Mar 31, 2020 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Err on the side of airing Trump – but don’t let him off the hook

An email arrived the other day telling me the president is using his daily coronavirus press briefings “to spread misinformation, campaign for re-election, and bully reporters who challenge him.” 

No duh.

The email went on: “Instead of enabling this behavior, major news media outlets need to stop” their live, unedited coverage, and I should sign a petition demanding it.

Whoa. No way.  

Granted, it’s tough to watch Trump’s cavalier and dangerous disregard of facts, science, and truth; his obsessively political, hateful rants and innuendoes; his xenophobic propaganda; his inability to demonstrate leadership in any way, shape or form; his absurd failure to social distance on stage. He maliciously maligns elected officials who dare to not kowtow and journalists trying to report the truth. He is bad for the country and my blood pressure.

That’s why I stopped watching. Instead, I check in on mainstream media for a credible summary of the day’s news from rational experts and reporters.  

But while I ignore the live briefings, I don’t want the mainstream media to do the same.

Like it or not, Trump is president. To not air his briefings would leave the mainstream media open to criticism that it was stifling the president’s attempts to communicate with the country during a national crisis, and it would divert viewers to the Trump-sanctioned channel. The challenge for the mainstream media is to relentlessly, politely (to the extent possible), and unapologetically question, challenge, fact-check — and hold him and his administration responsible for what is said and done.

I’ll confess to a pang of déjà vu from when the media gave outrageous candidate Trump undeserved, priceless attention. The lesson from that mistake: Don’t silence the president, but don’t let him off the hook. 

In times of crisis, people crave leadership, information (they want to believe), and hope. Inexplicably, people are finding this in Trump. But the president’s dinnertime ramblings expose his ineptness and incompetence while lives and livelihoods are being lost, and light bulbs are going on. For instance, Trump fan Mike Francesa of WFAN is appalled at what the president says while people are dying “five minutes from where he grew up.”

Local public radio WAMC’s The Media Project (on which I’m sometimes a panelist; listen anytime at wamc.org) addressed a recent decision by a National Public Radio station in Washington State to stop airing the live press briefings (though listeners can still hear them at npr.org.)

The show’s host, Rex Smith of the Times Union newspaper, noted that the station’s action was not censorship, which is what government does when it stifles free speech in violation of the First Amendment. Rather, it was the station making an editorial judgment about newsworthiness. From my decades of running the newsroom of The Saratogian, I understand the distinction and know that such decisions are not taken lightly.

But the public doesn’t make that distinction, as Rosemary Armao, a fellow University at Albany journalism teacher, pointed out. WAMC President and CEO Alan Chartock shared on the show that his staff decided to keep airing the briefings.

They’re right. Better for the media to err on the side of airing – without letting the president and his administration off the hook.

Mar 25, 2020 - Uncategorized    No Comments

International Space Station shows what we earthlings can accomplish, together

International Space Station image from NASA website.

On a recent Saturday night I pulled on my knit hat, zipped up my winter coat and met up with my 10-year-old next-door neighbor and her family in our respective backyards. We stood well over six feet apart and together watched a miracle 250 miles up: the International Space Station.

At 8:11 what looked like a big, bright star rose from the southwest on this perfectly clear evening and sailed across the sky for five glorious minutes before disappearing from view.

Think of it: An international crew in a flying lab traveling more than 17,000 mph – faster than four miles a second.

“At that rate you could visit me in about 30 seconds,” said Joe, who lives a three-hour drive away. Both my kids happened to be together, and they saw the space station, too. It was Joe who showed me the free ISS Detector app that lets me know when the space station will be visible from my backyard. The space station orbits the earth about every 90 minutes, but only sometimes is it in the right place at the right time in the sky for optimum viewing.  

The joy I felt seeing the satellite came from sharing the excitement and thinking about what people from different countries and cultures can accomplish with imagination, math, science, and the drive to explore our world – and beyond. 

It lifted my spirits.

So did an opinion piece in the New York Times that same day by former astronaut Scott Kelly. He offered advice to people cooped up because of the coronavirus, coming from a guy who spent nearly a year on the international space station: Go outside, enjoy nature, read a book, connect with people via video or phone.

What really touched me, though, were Kelly’s well-grounded observations:

“Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects,” he wrote. “Especially in a challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. …

“Seen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.”

After our space station sighting, my neighbor told her grandfather in the Czech Republic all about it. She’s going to use the ISS Detector app to let him know when it will be visible from his home. He lives in Brno, roughly 4,000 miles from Saratoga Springs –a mere 17 space-station minutes away.

