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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, April 30, 2015

Mad Men I can live without: But the Power Rankings....

I will miss the mess of once-dapper Don Draper. I will miss Peggy and Joan. I will miss Roger’s moustache and Stan’s ascot. But most of all, as Mad Men comes to a close, I will miss Mark Lisanti’s Power Rankings on Grantland.

As Jessica Rabbit said (not about Mark, and about a different Roger): He makes me laugh.

Even more than the return of the show for the final, final episodes on Sunday night, I have looked forward to Lisanti’s Monday follow-up Power Rankings and Fingerbang Threat Level, even though I’ve never understood what that meant and am afraid to look it up.

Did you get it, I’ll ask my husband week. Got it, he’ll reply. Sure enough, on the kitchen counter will be the Power Rankings printout in nice big type with all the photos. I savor each page, from the “previously” to the “not ranked” and everything in between.

Thanks, Mark. I’ll miss Mad Men. But I’ll miss you more.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Remembering that every day is a gift

It was nice to be remembered
with a cake at the office on my
61st birthday.
A 59-year-old friend done in by a brain tumor was buried last week on my 61st birthday.

That, in a nutshell, is why I am trying like heck not to complain about getting older and not to harp on my failing hearing, worsening eyesight, slowing metabolism and the evils of gravity.
It’s why I restocked the bird feeder and took a few moments this morning to enjoy the cardinal that stopped by. It’s why, tired as I was the other night, rather than make a bee-line from work to car, I paused to notice the sliver of a moon flanked by a bright Venus. It’s why I called my father, just to hear his voice, and my sons, to hear their voice messages.   
Watching birds at the
feeder is a simple pleasure.
I won’t lie, it’s a shock to be in my 60s. Where do the years go?
Last weekend I was telling 93-year-old Aunt Madelyn that I never thought I’d someday say, “Oh, to be 50!”  “Really?” she replied without missing a beat. “How about ‘Oh, to be 80!’”

My father says, when it’s your time, it’s you’re time. Yet we of a certain age, and those much younger, have lost beloved relatives and friends “before their time” – stolen from us much too soon. I am so sad for my friend's wife and children, his mother and his siblings.  
Weird as it feels to say I'm 61, I know I am lucky to have celebrated another birthday, and I hope to recognize each day for what it is: a gift. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rape survivors, media credibility victims of Rolling Stone reporting fiasco

The disastrous reporting by Rolling Stone in “A Rape on Campus” is sickening for the doubt it casts on the credibility of rape victims and the media.
Rape on campuses and how colleges handle them are timely and important topics. Zeroing in on a real case as a specific example of a widespread problem makes perfect sense.
But the magazine’s lengthy, detailed cover story made a huge splash that ended in a horrible belly flop. The entire piece was retracted and Rolling Stone conceded its failure to follow the basic tenets of reporting.
Oh, that hurts. Journalism’s single most valuable asset is credibility. Without it, nothing else matters.
What supposedly sets established news companies apart from just anyone with a website, a smartphone and a Twitter account is a commitment to seek the truth and report it fully and fairly, to paraphrase the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
The Code of Ethics (which you can find at states journalists should “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work, verify information before releasing it, (and) diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.”
Those guiding principles apply to newsrooms of any size and sort, in print and online, for dailies, weeklies and magazines. I have tried to live by this code and to lead by example for all of my 37 years in the news business. Journalists adhere to them instinctively. We want to do the right thing; we want to make a positive difference.
Yet an independent, 30-plus page review by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism detailed how Rolling Stone got sucked into an essentially one-source story and failed at “basic, even routine journalistic practices” – despite seasoned writers, editors and fact-checkers. These people are not cavalier about their power and responsibility, yet they failed miserably when it counted.
And this isn’t just a black mark on journalism.
“The biggest tragedy here: every future story about sexual assault will live in the shadow of doubt cast by that Rolling Stone article,” wrote Maggie Fronk, executive director of Wellspring (formerly Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County), in her “Shine a Light” blog on The Saratogian and The Record websites.
Only 2 to 8 percent of sexual assault claims are found to be false, studies show. “As we read that story it was horrifying, but it wasn’t unbelievable,” Fronk wrote, referring to the original “A Rape on Campus” piece. “Why not? Because rapes like that happen far too often on college campuses.”
Fronk had just seen “The Hunting Ground,” a film about “the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses and the injustice victims often face when they rely on their college for support and justice.” These stories, Fronk wrote, “are a place to start the discussion on how to change a system that’s not working.”
The stories depend on victims’ willingness to come forward. And the changes must be societal.
No campus is exempt.
In Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College is reviewing its policies in the wake of a recent decision to extend by two years the year-long suspension of a student found guilty of sexual misconduct. The undisputed victim’s decision to go public has drawn widespread attention. More than 1,300 Skidmore graduates reportedly signed an online petition that stated, in part: “The policy should be simple: if you commit sexual violence on this campus, you will be expelled.”
Though it seems unfair to make proclamations without being privy to the details, it is difficult to imagine how anything less than expulsion could be appropriate.
Skidmore is reviewing and revising policies, creating an online anonymous reporting form, working with city police to clarify how local law enforcement can help in a sexual assault situation, and, in the near future, having a trained representative of Wellspring on campus. Other colleges are taking similar steps. Those that aren’t, should be.
Meanwhile, the Rolling Stone fiasco is a wake-up call for newsrooms everywhere to talk about ethics and affirm their commitment to the basics of sound journalism. No challenge facing the news industry is more dangerous than the deadly loss of public trust.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Iceland: A really cool vacation destination

Steam bubbles up in a country created by volcanoes.

A spring visit to Iceland sounded like a cool idea when we signed up last October – before the Interminable Winter of 2014-15 blew in and stayed put. As freezing February dragged on (don’t tell me it’s the shortest month; it went on forever) and March was no better,  a vacation requiring wool socks and long underwear seemed as smart as picking UAlbany to go all the way.
This geyser erupts every few
minutes. What a draw that would
be in our state park!
Turned out that Iceland was a beautiful, fun place. We had 11 hours of daylight, lots of sunshine, and even in the 30s, the weather was usually milder than it was back home on Wednesday, when I had to wipe slushy frost off my windshield.

Lots of lighthouses in Iceland.
Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall,
with a glacier in the distance.
A few highlights: Crossing the tectonic plates, the growing rift between the North American and European continents that form Iceland; walking along a steaming path as boiling water bubbled up from holes in the crusty landscape; floating in the geothermally heated Blue Lagoon wearing a silica mud face mask and slurping a strawberry smoothie while lifeguards roamed in parks and ski masks; spooning saffron-infused fish soup loaded with mussels, shrimp and scallops, and savoring the most moist arctic char ever, two of many excellent meals in lively, walkable downtown Reykjavik; touring a greenhouse where fresh tomatoes are picked every day and a geothermal plant where clean, natural heat is harnessed; letting a 500 krona bill burn a hole in my wallet until I realized it was the equivalent of $3.61; and learning that Icelandic is impossible to speak and words apparently have a 12-letter minimum, including made-up symbols like an A and E joined at the hip and a melting d wearing a hat.

This was my husband’s and my third trip abroad with Edventures, run by an Ithaca woman and her local friend, Mary Huber. Our good experiences traveling with this small group to Italy and Scotland helped us decide to sign up to visit a place that wasn’t really on our radar. We’re glad we had a chance to explore even a relatively small portion of this friendly, fascinating country.