Aug 30, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Excited again for the first day of school — as the journalism teacher

Teachers united: Seems like yesterday (or a lifetime ago) that I was The Saratogian managing editor and Christina Nash was a sports clerk.

I’m excited about tomorrow. Since kindergarten I’ve felt a combination of cheerful optimism and slightly nervous anticipation for the first day of school, which for me is tomorrow — as the teacher.

I’ve been teaching one version or another of Reporting and News Writing at the University at Albany since 2008, and while I revise the syllabus before and during each semester, after eight years of teaching and 38 as a working journalist I’ve got the core messages down pat. I enjoy preparing for class, working with students, marking up copy (by which I mean grading their writing, even while I’m moaning about it) and (I hope) inspiring promising journalists to stick with it.

And you never stop learning, right? Last week, I became a student for the day, to pick up ideas about teaching.

I participated with SUNY teachers from a variety of disciplines in workshops about How to Improve Student Learning with Teaching Strategies that Promote Effective Active Learning. The real, easier-to-digest title was “Fall Faculty Retreat,” presented by UAlbany’s Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership, which offers group and individual training and other resources for teachers seeking to improve their craft.

The biggest takeaway: Research confirms that students learn more by doing stuff than by sitting in a chair while the teacher drones on – and that, if teachers tried, they could do a lot more teaching through active learning than traditional lectures. Makes sense. I can’t pay attention when I’m being lectured, so why should I expect my students to?

Presenter Gary Smith didn’t just lecture during a fun day of workshops about active learning.

Another takeaway: You never know who’ll you run into. During the lunch break a woman and I kept looking at each other. “I feel like I know you,” she said. “Did you ever work at The Saratogian,” I asked. Who hasn’t? Christina Nash, an accomplished teacher with a son almost as old as she was during her stink as a sports clerk, recalled how then Sports Editor Will Springstead brazenly deleted the first three beloved paragraphs of her first story, indelibly impressing on her that whatever you write is no longer yours after it’s turned in. We also caught up on the irrepressible Julie Joly (mother of an aspiring sports writer) and irreverent Michael Korb (for whom everything is sport), among other former Saratogians.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Active learning comes naturally in a reporting and news writing class. From Day One, students get off their butt to interview, report, synthesize information and write. Mine is a skill-building class for 24 journalism majors and minors who’ve passed the prerequisite Introduction to Journalism and are ready to learn by doing.

Journalism Program colleague Jim Odato, foreground, and I met teachers from various disciplines at the workshops presented by University at Albany’s Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership.

Reporting and news writing goes well beyond sentence structure. Students must discern whether information is credible – not always easy — to produce work that is reliable. So I’m not really going off on a tangent when I tell you that I’m pained by the president’s persistent degradation of the media, but also frustrated when mainstream media harps on minor stuff, misses meaningful reporting and crosses the line from reporting to editorializing. No shortage of material for interactive learning, that’s for sure.

Aug 25, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

All Are Welcome Here: Saratoga shows support for immigrants

Hundreds converge tonight (Aug. 24, 2017) at Congress Park’s Spirit of Life to show support for immigrants — legal and otherwise.

It felt good to join with hundreds of people who converged at Congress Park’s Spirit of Life tonight to peacefully show support and appreciation for members of our immigrant community. “All Are Welcome Here,” say the signs, one of which I’m happy to see every day at the church on the corner.

We are a nation of immigrants. We are a city whose financial backbone – at the racetrack, restaurants and farms – is strong because of immigrants, including those hard workers who may be here illegally. And we who are pained by national policies need to take these opportunities to stand up and be counted among those who care.

Learn more about the Saratoga Immigration Coalition on Facebook and in The Saratogian.

Aug 23, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Eclipse a reminder of nature’s beauty: All we have to do is look

Watching the moon cross in front of the sky from the patio of the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady.

I’ll admit from the outset that I thought it would get at least a little dark here Monday as the moon obscured about a third of the sun here during the much-hyped solar eclipse. But I hasten to add: I loved seeing even this partial eclipse through my super-duper NASA-approved glasses, was thrilled to watch the total eclipse over and over across the country on TV, and thoroughly enjoyed sharing the excitement with hundreds (thousands, it seemed) at the wonderful Museum of Innovation and Science and Dudley Observatory in Schenectady, where I got to peek through a solar telescope.