Scott Kelly inside a Soyuz simulator in Russia, in preparation for travel to the International Space Station. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA
Jan 19, 2020 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Mercy had nothing to do with how Stan Hudy landed in the newsroom

Stan Hudy is taking his can-do attitude to the competition. Photo by Joe Boyle.

I want to correct something in Stan Hudy’s farewell column about leaving The Saratogian and Community News after 23 years to work for the Schenectady-based Daily Gazette.

“You can credit, or blame, Barbara Lombardo who took mercy on a then 30-something out of work writer looking to get into the business,” Stan wrote.

He’s mistaken. Mercy had nothing to do with it.

I hired dozens of people during my decades running the newsroom. Right up until I left in 2015, I prided myself on spotting budding journalists who demonstrated talent, potential and a hunger in their belly to dive into a job for which the shamefully low pay is rivaled only by the excessive hours and inhumane schedule.

Stan demonstrated all those positive attributes and something more (no, Stan, I’m not referring to your ability to make me laugh/groan). He loves people and understands how much a community newspaper means to them. That was the clincher, and it is what continues to set Stan apart as a sportswriter, photographer, videographer, columnist, podcaster, copy editor, paginator, headline writer … what am I forgetting? Oh, yeah, Pink Sheet hawker.

Stan worked primarily for the daily Saratogian and its weekly Community News (serving southern Saratoga County), later adding on The (Troy) Record when owners merged those operations. Circulation numbers and salaries always made The Saratogian a “starter paper.” Most often applicants were 22-year-olds just getting their degree, ready to earn their chops at a small daily or even smaller weekly. Occasionally, someone with more life experience would finally follow their heart (and perhaps the advice of a life coach as opposed to a financial planner) with hopes of becoming part of the newsroom. Someone like Stan.

I used to scoff at editors of big newspapers who turned up their noses at applicants from weeklies or small dailies. Ha! My staffers often had as much talent and worked twice as hard and fast as writers, editors and photographers for the big boys. The best, like Stan, understood the importance of connecting with readers and didn’t look down their nose at hometown journalism.

I’m so glad that before she passed away last fall, Stan’s mother was able to read Sports Editor Joe Boyle’s “Mr. Pink Sheet” feature about how her son was practically a one-man band producing the daily horse racing section this past summer. A line that epitomizes Stan’s character stands out in Boyle’s piece: “Stan knew every single hawker’s name, and even knew the competition’s hawkers.” 

Athletes and their coaches and families that Stan covered over the years, especially rowers and people of all ages in southern Saratoga County, can vouch for his personal touch. He admits to bleeding Shenendehowa green. He knows readers will forgive missed hyphens in a compound modifier so long as you don’t miss coverage of the moments and milestones that make their local sports meaningful.

Long story short, I didn’t hire Stan out of mercy. I simply saw someone who’d put his heart and soul into his work.  

Lucky Daily Gazette.

Dec 26, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Saratogian 1902 building morphs from news to brews

Superhorse has apparently been put out to pasture.

Superhorse gets a hug from longtime sports writer and editor Stan Hudy in this 2009 photo in the lobby of what was The Saratogian for more than 100 years and is now Walt and Whitman Brewing. Hudy moved with the newspaper to smaller offices, while Superhorse was put out to pasture.

The eight-foot-tall sculpture, which was commissioned during a 2007 citywide equine arts project, graced the lobby of The Saratogian. Unofficially named Superhorse, he is a four-legged fiberglass Clark Kent with a reporter’s notebook in his breast pocket and a suitcoat spread open to reveal Superman’s “S”.

I’d have bet that Superhorse would’ve been kept in the building that had been home to the daily local newspaper for more than a century. Turns out my bets on fiberglass horses aren’t any better than my wagers at the track.

What did I expect? The quaint redbrick building at Lake and Maple avenues where I worked for 38 years no longer houses The Saratogian, its name above the corner doorway notwithstanding. The considerably smaller newspaper operation relocated a few blocks away.

The corner of the redbrick circa 1902 building at 20 Lake Ave. still carries The Saratogian nameplate.

The new incarnation for 20 Lake Ave. is Walt and Whitman, a modern brewery, bar, eatery and coffeehouse that opened last week. The owners have said they were inspired by the great American poet Walt Whitman. They’re branding their coffee Walt and their beer Whitman, thus Walt and Whitman.  

When I stopped in last Friday night the downstairs was hopping with more people in the building than … ever. Patrons mingled as waitstaff scurried to deliver drinks and eats where the press used to rumble (and I once got to yell “Stop the press!”). The area used for decades to store giant rolls of newsprint and piles of Sunday advertising inserts now boasts shiny equipment for producing beer. I haven’t been yet to the café upstairs, where the newsroom and other offices were located.

