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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.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Police must not pick and choose whose arrests are made public

The Saratogian’s report last week about two arrests initially omitted from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office public blotter raises questions about whether the department treats all citizens fairly and consistently.
Two missing arrests over six months aren’t earth-shattering. But they are disconcerting.
It’s impossible to tell whether these were two isolated incidents or two examples of an ongoing practice in which law enforcers pick and choose whom to protect from public exposure.
The department’s explanation in both cases regrettably suggests the latter.
The first incident was the omission of a felony charge against the then 17-year-old son of the top county employee. The department asserted that their usual practice is not to include cases against 17-year-olds, although a review of their blotter indicates otherwise.
The second was a DWI against a Clifton Park man who, we were told, had asked for a reprieve from the public blotter in which all arrests are supposed to be posted. We could only speculate what connections he might have had to obtain this favor.
When a reporter asked the undersheriff about the missing report, he said it was in the book. However, in photos of the pages in the book taken by the reporter weeks prior, it is easy to see through one press release to the release beneath it. The press release in question wasn’t originally there.
If there’s a reasonable explanation, the sheriff’s department hasn’t offered it.
We all make mistakes.
We in the newsroom make errors and bad judgment calls, but our intentions are to be fair and consistent.
Once in a while a caller will ask on behalf of themselves or a friend or relative that an arrest not be published. The request is often sheepish, sometimes pleading, rarely demanding. Anyone of us could be walking in their shoes, and I usually feel for them. But I never accommodate them.
We don’t go out of our way to dig up an arrest, but we also do not intentionally skip over any arrests we normally report. Doesn’t matter who the person is, who they’re related to or with whom they do business.
I remember as a rookie reporter overhearing the cops reporter handle occasional requests to keep out their arrest. “Sure,” he would say. “Just come over to sign the form.”
The form?
“Yeah,” he’d explain. “The one that says you’ll promise to support me when I’m fired for playing favorites.”
To retain the trust of the community, we in the news business must be diligent about owning up to mistakes and correcting the record.
The same goes for those in law enforcement.

Barbara Lombardo is managing editor of The Saratogian. Her blog, Fresh Ink, is on

Monday, August 12, 2013

OK, commenter, let’s take it up a notch

The Internet provides the immediacy and broad reach that enable newspapers to serve as a dynamic forum on local and national issues. The challenge continues to be how to keep the conversations stimulating, enlightening, timely — and civil.
Commenters often provide additional insight, point out errors and suggest good follow-ups, all of which are helpful and welcome.
And then there are the other ones.
For months, Online Editor Emily Donohue monitored comments posted to stories on The Saratogian website throughout the day. A handful of commenters monopolized an inordinate amount of her workweek in her admirable quest to maintain courtesy and encourage civility in a mostly free-wheeling format.
Donohue moved on to other adventures a few weeks ago, so I’ve been relying more heavily on you, readers, to flag offensive, angry, off-topic comments. With the online editor position open, I’ve been monitoring comments and reviewing those that go into a holding cue pending approval.
Some are fine. Many are, well, … shame on you.
While I love to engage with readers, I have neither the time nor inclination to engage with commenters, especially anonymous ones, who intentionally misuse the opportunity.
Personal attacks (particularly about other commenters), foul language (blatant or thinly di$gui$ed), name-calling and incessant nastiness prompt me not merely to delete comments, but to blacklist commenters. (If you are not successful at flagging a comment, email me at blom|
Also, expect comments to be closed on things like stories about crime and politically charged opinion page pieces that bring out the worst of the worst. We’re still the place for your non-anonymous opinions, which you can send to letters@saratogian. com.
Not everyone gets the hook without a warning. Last week I emailed a commenter letting him specifically know why I was going to delete a comment. “You are welcome to resubmit without the name-calling,” I wrote.
His response: “Thank you but I will not resubmit anything to your paper, the censorship shown by you is intolerable and I will no longer submit or read anything in The Saratogian.”
Censorship? My first responsibility is to The Saratogian and its credibility, not to people who mistakenly think any newspaper is obligated to publish whatever is submitted.
When I write editorials, I strive to avoid name-calling and other cheap shots that would diminish my point or the potency of the position being presented. Readers should strive for the same — or at least stay out of the gutter.
A related issue facing reporters everywhere is if, when and how to respond to comments on their stories. The other day reporters participated in a live chat on that topic hosted by an editor at the Daily Freeman in Kingston, one of our sister publications under the umbrella of Digital First Media.
A couple of reporters on the chat summed up the why and how: Responding “shows readers we’re interested in what they have to say, and helps them understand we’re more than bylines,” wrote one; responses “should be professional, obviously, and NOT be about having the last word. Let the reporting and info speak for themselves,” added another.
But, asked one reporter, “Should you defend yourself/the paper if people bash you relentlessly?” If it’s relentless, it’s time to call in the managing editor to either respond or hit delete.
Occasionally, a reader rescues a reporter from undue criticism. Last week someone had the gall to chastise a reporter and this newspaper for not having a pre-dawn fire reported on the website until early morning.
A gallant reader quickly defended the right of journalists to be asleep at four in the morning. I didn’t respond then so I will now: Thank you, sir.