The Mercury is owned by the same hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, that gutted The Saratogian, where I worked for 38 years, along with The Record in nearby Troy, and virtually every other newspaper it’s acquired, large and small. Alden also owns significant shares in big newspaper chains and is salivating for more.
Newspapers are distressed properties that vultures like Alden will mercilessly squeeze to death. Alden’s newspaper division made $160 million in the 2017 fiscal year, with double-digit profit margins from some of its newspapers, Barry reported, while the hedge fund continues to strip its newspapers bare. Its motto could be: All the news we print’s for profit.
Here, a handful of writers and editors are attempting to cover an impossible number of communities in and around Saratoga Springs, Troy, and southern Saratoga County for online and print editions. It’s tempting to call this a fool’s errand, but the journalists are no fools, just people who believe that knowing what’s going on in your town is important — even though their bosses could not care less.
These and other local newspapers, as Barry writes, are “operating on fumes and the idealism” of their own Evan Brandt.
This may not convince you to pay for your local news, but I hope it will help you to understand and appreciate what the less than barebones staff is up against.
We’ve been reminded yet again
this week about the power of video and social media to expose crimes and
cruelties that would otherwise have been swept under the rug by the perpetrators
and their official protectors.
The latest were the white Minneapolis
police officers responsible on Monday for the needless death of a black man
picked up outside the store where he allegedly passed a fake twenty-dollar bill.
Witnesses who could have refuted the officers’ false report would have been too
easily discounted without the weight of video.
The morning of that same day,
in New York’s Central Park, a white woman urgently told 911 that her life was
being threatened by a black man. The man’s cellphone video told the truth — an
entirely different story about a decidedly non-threatening bird watcher merely
asking that her dog be leashed.
And it wasn’t until May,
after video was released, that three white men in Georgia were arrested in the Feb.
23 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was guilty of jogging while black.
A list of examples could go
on and on, and not just involving police and not only blacks. Our society has a
long way to go to control, let alone extinguish, the fear and hate that are the
backbones of racism.
What is the role of the news
media in helping to change the culture? That question was addressed during the
taping of The Media Project, a weekly show on local public radio WAMC, 90.3 FM.
It airs at 6 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. Monday, and is accessible after Sunday anytime
on wamc.org. This week’s panelists are myself (a University at Albany journalism
teacher and former executive editor of The Saratogian and The (Troy) Record;
Times Union Editor at Large Rex Smith; Alan Chartock, president and CEO of
WAMC; and Judy Patrick, formerly editor of the Gazette and now with the New
York Press Association.
How can the media report on
our communities in ways that do not stoke mistrust and animosity, but rather
move toward greater empathy, respect and understanding for others?
We discussed the question but
could not satisfactorily answer it. I’d be interested in what you think.
A longstanding shortcoming in
the media, regardless of good intentions, is the overwhelming whiteness of its
decision-makers, as well as a tendency to tip the scales of trust to people in
positions of authority. Getting at the “truth” can be elusive and obtaining
official records, including video, in controversial cases is not easy – but worth
“Videos paint a story inside
of a culture where a lot of the public has been trained and encouraged to not
believe black people,” said Rashad Robinson, president of the racial justice
organization Color of Change, in the New York Times.
The unvarnished truth of
videos — whether recorded by victims, police, bystanders, journalists, or
security cameras – and the ability to spread them over the internet are
game-changers. We need them not only to bring individual cases to light, but to
bring about long-term, cultural change.
Thanks are due to Matt Veitch and Tara Gaston — the two people elected to represent Saratoga Springs on the county government level – for their perseverance in trying to keep citizens informed about what Veitch aptly described as a “breakdown” at the county. There is indeed a disturbing breakdown of accountability, procedures, and representation in Saratoga County government.
I listened in on a late April meeting of the Saratoga County
Board of Supervisors that ran well over three hours, about half of which consisted
of inadequately justified “executive sessions” – meaning the public was shut
out. Some supervisors were at the county board meeting and others participated
by phone; it was often difficult to hear what was being said and impossible to
know who was talking.
When all was said and done, several participating supervisors
seemed even more confused and frustrated than I was. They couldn’t get a
straight answer to straightforward questions about time-and-a-half pay someone
had authorized for certain county employees ostensibly related to COVID-19. Questions
like: How many employees, which employees, the cost, and when and how the
employees were notified of the start and stop of this extra pay. Not to mention
who obligated the county to this without going through normal channels, and why
it was granted in the first place, especially to well-paid salaried staff.
The situation was so inexplicably tortuous that the
supervisors narrowly agreed an external investigation was needed to get to the
bottom of it. Significantly, Saratoga Springs Supervisor Veitch was the swing
vote. He and his colleagues reasonably expected the ultimate selection of an
investigator to go through the usual processes. Instead, a
contract was quickly signed without notifying Veitch and other supervisors,
without addressing the scope of the investigation, the cost, or the firm
Meanwhile, the county board chairman, Preston Allen of the town
of Day, has canceled yet another regular monthly county board meeting. These could
be conducted remotely with or without video, for both elected and citizen
participation. This is a time for government leadership, not for ducking basic
Coronavirus Aid Relief check was directly deposited, but it turns out there was
no escaping the Sharpie scrawl: Our federal tax dollars were spent sending
ourselves a letter from Trump letting us know how pleased he is about the
be fair, the letter (English on one side, Spanish on the other) sounds nothing
like Trump. It credits Congressional bipartisan support for the aid and takes a
positive tone. Still, believing its only purpose is to generate undue credit,
the letter is a source of aggravation.