We take for granted glorious sunrises (not that I’m up then) and sunsets and amazing views of our skies all day, every day. The wonder and beauty of nature is ours to appreciate if we just point our noses away from our phones and look up (with appropriate eye protection, of course). The eclipse reminds us that every so often nature puts on an extra special show.

My son Joe traveled with three friends from his home in Chicago six-plus hours to a gorgeous spot outside Carbondale, Ill., where the total eclipse lingered longest as it moved across the country. “It was an awesome, overwhelming, indescribable experience,” he messaged from the car during the 13-hour ride home (it was bumper-to-bumper even at midnight), which he told me this morning was totally worth it.

A few of the hundreds of children and adults who followed the eclipse from the patio of the Museum of Innovation and Science.

Telescopes, including this special solar one, were set up for people to peek through to see Monday’s partial eclipse from the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady.

My son Joe sent me this picture of crescent sun shadows peeping through leaves. Amazing!

I’m looking forward to the week before my 70th birthday, when the next total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. will be crossing New York state. And I won’t wait, like this time, till the last minute to buy eclipse glasses.

Aug 23, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

New Broadway signs and maps tell you where to go — with class

These contain downtown maps on one side, and a bit of city history on the other.

Signs you can read from your car or on foot.

Pointing people in the right direction for public parking and more.

I like the new signs and maps on Broadway.

How about you?

The directional signs are simple, handsome and legible. The encased maps give you the basic picture of downtown Saratoga Springs’ main drag and its side streets. The flip side tells you interesting things about the city (courtesy of local history devotees Mary Ann Fitzgerald, Jamie Parillo, Dave Patterson and Charles Kuenzel).

Thanks to the Saratoga Springs Special Assessment District, comprising downtown property owners, for spearheading this project, which has been in the works for seven (!) years and is not quite done (more signage is planned for closer to the City Center and the Beekman Street Arts Distrist). Paul Post reported in The Saratogian that money to make it all happen came from the city ($200,000), the assessment district ($75,000), Saratoga Hospital and Skidmore College ($10,000 each), downtown merchants ($6,000) and a grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust.

I think it’s worth the investment for this classy and useful addition to downtown. What do you think?

Consider the alternative. Once upon a time the chamber of commerce handed out green and white “Ask Me, I’m A Local” pins (probably inspired by a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pin unearthed in a junk drawer) to encourage a be-kind-to-tourists mentality. It was a cute idea, but truth be told, you can live 40 years in a town and still not know the name of nearby cross streets or how many lights you go through before making a turn to the track.

Now I need merely to smile, step toward a map, and point.

 

Aug 11, 2017 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

The newspaper is what’s important, not the building — but I’ll miss it

The newspaper — moving today a mere half-mile away — has been a landmark on its Lake Avenue corner for decades.

I fell in love with The Saratogian 40 years ago, when I began my newspaper career. It was my privilege to run the newsroom for many years. The little brick building a block from Broadway and kitty-corner from City Hall represented to me the epitome of essential small-town journalism.

My first beat was city reporter. I’d run back and forth from the police station or mayor’s office to file stories and consult with editors. I’d walk downtown for comments, story ideas, and a hot dog.

Over the years, I mourned when the press was sold in favor of remote printing, but I welcomed the internet and its ability to report, share, save and update news.

When The Saratogian’s owners, Digital First Media, sold the entire block, including the building, in 2012, the newspaper became tenants. Well before I left the newspaper two years ago, it was apparent that the ability to work from anywhere, coupled with the shrinking number of employees, made the beloved old building like an old pair of Jennifer Hudson’s pants: way too big.

So, today’s the day: The Saratogian is moving from 20 Lake Ave. to 7 Wells St., a little over half a mile away. Out of downtown’s line of sight, but not far. And, I’ll bet, in the new offices staffers won’t have to wear gloves in the winter and sweaters in summer.

I’ll admit I’m a little sad to see the end of an era, to acknowledge that the staff is too small for the building, and to lose my longtime perk of a downtown parking space.

