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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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Without credibility, we have nothing

Newspapers are valuable because they tell you what’s happened, what’s likely to happen and what you can do about it. They contain information that is important, interesting, relevant, thought-provoking and/or emotion-evoking.
But all the content and presentation and timeliness are meaningless without one thing: Credibility.
When all is said and done, credibility is their only stock-in-trade.
Without it, nothing else matters.
I tried to explain this the other day to someone who took issue with a story in The Saratogian that portrayed him in an unflattering light. He said part of it was inaccurate, but the part he challenged was pretty much word for word what was on the police report, to whom the information was attributed.  
Then he said if we didn’t change the story he would pull his advertising.
You’re kidding, right? I thought that, but didn’t say it.
What I said was, we wouldn’t want to publish inaccurate information and we also wouldn’t want the news dictated by advertisers and surely he would agree.
No, he didn’t.
His contention was, in a nutshell, that businesses support the newspaper by advertising and the newspaper in turn should support the advertisers by letting them decide whether something ought to be published.
No can do.
Once in a while, someone will call me, sometimes someone I know and sometimes not, sheepishly asking whether a news item, usually one on the police blotter, can be overlooked. Usually they are asking on someone else’s behalf; sometimes on their own. And usually they already know the answer.
I feel bad for basically decent people and their families who are embarrassed or hurt by things that are published. I am uncomfortable and sad when they are people I happen to know, or when the people seem to have enough problems. This is a small city.
But it doesn’t matter whether you’re the smallest advertiser or the biggest, or a friend of the publisher or the relative of an employee. No special treatment. It’s not about selling papers or getting page views. It’s about consistency, fairness and credibility.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

New mix of Sunday comics starting Feb. 3

People take their comics seriously. So I want to give you a heads up and a little explanation about changes to The Saratogian’s Sunday comic section starting Feb. 3.
We’ve add some features and dropped some; I hope you’ll like the new mix.
The changes were precipitated by economics. The goal was for The Saratogian and two of its sister papers, The Record based in Troy and the Daily Dispatch based in Oneida, to share one comics section. Makes sense. But that means getting used to some new features and saying goodbye to some others.
A must-keep was Dilbert.
I find solace in Dilbert, taking comfort in the shared frustrations of the absurdities of workplaces and companies everywhere. I manage a grimace of a smile even when the pointy-haired boss is uncomfortably familiar. And my colleagues in Troy and Oneida were eager to offer readers the genius of Scott Adams.
Other familiar faces include Lio and his monsters; the “B.C.” cavemen; the oddballs in local cartoonist John McPherson’s “Close to Home;” the frozen-in-time “Family Circus” (Who altered these comics? Not me!); the goofball cop, lawyer and shrink in “Pros and Cons;” my parents — oops, I mean, “The Lockhorns;” the “Stone Soup” sisters; the alien, chicken and slice of pie in “Bizarro;” the “Heart of the City” kids, and “Slylock Fox” (can you spot six differences between this week’s comics and last week’s?).
Among the new additions: the wonderfully drawn family feature “Baby Blues,” the serial “Spiderman,” good old “Crankshaft,” brand-new “Thatababy,” and an assortment of puzzles. The New York Times puzzle will still be waiting for you in the Life section, but Sudoko and Jumble will appear in the comics section, along with two more puzzles — Wonderword and the Newsday crossword, which has been popular with The Record readers.
Comics have a long tradition in newspapers, starting with The Yellow Kid in the 1890s. (I learned about him in journalism graduate school, but you can catch up for free on Wikipedia).
Snagging the Sunday funnies has been one of my lifelong pleasures. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I couldn’t wait to catch up on the well-being of the orphan Dondi, I longed for the day when I’d have a watch like Dick Tracy, and I was inspired by the brave and sexy reporter Brenda Starr. Decades later, it was with some reluctance that I dropped Brenda from The Saratogian.
I had a similar feeling with some of the funnies I let go for this new, consolidated section. But I’m happy with the additions, too. I hope you will be, too. Either way, let me know at or 583-8711.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Who could forget a baby in a car? Anyone.