my mistake. With so many major reasons to want Trump gone, I must not get
distracted by things like a letter or a totally not sarcastic suggestion about
starters, here’s an extremely incomplete list of bigger fish to fry:
gets away with all this and more because others in government – like Mitch
McConnell – who share some, if not all, of his policies and believe their self-interests
are best served by pandering to the president, laying low, lying to the public,
or all of the above.
is not the first president to lie and put personal and political gain above all
else. But it is hard to imagine a more
unpresidential president. Trump has dropped the bar for civility and courtesy
into the sub-basement. He is crude, cruel, uninformed, narcissistic and, I hate
to say it because I don’t like name-calling, an imbecile.
The least of our problems is a letter with his signature. But I
am going to keep it close at hand lest I take my eye off the ball: getting out
the vote this fall to get Donald Trump – and his enablers – out of office.
You can listen at 4 p.m.
today to a live meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. Here’s why
you should: The people with the most power in Saratoga County government have
been failing to serve the best interests of the people they’re supposed to
serve. Some of their actions have been in secret, and some in flagrant
disregard of their responsibilities because, sadly, they figure they can get
away with it.
They voted huge raises for top-paid administrators for unspecified pandemic work by people who are assuredly not first responders, apparently rescinded after public exposure. They left helping the homeless during this pandemic to Saratoga Springs, even though homeless people are not restricted to city residence. The board’s Public Health Committee hasn’t met since March 4. And instead of a regular monthly public county board meeting, these “leaders” attempted to convene a “special meeting” –meaning that the chairman can severely restrict the agenda (in this case, to approve a contract for corrections officers that was news to other board members and create an unrepresentative, ad hoc COVID-19 committee). When nine of the board’s 23 members showed the gumption to vote against ratifying that inappropriate “special” meeting on Friday, the meeting was halted and a new one scheduled for today.
I can hear my parents’ warning: Don’t give yourself a kenahora!
The saying is an amalgam of the Yiddish and Hebrew “kein ayin hara.” Literally, don’t give yourself the evil eye. Don’t be smug. Don’t jinx yourself. Don’t, I can imagine them saying, write about feeling lucky to be healthy.
Who listens to their parents, alive or dead?
Today is April 21, 2020, and I want to record my small coronavirus
stories. I don’t know where to start. Certainly not at the beginning, because I
can’t tell you when that was.
Was it Valentine’s Day weekend? My husband Jim and I caught up in Manhattan with pals Tom Petzinger and Paulette Thomas, all traveling Amtrak, we from Albany and they from Pittsburgh. We enjoyed Mexican muralists and lunch at the Whitney, dinner at our favorite Il Gattopardo one night and new go-to Nerai the next, a morning in the imaginatively renovated MoMA, and the original cast in a Hadestown matinee. This was followed three days later by a cough and cold that landed me in bed for a couple of days, a March 2 trip to my primary when the cough wouldn’t quit, and now, two months later, occasional dry coughs that Jim keeps count of. Luckily, for no good reason except my inability to throw anything away, I pocketed the mask my doctor had me wear for that visit.
Was it the end of February and early March, as I hemmed and hawed about what level of insurance to buy for our mid-May trip to Spain? I gambled (having what my father called book smarts versus street smarts) that travel could be safe by then.
Was it Sunday, March 8? That afternoon Jim and I shared a New Haven pizza with our son Joe, after which he walked us around parts of the city we hadn’t seen in prior visits. Then Jim and I headed up to Northampton, Mass., for a Jayhawks concert. Jim cautioned me not to cough and I noticed how the small theater was full of old people (I was still only 65 back then).
Was it Tuesday, March 10? That was the last day I saw my
journalism students at University at Albany in person. That afternoon I sent
the class out to the Student Center to conduct quickie interviews with students
about what the school should do regarding the coronavirus. The students then had
to look up coronavirus news and facts online and weave them into a little story
with the local angle of their interview.
Or, I could start with the morning of Thursday, March 12, when I arrived at UAlbany five hours ahead of my class, having been downtown at 8:30 a.m. to tape public radio WAMC’s The Media Project. I planned to check my mail, treat myself to a large coffee in the Campus Center Starbucks, and settle in at a computer on the sunny second floor of the Science Library. The parking lot was eerily empty at 9:30. Turned out that half an hour earlier, President Havidan Rodriguez announced that someone had tested positive the previous night for COVID-19 and classes were suspended for the day. School break was the following week, anyway, so students hit the road. The next day came the message that the second half of the semester would be finished remotely. Huh?
Stay tuned for more, or don’t. When did this nightmare start
NOTE TO READERS: I have CHANGED MY MIND about these briefings, which are neither brief nor informative. I’ll set my record straight at some point, but for the moment suffice to say I totally disagree with this post! Living airing are NOT a public service. To the contrary. Anyway, here’s the original post from the start:
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.
right. Better for the media to err on the side of airing – without letting the
president and his administration off the hook.
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.
really touched me, though, were Kelly’s well-grounded observations:
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. …
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.”
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.
“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
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.
story short, I didn’t hire Stan out of mercy. I simply saw someone who’d put
his heart and soul into his work.
has apparently been 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.