, which we hope to plan to have ready for Emergency Medical Services Week in May. Meanwhile, please share your suggestions and experiences to help us tell this story.


Friday, March 16, 2012

See for yourself what goes on in the newsroom

A newsroom has its daily routines, yet it is never the same two days in a row.
But don’t take my word for it. Come on in and see for yourself.
You are welcome to experience — and participate in — our late afternoon news budget meetings and join a small tour of our cozy newsroom. If you’re interested, just email me at to schedule a visit.
Tuesday evening, a group of young Boy Scouts with their parents and den leader in tow were the latest local residents to take a peek at the inner workings of The Saratogian newsroom.

Reporter Michael Cignoli told them he was heading out to the Saratoga Springs school board meeting, where buying seven new buses would be discussed. He would have less than an hour to write the story for the print deadline. He had already written about the local gliding club wanting access to Saratoga County Airport. And for a fun item for his blog, Cignoli asked Saratoga County officials to fill out the NCAA March Madness brackets and discovered it was a first for Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville.
Sportswriter James Sherrill showed them a video he’d shot, edited and uploaded of the Saratoga Springs High School ice hockey team. Sportswriters don’t just write anymore.
Sports copy editor Matthew Donato asked the visitors to help choose the “1,000 words” picture that appears daily on the second page of the sports section. You know, one picture is worth 1,000 words. Should Donato select the Associated Press picture from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska or one about Steeplechase horses?
“The dogs,” one Scout suggested as they reviewed the choices. “You have horses all the time.”
The dogs photo it was, on page 2B Wednesday.
I chatted with the group about the role of their hometown newspaper — online and in print — and how identifying issues and telling local stories are community efforts. We talked a bit about their experiences appearing in print. I also showed them metal plates that go on the printing press and how red, yellow, blue and black combine to create all the color images that are published.
News Editor Paul Tackett showed the shell of the front page of Wednesday’s Saratogian on his computer. By 6:30 p.m. he had a story about revitalizing South Broadway on one side of the page, and on the other a story about a theft that may have its roots in a gambling addiction. Tackett was awaiting the centerpiece story about a program helping veterans reintegrate in their home and community.
When the visitors first arrived, gathering around Superhorse in The Saratogian lobby, a handful of editors were clustered in Tackett’s corner for the evening “news budget” meeting, making decisions about the top stories of the day. Typical questions include: Which stories are already online, and which will need updating? Which stories will appear on the front page of the print edition — and will they go “over the fold” so you can see them in the vending boxes? Which stories have video? Did we save room to promote the online chat about financing a college education? What are the top sports stories? Which stories are coming in late, and where will they be placed in print and online? Which stories will have links on Facebook and Twitter?
Behind Tackett’s desk hang a week’s worth of front pages, so we can see at a glance the big stories and how they were presented. A few feet away, on a tall file cabinet that stores decades of Saratogians on microfilm, a magnet holds printouts of which recent online stories you, dear readers, deemed most popular.
Having community members in the newsroom as guests and advisers is nothing new. But we learn never to assume, so I shouldn’t assume you know you’re welcome. Consider this a formal invitation to an informal newsroom visit. I look forward to hearing from you.