Brewing equipment glistens where newspaper inserts used to be piled.

Did I feel a pang of The Saratogian nostalgia in the Walt and Whitman? Not a whit, even though the only nod to the newspaper is the restroom wallpaper, old editions of the Pink Sheet, which is still published daily during racing season. That said, I would have liked to see the local newspaper and its 100-plus years at the location acknowledged with photos from over the years of things like the pressmen at work or kids hawking the paper.

Bottom line, though, it was great to see the circa 1902 building bustling with new life. I’d had enough of the hedge fund owners when I left The Saratogian four years ago, even though I loved the newspaper and my job (most of the time), working a block from Broadway, and having a downtown parking spot (oh, how I miss that perk), and I still give credit to the dedicated staffers who remain.

And let me clarify about calling the building quaint: Reporters typed stories wearing gloves to fend off wintry drafts; never-washed windows were caulked shut; editors for years were crammed into a noisy space that layoffs ultimately morphed into a ghostly roomful of abandoned desks.  

It’s wonderful that the building has been repurposed into a lively place for people to get together, eat, drink, and have a good time. I confess that as an editor, I’m itching to strike the “and” separating Walt from Whitman, but I truly wish them well – even with Superhorse scratched from the lobby.

Aug 21, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Elect people afraid of mass shootings, not of the NRA

Americans need to replace politicians who are more afraid of the National Rifle Association than they are of mass shootings.

Ninety percent of Americans (including NRA members), regardless of political persuasion, endorse the use of background checks for the purchase of any gun. The House of Representatives months ago approved two bi-partisan bills to do this.

Yet President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuse to bring them up for Senate debate, never mind a vote.

Trump and McConnell are not merely preventing passage of this citizen-supported legislation. They are also allowing politicians in the Senate to duck and hide from the public. (And bear in mind that although passed in the House, the bills were opposed by most House Republicans, including Elise Stefanik, one of this area’s representatives.)

The bills, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112, apply checks that already exist for the sale of certain firearms. They do not apply to gifts among family members.

Universal background checks won’t eliminate all the gun violence. But they can’t hurt, and they might help. (Likewise, law enforcement leaders have said no reason exists for citizens to own military-style assault weapons. Yet Republican politicians lack the courage to speak up — except for one whose daughter was across the street from the Dayton shootings.)

These are not “slippery slopes” against the Second Amendment. Passage of common-sense public protections shouldn’t be such an uphill battle.

What can you do? Sign the petitions that are easy to find online. Share information. And help elect new representatives. Change will happen only when the people in office are changed.

Aug 3, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

2019 Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductees share love of the sport

John Hendrickson, left, is welcomed on stage by master of ceremonies Tom Durkin at this morning’s (Aug. 2) National Museum of Racing’s 2019 Hall of Fame Inductions first as president of the museum and then to accept the induction of his wife Marylou Whitney, who passed away July 19.

This morning I went to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame ceremony to honor the day’s first 2019 inductee, Marylou Whitney, but stayed for all 16 – eleven other “Pillars of the Turf,” one jockey and three horses in a two-hour-plus standing-room-only event.

It was an inspiring short course on some of the most important names in horse racing over the last 100 years.

The inductees shared a common thread: a love for and dedication to the sport. They spanned well over a century, including James R. Keene, born in 1838, who built one of the country’s major breeding operations and was represented by descendants, and 97-year-old James “Ted” Bassett III, a World War II Purple Heart recipient and ultimately oversaw Keeneland, who graciously accepted the award and his Hall of Fame jacket. The National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame’s website has succinct writeups on all 16 inductees.

Next to an empty chair honoring the recently deceased Marylou Whitney sits her husband, John Hendrickson, and one of her daughters, Heather Mabee.

The ceremonies took place not at the museum, which is well worth a visit (catch the women in racing exhibit), but around the corner in the Fasig-Tipton auction pavilion (where you can bid – or at least watch the bidding – on yearlings this coming Monday and Tuesday).

When this year’s inductees were announced this spring, I was glad that Marylou, at 93 years old, was among them. Though I know she’s earned many prestigious honors over the years, I am sad that her passing, on July 19, came too soon to collect this award or to celebrate one more Whitney Stakes, Saturday’s big race. Her husband, John Hendrickson graciously accepted the Hall of Fame honor on her behalf. The two have done a great deal not only to promote horse racing, but also to improve the lives of the backstretch workers.

