Blogs > Fresh Ink

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, August 30, 2012

Desk clutter creep mystery: Where does it come from?

I am grateful to have an office with a window (caulked shut, plastic-covered, and grimy, but a source of some natural light) and a desk with a real wooden top. I admire that lovely wooden top late, late, late on the Friday before I go on vacation. That’s when I maniacally sort, toss and deal with all the paper that my first publisher (and recently retired chamber VP) Linda Toohey tried, unsuccessfully, to teach me to handle once.
Vacation Eve. Nice (for me)
Why can’t I keep things neat? Why can’t I put away each markup, printout, memo, note, letter and resume before proceeding to the next one? If I put my mind to it, I tell myself on the eve of each vacation, I can keep my desk as neat as it is at that moment.
Clutter creep began the second I returned from vacation, and it didn’t take long to be back to where I was before, with all new stuff.

End of first day back from vacation.

Two weeks later: Clutter creep complete
By the end of my first day back at work, the cover-up was underway. On my desk were Pink Sheets, Saratogians, notebooks, reference check forms, my red coffee mug (a Christmas gift one year from Assistant Managing Editor Betsy DeMars) and a fortune cookie (leftover from lunch, getting my Chinese food fix after vacation on the Cape).
Two weeks later, what do we have: a hopeless morass newspapers, story planning sheets, primary election flyers, 11 Rolodex cards, two DVDs of reporter applicant tests, my watch (which I always take off and sometimes forget), my aforementioned red mug, a travel mug, three water bottles (two of them empty), my cell phone and my iPad.
Well, I hear it’s beautiful out today — and if I wrap this up I can enjoy 30 minutes of daylight. That should be my priority. I can clean my desk tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

High school football preview hot off the press

This fall, my husband told me, I should come with him to some of the high school football games. I think I will. And when I do, I will be prepared: Thursday’s print edition of The Saratogian (Aug. 30, 2012) includes a 72-page high school football preview section with stories, photos, rosters and stats for area teams.
A section like this is a mammoth undertaking for a small paper – or even two papers. It is the joint effort of The Saratogian and The Record, our sister paper based in Troy, where most of the heavy lifting was done. The roster of staffers includes pretty much our entire combined sports and photo departments — all while racing and the daily Pink Sheet are still in full swing.
Kevin Moran, the sports editor for both papers, led the project, along with Laura Amato, Tim Martin and Joe Rocha as writers, editors, paginators and proofers, plus writers Michael Cignoli, Stan Hudy, Andrew Santillo and Ed Weaver. Photographers Erica Miller, Ed Burke, J.S. Carras and Chief Photographer Mike McMahon traveled to scrimmages and assorted practices for current photos. And as I write this, Online Editor Emily Donohue is putting elements on The Saratogian website. You will find a drop down under Sports on our website devoted to high school football. The entire section will be available in PDF form.
It doesn’t take an investigative reporter to figure out this blog post is a brag about this outstanding effort. Hope you pick up a copy of the section in Thursday’s Saratogian (or The Record, if you’re in Troy turf) — and read, print and pass along the online content.
See you Friday!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hold on to your tickets: Saratoga racing season off to a winning start

Tender beef and asparagus for lunch, a $94 winning ticket (for my dad), and a limousine ride to work: Not a bad first day of the Saratoga racing season.

On the way to Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson's lovely Opening Day luncheon at Saratoga Race Course I made a pit stop at a betting window. My dad had asked me to box 5-3 -- the date of my parents' wedding anniversary -- in an exacta for the first race.  I also bet my birthday, 4-1-7.

Too busy yakking at lunch with Jane Wait to pay attention to the race, I waited till I was heading out to ask a teller if my tickets were winners. She ran them through her machine. "Nope." Pause. "Do you want the tickets back?"

"Yes," I said, thinking, that's how I can prove I placed my father's bet.

Walking back to work, I called Dad, who watches the races on the OTB channel. "My exacta came in!" he said.

"No, it didn't," I insisted, the child knowing better than the parent. "The teller told me it was a losing ticket."

"That's a winning ticket," he declared. "Don't lose it."

"OK, OK," I said, crossing Union Avenue at Circular Street.

A limousine was at the light, waiting to turn. I stuck out my thumb ... and the limo turned the corner and pulled over. I still got it! The window rolled down. "Hop in," said the driver, who turned out to be the friendly Bob Longo of Telstar Limousine. He took me right into The Saratogian parking lot, where no one was outside to witness my  first-class arrival.

First task back at the office was to check with the Pink Sheet clerk for the results of that first race.

"You were right," I told me father.

"I know I was right," he replied.

