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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, September 26, 2013

A ‘once-in-a-millennium’ Colo. getaway

A couple of weeks ago I traveled more than 3,600 miles round trip for my first visit to Colorado and landed in the middle of a downpour that a Reuters story described as a “once-in-a-millennium event.”
The city of Boulder and surrounding areas were really hard hit. The devastation is still being assessed; on Friday the death toll was at 10, and about 200 people were unaccounted for.
Lucky for me, my trip was to Denver, which wasn’t a total washout. I visited the sprawling digs of the Denver Post which, like The Saratogian, is managed by Digital First Media. I received a writing award, was inspired by the excellent work being done by colleagues at Digital First Media newsrooms large and small, learned about the latest must-have apps for journalists, listened to CEO John Paton affirm the strategy of our aptly named company, and conference called with people in four states preparing for the same print edition changes that were introduced in The Saratogian this past week.
After work was mostly done, my husband and I explored parts of downtown Denver and took in a Neko Case concert in an opera house that is part of an expansive performing arts complex. We had coffee every morning at the nearest of about 70 Starbucks in walking distance from our hotel. But coffee isn’t one of the most important parts of a mini-vacation. Food is. And I scored twice with duck, at the hip and hopping Larimer Street’s Rioja, where the Greek salad was a reconstructed work of art, and the more out-of-the-way Mizuna, where I wish I’d had room for the peach cobbler.
Before going to Denver I had booked a daylong tour into the reportedly glorious Rocky Mountain National Park to be conducted by a guide named Mike Pearl who, it turned out, has in-laws in Queensbury and avoids the Saratoga crowds. But the park was closed due to the deluge. So he drove us west of Denver to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where dozens of people were getting their exercise at 6,000 feet above sea level by running up and down the venue’s wide wooden steps. We traveled through mining towns and into ski villages, including Breckenridge, where we happened upon an Oktoberfest. No duck, but a decent bratwurst — and weather fit for a duck.
All 14 of us on the tour were Colorado first-timers, including folks from Australia, Japan, Germany and Scotland. We took full of advantage of the photo opportunity at a sign for the Continental Divide, from which water winds its way to either the Pacific or Atlantic oceans.
Next to me on the packed plane home was a Denver police officer whose National Guard unit had just finished rescuing people trapped by the flooding. While some people stranded by washed-out roads needed saving, others were contentedly making do, he said. We had a good conversation as well about law enforcement and local media relations, which we agreed could be better. Same everywhere, I suspect.
That, in a nutshell, was my fleeting retreat to the highest and one of the driest states in the nation during its wettest period in the last 100 years. I returned to Saratoga to jump into a major redesign of The Saratogian print edition and how its pages are prepared for publication. Now that I’ve come down from the mile-high air of the Rocky Mountain foothills, I’ll dive into that topic next time.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A dry heat in Denver? Try a wet one.

The most amazing thing about the Denver Post newsroom, in which I am sitting as I write this, is not that its sixth-floor windows overlook a lovely downtown bordered by the Rocky Mountains (hidden by clouds since my arrival), nor that its newsroom seems to have more square footage than the Saratoga Springs City Center, nor that the Post has its own auditorium.

The most amazing thing is that the newsroom desks are neat.  Spooky clean in some cases.

I arrived a bit early for programs being presented today by Digital First Media, the company that manages dozens of news products -- the Denver Post being the largest and The Saratogian among the smaller properties -- so that I could check out the newsroom.

The guard in the sprawling lobby rang up to the newsroom and used his card to set the elevator for the sixth floor, where Linda Shapley, director of news operations, gave me the 50-cent tour of the joint, including a peek into their video studio. Like newspapers everywhere, the Post has suffered serious staff cuts, but still does outstanding work, both digitally and in print. They have a Pulitzer and Emmys to show for it.

Upon closer inspection of the workspaces, I saw a pear on one desk and a banana on another. Then I found a table with every newsroom's ubiquitous unhealthy array of carbs and soda, sustenance for in-house staffers staying on top of flooding that has been wreaking havoc in the region since last night. 

The friendly newsroom folks offered to include me in their takeout Mexican lunch order, but now I am heading downstairs to the Digital First Media gathering for sustenance, seminars and an award program. I'll let you know if I see any mountains.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A brutal fall in a run from police is a far cry from police brutality

       The pursued man reached the  dead end at right and jumped
onto the small roof and landing,
which ends abruptly at scaffolding and a 19-foot drop.