Past Hall of Fame inductees present at the Aug. 2 2019 ceremony were called up to be recognized and photographed. Many are well-known faces in racing, past and present.

Separately, in his role as current president of the museum, Hendrickson briefly talked about the $20 million theater in the round scheduled for installation in the racing museum next year. Whitney and Hendrickson’s marks are all around, often subtly, in innovations and gifts to the city and the world of racing. 

This is just a small segment of the lawn jockeys in owners’ silks that grace the front of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Marylou Whitney’s stable is in the forefront.
Jul 29, 2019 - Journalism    No Comments

Join me, Liz Benjamin and Jennifer Delton for film, panel Aug. 4 about Pulitzer and the free press

Would love to have you join me, Liz Benjamin and Jennifer Delton on Sunday, Aug. 4, to watch the documentary “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People” and talk about his indelible mark on the press, then and now.

Liz Benjamin
Barbara Lombardo

The event begins at 7 p.m. Sunday at Congregation Shaara Tflle/The Jewish Community Center of Saratoga Springs, 84 Weibel Ave. It’s part of the 2019 Saratoga Jewish Cultural Festival (check it out on Facebook) – but it is open to the general public and the topic is certainly of interest to all citizens. Admission is $5 for adults and free for students with I.D.

I’m excited to be on the panel with Liz Benjamin, who you may know for her years as host of Capital Tonight, Spectrum News’s landmark political and policy show, and the editor of its companion blog, State of Politics. I’ve long admired her knowledge and insight about government, politics and the media (which will no doubt serve her well in her new role with Marathon Strategies). I few months ago I was impressed by a program about “fake news” that she hosted for the League of Women Voters.

I’m also looking forward to meeting panelist Jennifer Delton, an author and professor of history at Skidmore College. Her work focuses on liberalism, politics, civil rights, and business in twentieth century U.S. 

The documentary, which runs about 80 minutes, will be followed by questions from the audience and our moderator, Pam Polacsek. We’ll wrap up with a dessert reception. To RSVP or get more information, call 518-584-2370 or email saratogajcc@albany.twcbc.com. 

Jennifer Delton
Jul 20, 2019 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Thank you, Marylou, for everything

A limited edition Yankee Candle features the scent of the classic Marylou Whitney rose commissioned by her husband on her 85th birthday. She passed away July 19 at age 93.

The stately “Welcome to Saratoga Springs” statue of Native Dancer surrounded by flowers where Union Avenue meets Congress Park was one of Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson’s many exceptional contributions to this city. I go by it all the time, and I always think of Marylou and John, always meaning to tell them both, thank you. Thank you for this beautiful gift.     

I think I told them all of this before. But I meant to send Marylou a note about it a few weeks ago, when I saw people posing for photos in front of the statue, as I often do, year-round. I procrastinated, as I often do, even knowing that Marylou was in failing health. Yesterday, on July 19, 2019, she passed away at her home in Saratoga Springs.

I first met Marylou close to 40 years ago, when I became managing editor of The Saratogian. My husband and I enjoyed her black-tie summer galas, attended by a mix of local people, big names in racing, and assorted celebrities. Crowds would gather in Congress Park outside the Canfield Casino to watch Marylou’s grand entrances and try to spot some of the rich and famous guests. Saratoga Springs was revived as a place to be in no small part because of Marylou’s parties, beginning well before my arrival in the city, the Whitneys’ generosity and their role in horse racing, and the sheer power of her personality.

My colleague at The Saratogian, Jeannette Jordan, whose duties included society coverage, and her husband, Augie, hit it off with Marylou. They’d frequently meet up for dinner at places like Winslow’s. “You didn’t have to have money to be a friend of hers. She loved everybody and was kind to everybody,” Jeannette told Times Union reporter David Lombardo (yes, my son).

Yet not everyone was kind to Marylou. Sometimes people would complain to me that the newspaper had “too much” coverage of Marylou Whitney. I’d explain they were mistaken to brush her off as merely a socialite, the wife and later widow of the accomplished C.V. Whitney, rather than the philanthropist, horse owner and lover, and keen businesswoman she really was. They didn’t understand or appreciate how important she has been, for decades, to Saratoga Springs and horse racing. She did plenty for this city — without seeking recognition.  

Marylou was extremely gracious, generous, smart — and funny. A few years ago, she and her husband, John Hendrickson, were driving on Route 50 heading home when they passed my husband and me walking to a show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (which, by the way, she helped create back in the 1960s and supported for decades). Months later we saw them, and Marylou leaned in to tell me, “If you need a ride to SPAC, let me know.”

