Feb 7, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Pulitzer-winner Eyre an inspiration to future (and current) journalists

 

Pulitzer-winning reporter Eric Eyre, whose newspaper filed for bankruptcy.

An email arrived today that illustrates why I remain optimistic about journalism despite being worried to death about its future.

It started last week, when I asked my journalism students at the University at Albany to read the work of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner of their choice and email the writer some questions. Four students chose the investigative work of Eric Eyre of the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette-Mail, who won, as explained on pulitzer.org, “For courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.”

Today, Eyre sent me this email: “Hi Barbara: Just trying to figure out the best way to answer these questions from your students. Our paper filed for bankruptcy last week and things are a bit hectic right now.”

Yikes.

This Pulitzer assignment was intended to inspire the next generation of reporters, not scare them into public relations.

Niraj Chokshi summed up the situation in a Feb. 2 New York Times story about the bankruptcy: “For decades, The Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia has exposed corruption, greed and incompetence with a tenacity that was rewarded last year with journalism’s highest honor, a Pulitzer Prize. But the newspaper now faces a painful reality: No matter how strong its journalism, no publication is immune to the economic pressure on the industry.”

Don’t I know it. My heart aches as the hedge fund that owns my hometown paper continues to squeeze the life out of the newsroom I managed for more than 30 years. Granted, we didn’t win a Pulitzer. But in 2017 the East Bay Times in Oakland, Calif., owned by the same fund, did – for exposing the city’s culpability in a fire that killed 36 people. Yet the staff there is also shrinking through buyouts and layoffs.

Journalists are doing awesome work at every level, not to win awards but to give voice to the disadvantaged, the overlooked, the ordinary citizen. Doing that takes people to report the news, owners committed to journalism, and a public willing to pay for it.

Chokshi’s article offers hope that the expected buyer of the Gazette-Mail will continue to invest in its newsroom. Meanwhile, as Eyre and his colleagues wait uncertainly for what’s next, he told the Times, “The news goes on, and we’re there to cover it.”

Yet with all that going on, a thoughtful Eyre still found time to reach out to me, concerned about responding to a handful of college students 600 miles away in upstate New York. That’s class. So, while I worry about the business of journalism, I’m not worried about future journalists – not with people like Eyre to inspire them.

Jan 31, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Donors needed to match grant for state park tennis courts, lights

Saratoga Spa State Park is a local treasure, and one of its gems — the tennis courts – could get even better this summer.

The state is offering $75,000 in matching funds to add lights and double the number of artificial clay courts from four to eight. So far, about $15,000 has been raised toward the match, including $5,000 from the nonprofit Friends of the Saratoga Spa State Park (whose volunteers maintain the existing courts) and contributions from assorted tennis lovers.

The courts are open to all players, no charge. More people will be able to enjoy them, for a longer period, if enough donations are made to the Friends of the Saratoga Spa State Park at 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, or online at www.friendsofsaratogaspastatepark.org.

As the snow falls, I’m grateful for my Saratoga Regional YMCA membership and the use of their indoor courts. But truth be told, I can’t wait to get outside on the clay.

Jan 26, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

‘The Post’ reminds us: A protected press protects the public

The Pentagon Papers revealed how four presidencies misled the public about an unwinnable war.

A friend of mine who admits to applauding at the end of movies said she was in good company at a recent showing of “The Post.”

“What do you think,” she asked her politically conservative husband as the credits rolled, “is the audience full of liberals?”

“No,” he replied. “Patriots.”

A round of applause!

I wouldn’t give “The Post” a best movie Oscar; despite a terrific cast and riveting premise, it was a bit sappy. But I shamelessly and spontaneously whooped when the Supreme Court recognized the crucial role of the First Amendment and a free press in holding government accountable. I love the film’s snippet of Justice Hugo Black’s eloquent opinion about how press freedom must be protected so that it may “serve the governed, not the governors.”

I’m hopeful that “The Post” will inform a new generation about the Pentagon Papers (of 18 students in my University at Albany journalism class this semester, no one had seen the movie, one had heard of it, and only a couple were at least vaguely familiar with the Pentagon Papers).
Besides, it’s never been more important for people to appreciate the role of the press.

My stomach churns every time the president says “fake news.” When he called the press the enemy of the American people, it felt like a punch in the gut. And his flip comments and tweets inciting violence against journalists scare the heck out of me.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker (whose column appears in The Saratogian) this week addressed the connection between Trump’s relentless demonizing of the media and a disturbed 19-year-old’s recent calls threatening to kill CNN staff. “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down,” he said in one of the milder rants.

Writes Parker: “One could reasonably argue that Trump isn’t to blame for what others do or say. On the other hand, one could also posit that when the president targets journalists or media institutions by name in his frequent ‘fake news’ rants, he bears some responsibility for what happens as a result. … When a pattern of incitement can be demonstrated, should the inciter be held accountable?”

Trump’s incitement, Parker continues, “doesn’t make him culpable if someone goes off the deep end, but it does make him a despicable human being, which is bad enough. In a president, it’s unpardonable.”