Did the teller make an honest mistake with a malfunctioning machine, or was she hoping I would unwittingly give up a winning ticket?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Shocked! Shocked! at Saratoga Garbage Gate

I want to tell you about Garbage Gate.

That’s my internal name for the story Lucian McCarty wrote the other day about the unsupervised and sometimes illegal dumping of garbage at the waste transfer/recycling facility on Weibel Avenue in Saratoga Springs.

It’s no Watergate (look it up, kids). But it’s a legitimate example of where you (community members), alert us (the media), to possible wrongdoing, and together we expose problems, demand accountability, and, on a really good day, spark positive change.

A while back someone I’ll call Garbage Throat called to tell me that a certain business was taking advantage of personal ties to the city Public Works Department by throwing their trash into a city truck and/or dumping the trash at the transfer station, after the employee there had left for the day, without using the $4 bags. We’re all supposed to pay four bucks to chuck garbage into the hole; it’s not fair for some people to do it for free. And if you have a lot of garbage, that can add up fast.

Garbage Throat is someone I would consider a reliable source. But he didn’t have photos, and some of his information was second-hand. Our initial “stakeouts” yielded nothing. With a staff or three reporters, Garbage Gate went to the back burner.

Then, a week ago Monday, I had in my trunk a box of encyclopedias to take to recycling at the transfer station. (The traumatic experience of having to throw out a set of encyclopedias will be the subject of another blog post.) Remembering Garbage Throat, I go to the transfer station at about 3:45, dumped the books into recycling and waited in my car with a clear view of the spot where people can throw their garbage into a big city-run compactor. The city employee was gone; the county employee who oversees the recycling operations was doing his thing, closing up the places where people can throw sorted recyclables, not giving the city compactor a second glance.

A white Dodge Ram pulled up to the hole by the city compactor. I watched a woman make a few trips to the back of her truck to toss stuff out in what looked like kitchen white garbage bags. (The $4 city bags are clear and clearly labeled.) Then she threw in what looked like a big plastic jug (that should have been dropped into the recycling bin a few feet away). As she prepared to toss a handful of paper junk over the edge, I got out of my car and walked over. I introduced myself and said something to the effect that she didn’t seem to be using the required city bags. 

She did not take kindly to the low-key but unexpected confrontation. I jotted down the license plate. “Barbara, get a life,” she said, declining to tell me her name or to talk about what she was doing there. “Why don't you go write about Michele Riggi.”

It was clear to me that this woman knew the drill; she knew when to show up, when the city DPW guy would be off duty. It was clear, too, that she wasn’t the big fish we’d been tipped off about. Would we still be able to reel that one in?

During the week, McCarty was on the case. He talked to the county DPW guy, who wouldn’t say anything for publication. Later, though, the county DPW head told McCarty word about the unsupervised and sometimes illegal dumping had been passed up, but never passed on to the city. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

During the rest of the week, as if on cue, the alleged illegal dumper and about half a dozen others showed up after the city worker was gone. But, contrary to the tip from Garbage Throat, all used the official $4 city bags.

Were these after-hours regulars using proper bags all along? Was someone tipped off that The Saratogian was on to them? Don’t know. Probably never will. But we still had a story: In the 15 or 20 minutes after the city DPW guy leaves and the county guy locks the big gate, anyone in the know can dump whatever they want into the city compactor.

We took that information to the City Council member responsible for DPW, Skip Scirocco, who did an excellent Captain Renault, the Vichy officer in Casablanca who closes up Rick’s café: I'm shocked, shocked! 

OK, Scirocco wasn’t exactly shocked, but said it was the first he’d heard of such thing. “It could happen,” he said. “If they’re doing it, shame on them.”

A while back, when a Sound Off caller complained that the city compactor was closed before the 3:55 p.m. posted closing time of the facility, Scirocco explained that the city person leaves 10 minutes earlier (or 15 or 20) to get back to City Hall to turn in the day’s receipts. He didn’t explain — and I didn’t realize at the time — that the unsupervised compactor was still accessible. He didn’t think it necessary to modify the sign to let people know the city compactor closed earlier than the county recycling portion.

On Monday, when McCarty asked Scirocco for comment about the unsupervised dumping, he was ready with a solution: He would add a second person and install a video camera. It’s plenty busy for two people, he said.

Really? How about coordinating with the county to close the whole place up 15 minutes earlier, as commenter Mr. Jack Daniel suggested on McCarty’s story? Or splitting the day between two people, so that the second person’s shift ends after 4 p.m.? Or cordoning off the city area earlier and asking the county guy to alert the city to scofflaws? 

Surely there are better solutions than daily overtime for one person or devoting two people to hang around a garbage hole in a city where DPW hours are already dear. And to the Dodge Ram dumper: Leave Michele Riggi out of this.