Marylou and John, nearly 40 years her junior, married in 1997. Longtime friend Maureen Lewi yesterday told The Times Union: “No one thought so in the beginning, but it was a match made in heaven. They both know how to have fun and they both have such generous hearts.” Maureen is right. John has truly been a loving husband and, as the need arose, a devoted caregiver.

Marylou and John have generously donated millions of dollars, countless hours and hands-on leadership to continue to benefit the city – enhancing Saratoga Hospital and other health care institutions (especially in Kentucky); creating, funding, organizing and attending programs for the backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course; underwriting much of the celebration of local thoroughbred racing’s 150th anniversary in 2013, including the old-fashioned Floral Fete. This was one of the most amazing, heart-warming things I ever saw in this city – some 40,000 people lining Broadway to cheer a parade of dozens of people on homemade floats.

Today I’ll brave the heat to visit the Congress Park garden of long-stem, scented pink Marylou Whitney roses that John commissioned for her 85th birthday. Classic, like Marylou herself. I’ll stop for a selfie at Native Dancer’s “Welcome to Saratoga Springs.” And I’ll say thank you, Marylou. Thank you for this beautiful gift. Thank you for everything.

This beautiful gift to Saratoga Springs welcomes people approaching downtown from Union Avenue, the main thoroughfare that runs from Saratoga Race Course to Congress Park.
Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson were “honorary chairs and hosts” (read: major planners and underwriters) of the 150th anniversary of racing, including the extraordinary old-fashioned Floral Fete along Broadway.
Jul 17, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saratoga Race Course is a good thing … but we’re at risk of too much of a good thing

Kind of an ordinary weekday feel to opening day, perhaps because it was on a Thursday and a week earlier than in the past nine years.

A horse walked into a bar and the bartender asked, “Why the long face?”

“The longer racing season,” replied the neigh-sayer.

This year’s Saratoga Race Course season started eight days sooner than the norm for the past nine years. Eight days too soon, I think.

The cachet of Saratoga’s racing season is due in large part to the exclusivity of its limited engagement at the historic track. The Thursday, July 11 opening day felt like any weekday at the track.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy going to the track, and I’ve gone twice already (though not for the whole day, which is just too long); I won with my late dad’s favorite trainer, Linda Rice, on opening day and I saw hat contest participants and brought home my picnic cooler give-away on Sunday.

I’m grateful to be living in a lively, thriving city, which hinges to a great degree on the success of the New York Racing Association, which runs Saratoga and the downstate Belmont and Aqueduct thoroughbred tracks. I appreciate new seating options at both end of the Saratoga grandstand to lure new and young visitors.

However, for me, living in walking distance from both the track and Broadway, the earlier start was one more weekend of tourists taking over my favorite restaurants and planning travel around anticipated traffic jams – especially when the track coincides with big concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, as was the case with the Dave Matthews Band on July 12 and 13.

Not the worst problems in the world, I admit. But since a slow day at Saratoga makes more money for NYRA than a good day at Belmont or Aqueduct, I worry about continued lengthening of the Saratoga season. Total betting from all sources for these first four days at Saratoga was $73.4 million, exceeding betting on the first four days last year by more than $1.7 million.

In a tongue-in-cheek column in July 2016, the Times Union’s Tim Wilkin wrote: “Saratoga used to be known as the August place to be as the meet was 24 days, all in August. Then the light bulb went on at NYRA. Extend the meet! It grew to 30 days in 1991, then 34 three years later. In 1997, it was up to 36 days. In 2010, it hit 40 days. … Maybe they should run from the Fourth of July to Labor Day.”

Now, without adding racing days, the season is a full week longer. Instead of closing only on Tuesdays, the track will also be closed every Monday, the least popular racing day, except for Labor Day.

Though the earlier opening for Saratoga was ostensibly because of construction of an arena for the NHL Islanders on the Belmont property, who wants to bet on the length of future Saratoga meets?

I want the track to do well and for related local businesses and the local economy to benefit. I get that any inconvenience to local yokels is nowhere on NYRA’s priority list. But I worry about the bigger picture – the risk of losing the exclusivity that makes the Saratoga racing meet special.  

One of NYRA’s improvements in recent years was letting patrons buy and sell reserved seats online.
Give-away on first Sunday of 2019 season was a new item: Picnic cooler
Live music in the gazebo behind the grandstand is always a treat.
Jun 26, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

It’s Saratoga County Senior Day!

On a bike ride this afternoon, I happened upon Saratoga County Senior Citizen Day in Congress Park. Hundreds of my over-60 peers enjoying the carousel, free carnival games and food, live music and more. Hooray for the golden years on a summer day in my favorite park.