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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.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar picks on upcoming Saratoga Film Forum schedule; and popcorn is only two bucks

I’m happy to see that the Saratoga Film Forum will be showing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in mid-March, The Artist in late April, and Iron Lady in between.

While I enjoy watching the Oscar's, some years I haven't seen most of the nominated films. Good luck finding them around here in the commercial theaters. Iron Lady I heard wasn’t that great, but I enjoy watching Meryl Streep morph into her character. The Artist I am almost sick of from all the ore-Oscar hype.

Last weekend we were glad to see The Descendants (couldn't use the word enjoyed given the subject matter), for which we traveled to Aimie's Dinner and a Movie in Glens Falls. A nice setup, and easy to get to if the downtown roundabout doesn't throw you off. I recommend Aimie's. It's a reasonably priced way to combine a film with a meal; when a similar business existed in Saratoga Springs and my kids were little, we didn't have to choose between dinner OR a movie for a night out.

One of the best kept secrets for people 50 and younger in Saratoga Springs is the film forum. Even on nights when the place is packed, this 57-year-old is among the youngest. Where are the younger folks who can get in for $7 or less, pick out a drink for a buck and popcorn for $2. Beat that.

It's right downtown, in the Arts Center building on Broadway at Spring Street. Over the years I've seen foreign flicks, dramas and comedies that never came any closer than the Spectrum in Albany. Check them out at Check them out in person. But please don't take my husband's favorite spot on Thursday nights.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

If a headline can mean more than one thing, change it

A dumb headline that didn’t even make sense cost an ESPN headline writer his job this weekend.

At worst it was a racial slur. At best it was offensive, insensitive and politically incorrect.

According to published reports, the headline that caused the stir was on ESPN’s mobile website for barely more than half an hour, and not at a particularly high-traffic time — from 2:30 a.m. to 3:03 a.m. Saturday. Someone realized it was inappropriate, but not fast enough.

The headline would have accurately told the story about the end of the Knicks’ winning streak without raising an eyebrow — if the subject hadn’t been about an Asian American.

The headline was “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.”

The phrase “Chink in the armor” has nothing to do with race, but rather refers to a weakness. But when you’re talking about the NBA’s only Asian American player, a sudden superstar, you’ve got to know better.

Forgive the stereotype, but sports headline writers in particular seem to fall prey to puns and cliches, while readers just want to know what the story is about. Puns are more often hits than misses. They are rarely funny or clever.

Should the ESPN headline writer have lost his job? That was probably overkill. It depends on whether the headline was written with malice or whether it was an insensitive, credibly dumb mistake. The outcome is a teachable moment — for all of us in the news business.

My advice to staff is don’t try to be cute in headlines and stories. Or tweets. And be sensitive to possible slurs, double meanings, or misunderstandings. If there’s more than one way to interpret a phrase in a story or headline, that’s too many. Change it.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Saratoga Springs Housing Authority: Shine a light to get rid of pests

Expose a bedbug to the light and it scurries away.

Expose an agency that should be eradicating bedbugs, and its leaders blame the media.

Saratoga Springs Housing Authority board chairman Dennis Brunelle apologized the other day to Stonequist Apartments residents for the "media hysteria" regarding the bedbug problem.
He has it backwards.

He should be apologizing to the residents of this federally subsidized building for pooh-poohing the bedbug complaints right up until this week, when the bugs were found (and finally exterminated) from 43 of Stonequist’s 176 apartments.

Had the authority solved the problem when some Stonequist Apartments residents complained about bedbugs last summer, the SSHA would have remained way under the public radar. The lack of oversight, cavalier spending of public funds, nepotism, and Director Ed Spychalski’s outrageous salary and perks would never have come to light.

Without "media hysteria," Brunelle would still be insisting the bedbugs were a minor issue. And he and his fellow board members might have been thinking that Spychalski was due for another raise. After all, they had no qualms about the doubling of Spychalski’s salary to $152,000 over a five-year period and still maintain that he’s worthy every penny and then some.

So what’s new?

Brunelle now says the board will review salaries to see where Spychalski’s stands. That’s something that would not have even been considered without the "media hysteria."

Also, the state Comptroller’s Office has agreed to conduct an audit requested by Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson. The audit request was a good move, though Johnson a latecomer to the party considering that he appoints SSHA board members and his name appears on the monthly SSHA newsletter. He should have been pushing harder, behind the scenes and publicly.

While Johnson dipped his toe, his colleague on the City Council, Accounts Commissioner John Franck, dove in. Franck helped bring the SSHA shortcomings to public light — or fueled the media frenzy, depending on your point of view.

And now a U.S. senator has gotten into the act. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is demanding that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds housing authorities, investigate the SSHA. Grassley has sparked similar investigations in other places and describes himself on his website as a watchdog of federal agencies.

As I promised in a column a couple of weeks ago, The Saratogian continues to chip away at this ongoing story. Call it media madness. I call it doing our job as public watchdogs.

It’s a shame it took a bedbug infestation for the rest of us to notice the SSHA. To get rid of pests, you have to shine a light.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Could Skidmore bookstore move into Border's?