Nov 13, 2017 - Journalism    3 Comments

Commissioners Misuse City Funds for Political Agenda

Counting all the valid votes in an election is a good thing, right? Of course it is.

That’s the rationale three commissioners on the Saratoga Springs City Council are giving for their decision to hire an election lawyer to oversee the process of counting absentee ballots in the hotly contested charter change vote.

In a special council meeting on Monday, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan defended the decision on the basis that proponents of the charter change are hiring a lawyer to oversee the process. Accounts Commissioner John Franck previously told the Times Union that he anticipates the attorney working on behalf of charter change advocates would try to get votes disqualified.

But using public funds for this purpose is essentially unheard of in New York. Election lawyers to oversee ballot counts are hired by candidates or issue activists, not by a local government.

“This is among the most categorically outrageous and inappropriate uses of public money I have ever seen and I work in Albany,” tweeted Ken Giardin, a policy analyst with the Empire Center for Policy, an independent think tank.

Advocates against charter change (including Madigan, Franck and Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco) could hire their own attorney using private funds.

So why are Frank and Madigan leading this charge? They need every paper ballot counted to overcome the 48-vote lead pro-charter change advocates had after Election Day. It has been reported that the returned absentee ballots (more than 510) lean Republican, which anecdotally should benefit opponents to the charter change.

Franck said on Monday that his opposition to the charter change was “immaterial,” but it’s hard to imagine he would take this position if his side was leading in the vote.

This was a guest post by David Lombardo, who has covered multiple absentee ballot counts as a reporter and oversaw the absentee ballot count for Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara in 2014.

Nov 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Family Day Nov. 19 at Parting Glass helps health center — and families

Artwork by the late Robert Wheaton III featured on the poster promoting the free Nov. 19 Family Day at The Parting Glass.

Sue Dockrell is a sweet, soft-spoken person who has put together something to shout about: a free, local event to bring families together on a Sunday afternoon, honor the memory of her son Robert, raise money for the Saratoga Community Health Center — and offer support to others who have suffered the loss of a child.

Family Day will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, at The Parting Glass Pub, 40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. There will be music, face painting, button and card making, and raffles and more. Admission is free.

I ran into Sue and her husband, Greg, the other day at one of their regular downtown spots, Uncommon Grounds, where they were taking a break from distributing posters for “a fun-filled community event for children and families in celebration and remembrance of Robert Wheaton III.”

Rob was 21 when he died in 2005. One of his pieces of art is featured on the event poster. Sue is excited about raising some money to support the health center, a branch of Saratoga Hospital that offers routine health care regardless of ability to pay.

And, for those walking in the Dockrells’ shoes, there will be “tools to support families in every stage of loss, including speakers, poetry, art and meditation.”

Nov 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Heartsick over Sutherland Springs? Heed Kristof, support Giffords

Need help articulating a convincing argument for gun safety laws, backed by credible data? Check out the column published today by the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. With supporting graphics by Bill Marsh (and a dramatic illustration by Edel Rodriguez), Kristof, as usual, doesn’t criticize, preach or pontificate. Instead, the spells out what’s not working now – for liberals or conservatives – and how, using automobile safety as a guide, much can be done to significantly reduce firearms deaths in the U.S.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Like you, I am heartsick over the church shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And the New York City truck deaths. The Las Vegan massacre. San Bernadino. Newtown — shouldn’t that have been enough? What is wrong with us? Where is the political courage and common sense?

Putting more guns in more people’s hands is most assuredly not the way to decrease deaths. Assault weapons, semi-automatic guns, were not on the radar of our Founding Fathers when they created the Second Amendment.

Read, save and share the Kristof piece. And if you’re inspired to act, visit giffords.org and support former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s PAC and advocacy organization promoting sensible gun legislation.

 

Nov 4, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Take the leap, Saratoga Springs, to council-manager City Hall

The current commission form sets City Hall up as five separate silos that can’t be forced to cooperate, with no one really in charge.

I’m voting yes on charter change in Saratoga Springs, for one overriding reason: to trade a system in which City Council members are both legislators and administrators, each with separate silos of responsibility, for a structure in which City Council members are policy-makers who hire a city manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of City Hall.

Everything else about the change are just details, though that’s where some say you’ll find the devil.

Changes you’d notice: A council with seven members instead of five, including the mayor; staggered four-year terms, allowing for continuity, instead of everyone up for re-election every two years; and the introduction of term limits. Present council members could run under the new form, and Saratoga Springs would be well-served if some of them did.

If you have a request, complaint or question about the city and its services, you could still contact the specific department, or you could contact the city manager’s office or any City Council member, including the mayor. And the carrying out of City Council directives will no longer depend on council members’ willingness to allow their departments to cooperate.

Other changes optimistically promised by the pro-change group include a less expensive City Hall, markedly increased efficiency, less politics in government, and a surge in council candidates. We’ll see.

City residents who, like me, are proud to call this city their home, have raised their families here, and participate in civic life – intelligent, caring people whose opinions I respect – are on both sides of the issue.