Here were my first two thoughts when I heard about the 1-year-old left by his parent for eight hours in a cold car with Thursday, with temperatures in the teens.
1.    Thank goodness the baby is all right.
2.    That could have been me.
It never happened during the years I toted my now-grown boys to day care my way to work. But when I do something out of the usual routine, I’ve discovered it’s frighteningly easy to forget something — even your own child.
From time to time we hear about a child who dies when forgotten in a car. My heart goes out to people who have to live with that horrible loss.
This time, I am so glad for the “happy ending,” yet do feel sorry for the man who made the news for forgetting his son was bundled up in his car seat, where he saw all day while the father was at work.
I can only imagine his relief. And how he intends to spoil this kid for the rest of his life.
On a related note, whether the father’s identity is relevant was the subject of a brief discussion in the newsroom today. His name hasn’t been published (yet), though the media have reported the exact address of his workplace. He hasn’t been charged with a crime and so his name hasn’t being published, as of this posting.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Come to forum on keeping children safe from gun violence

Keep my child safe.

No instinct is more compelling than the need to protect one’s offspring — no matter how old they get.

It is difficult for me to accept that this is something I can no longer control, and never could, not really.

I’m a big believer, as John Gray has written in his weekly column, about telling people you love that you love them, giving them a hug whenever you can, and not taking them for granted. Terrible, irreversible things can happen in the unexpected blink of an eye.

Yet some things we take for granted, and we should. When we send a child off to school, we expect to see them at day’s end. We never dream that they might be murdered in the haven of their classroom. But the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month reminded us that nightmares can happen. And, as we’ve seen in Saratoga Springs this weekend, that horrible shooting has aroused tremendous emotions and a call to action among people who believe more gun control is needed. The topic is emotional and, unfortunately, can get downright nasty.

Honestly, I don’t know enough about guns, the laws and the proposals at hand to tell you what kind of new federal and state legislation would be needed. But I am reading up on it. And I intend to attend the forum on school safety being presented later this month by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga, Schenectady and Albany counties.

The forum titled “Keeping Our Children Safe from Gun Violence in Schools,” will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at Ballston Spa High School.

Susan Arbetter will moderate the two-hour forum, which will include representation from the media, the mental health community and five statewide organizations: the Council of School Superintendents, New York State United Teachers, New York State PTA, the New York State Police, and the League of Women Voters.

Shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Saratoga league president thought there might be interest locally in a forum, and I jumped on the opportunity for The Saratogian to co-sponsor it through promotional advertising, to help spread the word.

The league has a position in favor of “reasonable gun control,” but the focus of the forum is broader. The issues go beyond gun control, including care for the mentally ill and strategies for protecting students and adults in our schools.

No one thing, no law, no protocol can guarantee our children’s safety in school or anywhere else. But progress can be made by addressing the concerns and considering the options in civil, thoughtful discourse that is being provided by the league with its forum.

After all, we all want the same thing: to keep our children safe.

This is intended as “a solution-based community forum.” Each panelist has been asked to respond to a particular facet of gun violence in schools, followed by a dialogue among all seven panelists. Written questions will then be taken from the audience for the remainder of the time.

The forum will be moderated by Susan Arbetter, capitol correspondent for WCNY in Syracuse.

The panelists and their topics are:

• Dr. James Kelleher of Four Winds Hospital, on what mental health issues must be addressed to stop school shootings.

• Dr. Oliver Robinson, Shenendehowa school superintendent and representative of the statewide Council of School Superintendents, on what support superintendents need to keep their schools safe.

• Karen Parlapiano of the state PTA, on how parents are mobilizing and how the community can help.

• Kathleen Donahue of NYSUT, on what teachers need to feel safe.

• Trooper K. McMahon, on what precautions schools are taking to protect students.

• Rosemary Armao of the University at Albany journalism faculty and an international investigative reporter, on whether reporting violence in the media contributes to the problem.

• Aimee Allaud of the statewide League of Women Voters, on what legislative action is needed to reduce gun violence in schools.

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