Shake it off, Barbara.

I’ve said for decades that a city the size of Saratoga Springs is fortunate to have a daily newspaper. The current cadre of employees work hard to bring us the local news. It’s the building that’s closing, not the newspaper. Lucky for all of us.

Jul 10, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Hello, reporters: Kellyanne’s job is to avert the truth, not confirm it

Rookies like Jimmy Olsen and experienced real-life reporters alike fall prey to spin in quest for truth.

Watching well-regarded TV journalists this morning hand Kellyanne Conway multiple opportunities to skirt a basic question — as if she will ever admit an administration wrongdoing — was painful. It takes me back to my days as a rookie reporter at a small-town newspaper, when I learned that you can’t make someone tell the truth.

Based on a City Hall record keeper’s tip, I obtained invoices showing the law requiring bids for construction work was dodged by having the contractor submit piecemeal invoices all just below the competitive bidding threshold. I arranged to meet with the contractor to hear firsthand his essential side to the story.

Hours later, I was back in the newsroom, in tears. The contractor would not admit the obvious. He would not tell the truth. He Kellyanne Conwayed me, back when the President’s Spinner in Chief was in grade school.

My editor straightened me out: The contractor’s answer is his answer. Report the comments and contrast them with what the documents show. That’s how you tell the truth.

I learned that lesson 40 years ago as a Jimmy Olsen at The Saratogian. But the same type of truth evasion still happens, to experienced reporters at the nation’s largest news organizations.

This weekend the New York Times reported – and Donald Trump Jr. himself tweeted — that two weeks after his father clinched the GOP nomination, Trump Jr. met with a Russian national, bringing along brother-in-law and presidential adviser Jared Kushner and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, based on a promise of compromising information about Hillary Clinton. These conflict with Trump Jr.’s own earlier statements flat out denying any such campaign-related meeting.

Watch video of ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos and CNN anchor and reporter Christopher Cuomo this morning trying to get Trump counselor Conway to address this news.

Stephanopoulos and Cuomo repeatedly told viewers and Conway, to no avail, the issues are that the meeting occurred and was not disclosed, both actions possibly at odds with federal laws. Conway ignored their questions with non-stop irrelevant responses, pooh-poohing the meeting because, according to Trump Jr., the promised campaign dirt didn’t materialize.

Maybe I should be on the verge of tears again, given the flat-out refusal of the media-bashing administration to tell the truth. I am frustrated, angry and, to take a word from President Trump, sad.

Please, 24-hour TV news: Report what happened. Report the (albeit inane official) response. Report why it matters. Repeat as needed, putting it in context. But stop asking the same questions over and over hoping for a different outcome. That’s a definition of insanity, and it’s driving me crazy.

Jul 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Saratoga Springs voters: Put the five-headed monster to rest

Saratoga Springs residents will have a chance this November to make City Hall more efficient, accountable and possibly less expensive – by voting “yes” to change the form of government.

The city is in good shape. Property taxes are reasonable. Snow is plowed and leaves are picked up. We’re well-protected by firefighters and police. Commercial and residential growth continues.

Why mess with success?

Well, the old saw “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply. City Hall isn’t broken, but it would surely be better with a manager overseeing the whole kit and caboodle instead of the current five-headed monster.

Talk to movers and shakers in Saratoga Springs, and they’ll admit good things happen despite city government, not because of it. If you’ve needed help or information from City Hall, as I have, you’re likely to have had to visit multiple offices in different departments to resolve a single issue. Capable, hard-working city employees privately share their frustrations with the setup.

A Charter Review Commission of 15 citizens has concluded more than 13 months of extensive research, interviews and public discussions by voting, 11-2 (with two members absent), to present its  on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Even the nay-sayers lauded the work of their conscientious colleagues.

The new proposal isn’t perfect, but it’s less imperfect than the system it would replace.

This will be one in a series of occasional pieces in which I plan to address different facets of the charter proposition as the vote nears. I welcome your questions, suggestions and anecdotes. I’ll start with why the system should be changed.