My last blog post went into raptures over downtown, but we know it isn’t perfect. There are holes – though most of them get filled before long.

I am excited about David Zecchini’s latest innovation, a tapas restaurant on Broadway expected to open in May. And though I shoe’d myself almost exclusively through the Shoe Depot for years, I’m glad that space is due to be filled, too.

But what’s happening with the Border’s bookstore space? It’s been empty almost a year now.

I miss Border’s.

I miss the atmosphere, the books and the music in its heyday, and the public restrooms.

In Hamilton, N.Y., the Colgate University bookstore is actually in the heart of downtown, making it easy for the locals to at least buy the best sellers.

Granted, Hamilton is a much smaller community, and the Border’s spot ought to generate property taxes, and the Skidmore students shouldn’t have to travel a mile from campus to get to their books and T-shirts.

But still. I can dream, can’t I?

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Saratoga coming to aid of Gaffney's manager and her husband

What a great city this is.

You know thousands of people from out of town were thinking this as they waited cheerfully in lines dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of people long Saturday for a cup of chowder.

What a great city. So many shops, such a nice downtown, such an interesting mix of old and new architecture. The almost spring-like weather helped, sure. But Chowderfest has become such a tradition that people come anyway. I wanted to buy some kettle corn for my staff but even that line was about 60 people long. I’m used to maybe one or two people on line.

I shake my head in wonder when people who live in the nearby suburbs tell me they hardly ever come to downtown, to browse, shop or eat.

Yes, this is a great city, but it’s not just because of the shops, the restaurants and the architecture. It’s the people.

A press release crossed my electronic desk this morning with the heading: “Music Mayhem -- For the Love of Scott."

The long-time manager of Gaffney's Restaurant, Kim Smith, and her husband Scott, have been struggling with his brain cancer for the last two years.

On Sunday afternoon (Feb. 12), more than 20 local musicians and many local business owners will come together for one afternoon to host a music fest to help them financially through this crisis. I hope they have a great turnout.

Kim knows when she seats me and my husband for dinner on Friday evenings not to offer me anything from the bar —I’m on a dinner break. She always has a smile for her customers, longtime or new.

“This woman and her husband are truly loved by the entire community," said Marianne Barker, an organizer of the event along with Rick Bolton.

"When asking the Gaffney's family of musicians to play for this event, it was as if I had asked them if they wanted to play Carnegie Hall for a million dollars,” Bolton said in the press release.

"Music Mayhem -- For the Love of Scott” will take place from 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday with food, drink specials, raffles, a silent auction
— and of course, music. Scheduled bands include: Acoustic Circus, Big Medicine, Jeff Brisbin, Steve Candlen, Chris Carey, Brian Gibney & Mikki Bakken of The Fighting 86's, George Fletcher & Folding Money, Erin Harkes, Johnny & The Triumphs, Justin Joyner of Gravity, Phil Drum & Rob Adkins of Low 'N
Lonesone, Matt McCabe, Garland Nelson, New Shoes Blues, Sheri Nolan, Sirsy, Richie Ortiz, Rick Rourke & Lost Wages, Dance Mansion Duo with Marcus Ruggiero & Brian Kelley, Trevor English & Frankie, Ubuntu and Rick Bolton.

Throughout the year, as families cope with illnesses and other tragedies, people step up with moral and financial support. It’s heartbreaking when people are struggling, but so heartwarming when people pull together to help one another. Yes, this is a great city.

Tickets for “Music Mayhem” will be sold at the door, for $10 a person. Donations can be dropped off at Impressions of Saratoga, 368 Broadway or Gaffney's at 16 Caroline St., c/o John Baker, with checks payable to The Scott Smith Fund.

For more information, call Erin Anthony at 309-4549.

Here’s the schedule of entertainment planned for Sunday:

Gaffney's Starting Gate Music

2:00 - 2:25 Ubuntu
2:35 - 3:00 Trevor English & Frankie
3:10 - 3:35 Low 'N Lonesome ~
Phil Drum & Rob Adkins
3:45 - 4:10 Dance Mansion Duo ~
Marcus Ruggiero w/Brian Kelley
4:20 - 4:45 Chris Carey
4:55 - 5:20 Justin Joyner of Gravity
5:30 - 5:55 Steve Candlen
6:05 - 6:30 Jeff Brisbin

Gaffney's Upstairs Music

1:00 - 1:25 Matt McCabe
1:35 - 2:00 Mikki Bakken & Brian Gibney
of The Fighting 86's
2:10 - 2:35 George Fletcher & Folding Money
2:45 - 3:10 Erin Harkes
3:20 - 3:45 New Shoes Blues
3:55 - 4:20 Rick Rourke & Lost Wages
4:30 - 4:55 Acoustic Circus
5:05 - 5:30 Johnny & The Triumphs
5:40 - 6:05 Sirsy
6:15 - 6:40 Richie Ortiz
6:50 - 7:15 Garland Nelson
7:25 - 8:00 Big Medicine & Friends