There’s no excuse for police brutality.
And, as far as we can tell, in the case involving Darryl Mount, the young man in a coma at Albany Medical Center after a downtown police chase last week, there wasn’t brutality.
If you know otherwise, where are you?
Here’s how the Saratoga Springs Police Department tells it: At about 3 a.m. Aug. 31, officers saw a man smash a woman’s head into a wall outside a Caroline Street bar. They chased him up Broadway and around the corner to the new alley between Cantina’s and Northshire Books, tried unsuccessfully to stop him with oral commands and Tasers, lost sight of him, and found him behind the building below construction scaffolding. At 3:08 they called for emergency medical assistance for a “male fallen approximately 15 feet (with a) head injury,” and initially handcuffed and then uncuffed him. The fire department medical responders took the unconscious man by ambulance to the hospital.
The day of the incident, someone who knows the family emailed me and said the woman’s head wasn’t smashed and she will say so; that witnesses saw the man interacting with police, and that pictures show injuries inflicted by police.
“The family just wants the truth to be told and justice to be served,” the family friend said.
Me too.
I gave her my mobile phone number. Nothing.
Instead, family members and 50 or more others marched outside City Hall to decry police brutality for which no evidence has been produced.
Then, on Saturday, someone who knows Mount told someone who told me that someone has video showing police taking him away, proving he was beaten senseless between his arrest and landing in the hospital.
But police say he was taken away by ambulance, unconscious.
If you were on Caroline Street and Broadway at 3 a.m. last Saturday and have a story to tell, The Saratogian wants to hear it. So does the police chief, who publicly said he will personally talk to anyone who comes forward (584-1800). People can leave messages at or call anonymously at 584-TIPS.
To recreate the scene of the incident, walk to the dead-end of the alley where police pursued Mount, as I did, and you’ll see the railing he climbed over and the small roof onto which he ran. To see more, you have to walk around the block to Putnam Street and into the alley between Gaffney’s and Izumi to the rear of The Washington Building, which houses Northshire Books and is still under construction. You can see the landing ends abruptly, and the options are to leap onto the Gaffney’s building fire escape or a fall through the scaffolding to the ground more than 15 feet below.
Police say the head-smashing is on video, which The Saratogian has requested under the state Freedom of Information Law.
We don’t know Mount’s prognosis, though one of his aunts said Saturday that he is off the ventilator and a barbecue fundraiser to assist with his medical bills will take place at the Eagles Club on Crescent Avenue near Lake Lonely on Sunday, Sept. 22. An account has also been set up for him through the Trustco banks.
We don’t wish the injuries Darryl Mount suffered on anyone. And we do want justice served.
If there’s more to the story than a chase and a dreadful fall, let’s hear it.
Barbara Lombardo is managing editor of The Saratogian. Her blog, Fresh Ink, is at

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

UAlbany to help Tunisia train tomorrow's journalists

Young people who read news do it online. Facebook is extremely popular for sharing news. Journalism students have fewer job opportunities and earn less money than their communications department counterparts who go into public relations. Yet journalism is an increasingly popular major.
In Tunisia.
From left, University at Albany biology professor John Schmidt,
 UAlbany Journalism Director Nancy Roberts, and
 Moez Ben Messaoud, head of the Communications Department
 of Tunisia's Press and Information Sciences Institute.
Yes, Tunisia. Just like here.
I learned this tonight over curried chicken and vegetable samosa in the Saratoga Springs backyard of University at Albany Journalism Program Director Nancy L. Roberts, who was hosting an informal get-together with three colleagues visiting from Tunisia and journalism instructors at UAlbany, where I teach a reporting class one night a week.
Moez Ben Messaoud, head of the communications department of Tunisia’s Press and Information Sciences Institute, and I had lots of questions for each other about journalism students and programs and more. He is here with Taoufik Yacoub, who runs the institute, and Hamida El Bour, head of its journalism department.
UAlbany journalism professor Thomas Bass obtained a grant with which the department is helping to create a master’s journalism program at the Tunisian university, which has about 800 media students. The three visitors were guests earlier today at the Times Union, and in the next few days will be at the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Tunisia, with a population of about 10 million, is the smallest country in Northern Africa. If Italy’s boot kicked Sicily, it would skip over the Mediterranean Sea and hit Tunisia in the nose. The revolutionary uprisings known as the Arab Spring that began in December 2010 originated in Tunisia. It is, to oversimplify, a struggling young democracy – a place ripe for eager, budding journalists.