Here are three overriding reasons the current commission government is weak, based primarily on my 38 years covering Saratoga Springs government and politics for The Saratogian as well as my experiences as a city resident:

  1. No one is in charge – not even the mayor, who has no real power to compel action.
  2. All five city council members, including the mayor, wear two hats: Each is elected as a legislator and an administrator, responsible for specific segments of City Hall, such as public safety, public works, assessments or finance – regardless of their interest or knowledge in those areas. Council members tend to focus on issues within their areas of accountability (and become their advocates), instead of taking a broader view as leaders of city government.
  3. City Hall is thus set up like five silos, each headed by one of the five City Council members, including the mayor. This results in some duplicated tasks and a cumbersome (or nonexistent) process for sharing information. Sometimes City Council members play nice together and work cooperatively; sometimes they stymie one another, to the public’s detriment. And since some departments with related functions (such as the building department and code enforcement) fall under different council members’ purviews, citizens must run from one office to another resolve an issue.

If you have a concern with street paving, it shouldn’t be addressed only to the City Council member elected as commissioner of public works. Likewise, a question about police patrols shouldn’t be directed only at the commissioner of public safety. Every council member should be responsive to the public’s concerns and have a stake in how all city matters are handled, not just those under their administrative purview. And they should be able to turn to a city manager to be sure day-to-day tasks are getting done.

That’s what the proposed system would do.

The plan is to create a seven-member City Council, including a mayor, with staggered, limited terms. The biggest change: Instead of each hiring their own full-time deputy and/or director to run their respective departments, as is now the case, the council would hire a professional manager to oversee the running of all aspects of City Hall.

The proposed form would allow for the reorganization of city operations based on the best process, not politics. The proposal makes a commitment to not laying off people but to reducing positions through attrition, and doesn’t attempt to guess at what the ultimate staff number ought to be. It’s time to let the City Council be policy makers, and let the people who work in City Hall do their jobs.

Jun 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Happy 30th Birthday, Dave!

It would have been a workday, that Monday morning. I sat up and swung my legs off the side of the bed. Liquid gushed onto the floor.

“Jim!” I shouted. “My water broke!”

I guess we’re doing this, I thought. It was about 7 a.m., a civilized time to wash up, head to Saratoga Hospital and give birth.

Dave and me, Barb, many moons ago.

Twenty-one (alternately boring and unbelievably painful) hours later, around a most uncivilized 4 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 1987,

Dave & Jim at the Hedges in Blue Mountain Lake, where we’ll be in July with Dave, Bethany, Joe and Summer, a family vacation instigated by Dave.

Jim and I experienced the most joyful, amazing moment of our lives: David Michael Lombardo was born.

Holy smokes, we created a life. We made a baby. We’re parents. We have a son!

As David was growing up, he was often the focus (along with younger brother Joe) of a lighthearted family-oriented column I wrote every week for years while managing editor of The Saratogian. I stopped writing personal stuff as the boys matured into young men.

But today I want to publicly wish him a Happy 30th Birthday.

After all, David was the one who named and created my DoneWithDeadlines.com website and Facebook page to encourage me to keep writing after I left the newspaper almost two years ago. David is the one who tells me, over and over again, how to copy the column from one medium to another, and reminds me to tweet a link. Perhaps this column will compensate for belatedly beseeching Tony Kornheiser to give Dave a birthday shoutout; I discovered to my dismay that he won’t have a podcast on June 9. 🙁

David knows what he likes, but he doesn’t ask for much. Anything Tony Kornheiser. A sub from Aunt Cookies when we’re near his alma mater, Geneseo. A printout of an American Test Kitchen recipe every now and again, and one of their recommended cooling racks or baking pans. Cookies and ice cream. Fine dining. Family get-togethers.

David inherited his father’s (and grandfathers’) interest in government, political news and sports, and his mother’s (and maternal grandfather’s) low-brow humor. He is smart, quick-witted, and innovative (check out his poozer politics podcast). He goes all in when he sets his mind on something at work, home or on the field. His smile is contagious.

Most important, though, are his character and spirit. He was a good kid who grew into a good, kind, loving man. My husband and I couldn’t be prouder.

