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.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Someone stole my Facebook ID and bugged my 'friends'

I did not send you a friend request on Facebook, not that I don’t like you.

I did not win $90,000, not that I’d be averse to that.

And I did not realize how impossible it would be to let Facebook know my account had been compromised.

While I was sitting in a corporate meeting of editors Wednesday wondering when the afternoon coffee and cookies would be wheeled in, someone somewhere created a faux Barbara Lombardo Facebook page and invited my Facebook friends and email contacts people to be my friend. Some also received exciting but unfortunately false news about me winning $90,000.

The responses varied from curious (“Hey, sister, did you send out a friend request? We’re already friends”), to concerned (“I got a weird message from you that didn’t sound like you”), to creeped out (“Ugh, the boss asked to friend me”).

So I changed what I hope are all of my passwords for email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, Tout, Storify, Pinterest and Instagram. I’ve run out of places of birth; favorite teams, movie stars and athletes; significant dates; lucky numbers; pets, dead or alive; street names and special cities; and schools, workplaces and organizations. I had to start a paper folder called “P*******S — DO NOT LOOK IN HERE.”

Next came notifying Facebook. has a lovely and deceptively simple list of ways to report something — none of which involve ever reaching a human being. No choice fit the problem at hand.

After a few hundred thousand clicks, I found “How do I report a fake account that’s pretending to be me,” but the fix required being on the fake timeline, which I could not find. Finally, I enlisted the help of someone less than half my age, Community Engagement Editor Aubree Kammler, and watched with perverse satisfaction as she hit as many dead ends as I had — although she eventually found a place to file a grievance. She typed in a description of the problem and sent it to wherever in Facebookland complaints go to die. 

We never did get any coffee or cookies at the editors meeting. But, on the bright side, that night and all the next day, I received welcome emails and phone calls from people I hadn’t been in touch with for way too long, all spurred by the friend request and bogus prize money. “How was your trip to Nigeria?” wrote former Saratogian reporter Jim Kinney. “The prince sounded nice on the phone.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reduce gun violence: the goal of Gabby Giffords' PAC headed by Saratoga's Pia Carusone

The federal government should require background checks for gun purchases anywhere in the country. The concept is overwhelming supported by Americans. So simple. So sensible. So fair. Yet, so far, impossible to get through Congress.
But that doesn’t mean give up.
A fund-raiser letter arrived at home this week from Americans for Responsible Solutions, the political action c
Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly, right,
 at October 2103 gun show in Saratoga Springs.
ommittee created by Gabby Giffords, whose impressive, blossoming career in Congress was cut short by a mentally ill man who shot six people to death and injured more than a dozen others, including Giffords, the target of his rampage.
“Many may look at me and see mostly what I have lost,” began a letter in the mailing signed by Giffords. “I struggle to speak. My eyesight’s not great. My right arm and leg are paralyzed. And I left a job I loved representing southern Arizona in Congress.”
She briefly described the daily, painful, frustrating rehab that she must do every day and asked, “if simply completing a normal day requires so much work, how would I ever be able to fulfill a larger purpose?”
The answer, she wrote, came with the shooting of the schoolchildren in Sandy Hook: “After that day, my husband, Mark, and I pledged to make it our mission to change laws and reduce gun violence.”
Thus was born the Americans for Responsible Solutions, whose goals they have been tirelessly promoting around the country. Last October, the cause brought themto Saratoga Springs, where she and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held apress conference at a gun show to urge that New York’s laws pertaining to background checks serve as a model for federal legislation.
The U.S. Senate failed to pass a background checks bill, and now the Americans for Responsible Solutions is focusing on supporting the election of candidates who will. This PAC is a little guy compared to the gun lobby, but why that lobby is against making it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns is beyond me.
Besides the Giffords letter, the mailing included a letter from the organization’s executive director, Saratoga Springs’ own Pia Carusone, who had been Giffords’ chief of staff and is as passionate as her boss about this cause. The letter notes that any contribution to Americans for Responsible Solutions by March 31 will be matched by a donor, up to $500,000. I know the matching donation pitch is a well-worn fund-raising strategy, but it works.
If it’s piqued your interest as it did mine, the mailing address is P.O. Box 92560, Washington, DC 20090. Learn more at

Friday, March 14, 2014

Saratoga Springs City Council casino vote: Reporting the news as it happens

A caller to the anonymous Sound Off line last week called it “hard to believe” that The Saratogian didn’t have results of the Tuesday, March 4 City Council casino vote in the paper on Wednesday.

Let me set the record straight.

Saratogian coverage of the meeting began Tuesday even before it was called to order. And readers could find the vote as soon as it happened, on

Granted, our print deadline precluded us from having the vote in Wednesday’s print edition, though it did feature Ed Burke’s photos of the full house in City Hall and a note directing readers to coverage online. But the results were available long before the paper hit the porch.

Throughout the meeting, city reporter Lucian McCarty “live-tweeted” what was going on. Followers of Lucian on Twitter (@SaratogianCDesk) could stay abreast of the action. But you didn’t need a Twitter account; his 95 tweets were front and center on The Saratogian website, where readers could scroll through the action as it occurred. The live feed included any tweets that included #casino518, thus adding more voices to the report.

The website also provided a link to the live audio of the meeting. When the vote took place, City Editor Charlie Kraebel immediately updated the online story. Later Tuesday night, Lucian fleshed out the story further. On Wednesday the story was updated again, and the actual resolution was published as well.

If I had my druthers, the vote would have made it to the printed page. But I don’t, and in the long run it shouldn’t matter. In today’s world, a printed paper serves readers best by advancing and exploring issues than on being the source for breaking news. For instance, the Sunday prior to the City Council meeting, the front page of the print version contained Lucian’s story about the vote that was to take place and where council members stood. The story also directed people online to find the entire transcript of the casino forum hosted in December by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and Saratoga County Convention and Tourism Bureau.