A few in the pro-change leadership have been disappointingly condescending about the ability and integrity of those currently running the city. They would have been better advised to follow the lead of level-headed charter change supporters like former Mayor A.C. Riley, focusing on the advantages of having a professional manager running the city rather than an arcane system where literally no one is really in charge and commissioners are encouraged to be department caretakers rather than pro-active policy-makers.

Both sides include Republicans and Democrats and some odd bedfellows.

Among anti-change donors are a large number of big-money pro-development Republicans such as Tom Roohan, Frank Parillo and Bill Dake, as well as some liberal Democrats, like former Mayor Ken Klotz and former city Democratic chairwoman Jane Weihe. Meanwhile, among those on the pro-change side are Dake and Riley’s son Gary Dake, the Stewart’s Shops president, land preservation advocate Barbara Glaser, longtime local League of Women Voters leader Barbara Thomas, and brothers Bill and Tom McTygue of the former city public works dynasty.

Two city council members strongly supporting the status quo, John Franck and Michele Madigan, have successfully challenged many of the pro-change group’s financial claims. But they have not convinced me that the commission system, which relies on council members’ willingness to work together, is more effective or efficient than the proposed council-manager form.

I asked former Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Joe Dalton to explain his interest in spearheading the no vote. He talked about how politicians by nature avoid making decisions, especially controversial ones, and that council members’ basic roles are to maintain government services and carry out initiatives brought forth from outside City Hall. He is concerned, it seemed to me, that the council-manager form with seven at-large council members would weaken the influence of those with whom he is aligned.

In contrast, I would like to see more council members with varied backgrounds and long-term vision who are interested in taking initiative rather than being custodians. The council-manager form lends itself to that much better than the commission form.

You can find more about charter vote donors on the Saratoga Springs Politics website by John Kaufmann, whose even-handed blogging I respect even though our charter votes will cancel each other out. You can also learn more on the websites saratogacharter.com, saratogaspringssuccess.org and itstimesaratoga.com.

Issues facing the city will be the same regardless of the form of government, such as: a budget that holds down property taxes by dipping into the city’s rainy-day fund, delaying and likely exacerbating eventual tax increases; disputes over land use and where and how the city should grow; the uncertain future of horse racing as a major driver of the city’s economy; and housing too steep for service industry employees on whom local businesses rely.

That said, this is a thriving, lively city with reasonable taxes, solid business involvement, and community members generous with both their volunteer time and money. The city will likely be OK whatever its form of government. But we have a rare opportunity on Nov. 7 to take an educated leap, to let a full-time professional run City Hall and expect elected City Council members to steer Saratoga Springs into the future. Tear down the silos.

e.

Oct 17, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Sitting tight on a flight: I’d prefer legroom to linguini, Delta

$99 bought “up to 4 inches” on this flight, as seen on seatguru

Last month on an 8-hour-plus flight from JFK to Barcelona I was absolutely thrilled to be able to pay Delta an extra $99 per seat, each way, for “up to 4 inches” more legroom than in the economy cabin for my husband and myself.

So I read with some amusement in today’s New York Times that Delta Airlines has resumed free meals for cross-country passengers. Sure, ya gotta eat. But what we really want are basic seats that don’t make you feel like a strapped-in hostage about to be interrogated.

Oct 10, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Priorities all wet as city cracks down on kids selling water

Top story in Oct. 6 Saratogian reveals crackdown on dangerous local criminals

What a relief to see our city leaders cracking down on some of the most heinous and pervasive criminals in Saratoga Springs: kids selling water bottles outside the racetrack.

“My department was constantly badgered and disrespected by a few of the water bottle salespersons this season,” wrote the code enforcer in a letter read at a recent City Council meeting by his boss, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, who is not seeking re-election.

Whatever happened to an informal word from police on patrol telling sellers: no T-shirt sales, no adult entrepreneurs, and – hey! – no throwing bottles. Apparently the H20 gangs were just too much to handle and a few disrupters ruined it for everyone.

I walked to the track over Lincoln Avenue almost every weekend this summer and occasionally purchased a $1 bottle from a couple of low-key and polite little girls sitting beside a cooler, sometimes because I was thirsty but usually just to support their business.

Don’t give up hope, kids: A couple of City Council members who are running unopposed expressed an interest in figuring out how to fix this situation before the start of the 2018 racing season.

Thank goodness my children’s Lucky Lemonade stand, a Travers Day operation in the 1990s, was far enough from the Saratoga Race Course entrance to avoid threat of prosecution.

I wonder if the diligence in crushing youthful entrepreneurship is applied as fervently to other track-related money makers, like making sure people who park cars on their property during racing season are paying the taxes due on their income.

 

 

Oct 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

We need gun owners to support common-sense safety laws

If only the 90 percent of gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA would speak up — like the self-described sensible gun owner who wrote this piece — and support efforts like Gabby Gifford’s PAC, aptly named Americans for Responsible Solutions.

If only elected officials were beholden to citizen safety and common-sense laws instead of the gun lobbyists.

If only it were a no-brainer to ban and condemn a device whose only purpose is to kill more people, faster; instead, after the Las Vegas murders the sellers couldn’t keep up with the demand for them.
What is wrong with us?
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