A get-together with Dave & girlfriend Bethany, his brother Joe and girlfriend Summer, cousins Leslie, Samantha and Rachel, and Aunt Robin.

Happy Birthday, Dave!

Jun 8, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Northshire Bookstore brings Anna Quindlen to Saratoga

Adding “Miller’s Valley” to my Quindlen collection.

Saratoga Springs Public Library Director Isaac Pulver converses with Anna Quindlen during June 7 Northshire Bookstore event at Skidmore College.

I became addicted to Anna Quindlen decades ago. She was my main reason for subscribing to Newsweek and, later, what I looked forward to most in The New York Times. As a fledgling journalist, wife and mother, I admired her crisp, pointed, touching, information-packed columns and commentary. And, unlike childhood idol Brenda Starr, she was a real person. With a family. And a Pulitzer Prize.

So I jumped at the chance when our wonderful local, independent Northshire Bookstore announced that Quindlen would be coming June 7 to Saratoga Springs. Good thing I did; they sold out Skidmore College’s Palamountain Hall.

In a very sweet introduction, Rachel Person, Northshire’s event manager, talked about how her mother would share Quindlen’s columns with the directive: “You MUST read this!” Rachel seemed as excited to be in the same room as Anna Quindlen as I was.

The format was a conversation between Quindlen and Isaac Pulver, director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library. His thoughtful observations and questions elicited frank responses about a variety of subjects, many of them tied to her latest novel, “Miller’s Valley,” which just came out in paperback.

Asked about the research she does for her novels, Quindlen surprised me by saying she doesn’t do any. For her characters, she draws on her experience and basic understanding about how people behave. Everything else, she makes up. That’s OK, she assured us. We’re talking novels, not news stories.

The author’s bio in the back of “Miller’s Valley” begins “Anna Quindlen is a novelist and journalist” — and at Skidmore she said if she had to describe what she was, she’d say “reporter.” I loved that because, despite leaving the newspaper business almost two years ago, I will always think of myself as a journalist. And, like Quindlen, I cherish, defend and applaud the excellent work of reporters who protect democracy by keeping the public informed.

I was thrilled when Quindlen described how she reads her words aloud and rewrites until every sentence rings true to her ear. I’ve (almost) always done the same thing, striving for a conversational tone. Next semester I’ll tell my journalism students, “Hey, don’t take my word. Anna Quindlen does it, too.”

Quindlen brushed off an audience member’s entreaty that she return to journalism, saying Baby Boomers don’t know when it’s time to make way. How do you know it’s time? She offered this clue: While making money at college as a “Barnard Babysitter,” one of her charges was Maggie Haberman.

Jun 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Lu Lucas doubly honored by community service award named for dear friend Lisa Niles

Lu Lucas accepts the 2017 Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award.

Lisa Niles would have loved this morning. Her very good friend, Lu Lucas, received the Leadership Saratoga program’s highest award, which is named in her memory.

I am happy and sad at the same time. So is Lu.

Lu was nominated for the Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award honor by her longtime colleague Rich Ferguson, who at this morning’s Leadership Saratoga breakfast ran through an exhausting list of Lu’s current volunteerism. She is actively involved in so much, on top of a full-time job and personal responsibilities. And, as Rich noted, she does it without fanfare, never wishing to draw attention to herself.

Lisa was the same way.

I became friends with Lisa as colleagues in Leadership Saratoga’s initial Class of 1986 and as sisters in the fledgling Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, along with Lu and Lisa Schroeder Bevis, one of the founders of the thriving service organization. For years the four of us would get together for monthly dinners.

Lisa passed away on July 7, 2001 at the age of 45, way too young. She was the first president of the Leadership Alumni Association, hence the award in her memory.

A packed room of Leadership Saratoga alums from 1986-2017 at June 7 program. Members of the latest class described their recent public service projects.

As the latest recipient of the Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award, Lu is in good company with other alums of the program who continue to volunteer for the betterment of the community. That would have been honor enough. But the award means even more for Lu, who shared in her brief remarks how Lisa was a personal friend, mentor and role model. I couldn’t have been prouder this morning as Lu was recognized for her community service in the name of a friend whose spirit clearly lives on.

 

 

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