By the time the presses roll, the news is old news — still worthy of reporting, but probably not new to anyone interested in knowing what’s going on. Every media outlet — including TV and radio stations — strive to report news as it’s happening for people to follow on their phones, tablets and computers, without regard to when their next broadcast or press run is scheduled.

Whenever I respond to a Sound Off saying the news was online, someone calls to alert me to the fact that not everyone uses a computer. I understand that, I really do. I don’t mean to criticize those readers or diminish the value of the printed newspaper. But here’s another fact: more people get their news through the Internet than through a printed newspaper. That’s where newsrooms must focus their energy to survive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Harbor view, Celtics win make for memorable Boston get-away

Freezing rain is pattering loud enough to hear through the plastic sheeting covering on my office windows, through which I can see people and cars sloshing through the intersection. It’s slippery, messy and miserable.
Time to think about Boston — and California.
My husband and I took a long weekend to enjoy a city we used to visit regularly but hadn’t been to for fun in years. We lucked out with decent weather by March standards, a special Impressionist exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts and a Sunday night Celtics win. I splurged on a waterfront hotel overlooking the Boston Harbor, a change of pace from Copley Place. (The only thing that would have made the view more perfect would have been mountains in the background rather than Logan Airport.)
We wandered around and through Quincy Market and happened upon the open-air market for fruits, vegetables and fish. It was also the day of a pub crawl, so the streets were busy with green-shirted 20-somethings whose crawling after-effects were being hosed off the sidewalks the next morning.
The official impetus for the trip was to see the Celtics one night, which meant my husband would be taking me out to a nice dinner the other night. It was dry and warm enough to wear heels to walk to Strega’s for dinner, but I texted my son Joe in Chicago to acknowledge what he already knew: that the so-called Windy City is less windy than Boston. Another difference: It’s easier buying a train ticket in Chicago.
In the old days (zzzzzzzz, who wants to hear a story?), someone sat in a booth near the turnstiles at the T stations and slid tokens through a mousehole-shaped hole. Last weekend, a patient native first helped a foreign visitor and then me through the touch screens to buy a “Charlie Ticket” to ride the train.  Couldn’t they just design a screen that says a trip costs $2.50, how many do you want? The Boston train system itself is easy to navigate but the ticket machines are, as my mother used to say, from hunger.
The Boston Garden, or whatever it's called these days, was still right off the green line, but much easier to get to than last time I was there. I don't think there's a bad seat in the house. I got a pretzel and a soda for less than ten bucks. And now I know the new starting lineup, more or less, or whatever it's called in basketball.
I really like Boston. It’s a walkable city with lots of different neighborhoods, rich history, interesting architecture and, as long as you don’t talk about the New York Yankees, friendly people. Though a relatively quick trip, it was a refreshing get-away and a reminder that Boston is only three and a half hours away. Next up: planning a week in northern California to fulfill a longtime dream of seeing the redwoods in person, with a stop in wine country and catching up with a couple of longtime pals.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

'Don't blame us' doesn't wash for county tax bill

The county property tax bill that arrived in the mail recently included a surprise letter from the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors about the $238 million county budget that I am helping to support.
“Don’t blame us,” the letter said, if you read between the lines.
The entire thrust of the letter was to let taxpayers know that almost 40 percent of the total 2014 budget — close to $95 million — is due to “unfunded state mandates,” costs that are a result of federal and state requirements that are out of the county’s control.
But the letter offers not a word about the 60 percent of the budget — almost $143 million — the board of supervisors does control.
Nothing about employees’ salaries, raises and benefits, which ultimately translate into pensions for decades to come. Nothing about roadwork. Or sewage treatment. Or staffing for the sheriff’s department and the county jail.
Not that county spending is a secret. You can wade through the 245-page budget line by line at If you hit the Control + F keys, you can search for a word. For instance, search “Medicaid” and the search will pick up the word on about a dozen lines, including some for Social Services staff. But search “pension” and get zilch.
Glad that the official budget is easily accessible online, but wish it was easier to assemble the data in a meaningful way. The unfunded mandates letter isn’t much better.
The letter offers no explanation with its list of eight “unfunded mandates,” which includes the county’s contribution for Saratoga residents attending community college in neighboring counties, since Saratoga has no community college of its own.
The eight mandates in the letter are:
• Medicaid, $25.4 million
• Pensions, $12.8 million
• Community colleges, $6.8 million
• Early intervention and pre-school, $6.5 million
• Social services, $6.8 million
• Probation, $2 million
• Legal defense, $1.4 million
• Public health early intervention, $361,000.
The flip side of the letter consists of names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for state and federal lawmakers, a not-so-subtle encouragement for taxpayers to express their outrage at having to support probation services and other “unfunded mandates.” Missing from the letter is even a single name, let alone an address or phone number for any of the 23 elected members of the county Board of Supervisors. (You find most, though inexplicably not all, on
The frustration prompting the letter is almost understandable. County government relies on property taxes, and county supervisors rely on taxpayers’ votes to stay in office.
Besides, some mandated expenses are aggravatingly expensive. After all, New York is known for providing the Cadillac of Medicaid offerings. But other so-called unfunded mandates are part of the cost of being a civilized society, like aid to dependent children under the “social services” heading. And “pensions” are the anchor that will drown taxpayers of governments and schools everywhere if elected leaders, including those running the county, fail to change the system.
Instead of “the state made me do it,” the board of supervisors should send a letter with a simple summary of major expenses, with notations about how the spending was justified — and contact information for every representative.