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Jun 29, 2018 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Mourning Annapolis newsroom, knowing local threats are not new

It wasn’t unusual for me or another staffer to be alone in The Saratogian way after dark.

The man was angry at the newspaper and maybe crazy enough to do something terrible.

That sentence could be uttered by countless journalists, including me. But the person we’re hearing from now is Tom Marquardt, the former, longtime head of the Annapolis, Md., newsroom, where the feared but unthinkable happened yesterday: five people at the Capital Gazette were shot to death.

One of the things I loved during my 38 years at The Saratogian was working in the heart of the little city we covered in a building where people walked in off the street to bring in a news tip, a dean’s list announcement, a complaint.

That openness is one of the things that scared me, too.

After past violence, news companies barricaded the public from the community they serve, converting their walk-in newspapers into fortresses accessible with badges and keypads. I’m skeptical about security; the Capital Gazette killer blasted through a glass door. In any case, at The Saratogian and other small papers, no such protection ever existed.

You can bet I was nervous when I was the last one in the building, way after dark, after going to City Court over a man who threatened to rape me. City police made official visits to a handful of others who scared us enough to report. One man was ordered to stop contacting a reporter, to stop showing up where she was covering news (that he had no business at), to stop waiting near her car. Others were told by police that the newsroom was off limits. For a while, someone sent streams of weird and frightening astrological messages to me and, it turned out, other area journalists; police talked him into stopping.

But a talking-to by police at the request of the Annapolis newspaper wasn’t enough to stop that shooter.

I remember Tom Marquardt as a respected newsman from my long-ago involvement in a national managing editors’ group. At his newspaper, like mine (on a smaller scale), staffers wear many hats, juggling multiple beats, writing and editing for ancillary publications, putting in crazy hours. Newspapers tick people off all the time. You just keep doing your job, knowing some people will hate you but figuring the odds of being safe are in your favor.

Not publishing is never an option, as the Capital Gazette staff demonstrated.

My heart breaks for all the victims of such violence – schoolchildren, police officers, anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time, and their loved ones. Every loss is a tragedy. And I don’t want to make this political. I’m not blaming the president for the Annapolis shooter, who has been at odds with the Capital Gazette for several years.

I do, however, want the president to tell the world that, contrary to his repeated statements, journalists are NOT the enemy of the people.

Journalists are compulsive story-tellers who love their jobs — whether it’s exposing wrongdoing, raising issues or public concern, covering a game, celebrating people’s milestones — and know their work is important to their community.

Jun 22, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Ames, Google reveal the ‘reel easy’ secrets to becoming Mrs. Fix-It

Ready for business, good as new.

This spring, my sturdy garden hose reel-on-wheels sprung a leak. While I pondered how to replace it, my next-door neighbor Marketa built a treehouse, planted corn, created a patio and redid her front porch

When I apply verbs like “redid” to myself, like when I recently “redid” my living room floor, I mean called, hired, scheduled, paid. Marketa, on the other hand, literally uses her hands.

Sure, she’s a Skidmore College professor, but how does she know how to do these real things?

She Googles them.

Hey, I’m a college professor, too, even if it’s one class a semester. I can wield a Phillips screwdriver! I can Google! I’m not going to replace that reel, by golly. I’m going to fix it!

On YouTube I found a video of a guy taking apart the reel, revealing the cleverly designed inner workings. I copied his steps with minimal aggravation, removed the leaky plastic pipe and carefully saved all the screws, hoping to remember where they went. I tried to patch the leak. No luck. The part needed to be replaced.

Ames — a company in business since 1774 —  sent free replacements for worn parts. Talk about customer service!

I bought my Ames Reel Easy (“Reel” Easy, get it?) for about fifty bucks not that long ago, though probably longer ago than I think. But it didn’t take long (thanks, Google!) to find the product specs and an online order form. I entered the requested info, including my mailing address. Then the page disappeared without asking for my credit card. Arghhh! Frustration!

The next day I called the manufacturer and immediately reached a real person. Oh, your order went through, she assured me. We send replacement parts for free.

What is this, some kind of trick?

The piece arrived as promised, though when I put it together I realized the leader hose connection leaked too. But this time I knew the drill. A nice new part arrived in a few days, like magic. The repair was real easy.

I’d never heard of Ames and didn’t realize I owned something they made. I Googled the company and found they’ve been making hand-powered landscaping tools since 1774. That’s not a typo; they’re older than our country.

Here’s to another 200 years, Ames. And, Marketa, let me know if you’d like me to water the corn while you’re away. I fixed the hose reel all by myself.



Jun 20, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Forget about N. Korean nukes. Look out Earth, here come the asteroids

I was worried that I’d run out of things to worry about now that I don’t have to worry about nuclear annihilation courtesy of North Korea.

Fortunately, the Science section of today’s thriving and reliable New York Times provided something to keep me up at night pondering the end of the world as we know it: Asteroids.

More than 150,000 asteroids have been catalogued by NASA since 2011. The lead to the story reassuringly states that while “thousands of asteroids are passing through Earth’s neighborhood” at any given time, “odds of a direct hit on the planet any time soon are slim.” But, writer Kenneth Chang quickly adds, “even a small asteroid the size of a house could explode with as much energy as an atomic bomb.”

However, that’s not the news. What’s new is that some scientists are no longer laughing at a man with a physics doctorate who has insisted that NASA’s data is “flawed and unreliable” and scientists “know less than they think” about asteroids.

Thank you, Mr. Chang. I’ll be on the lookout for big rocks instead of big missiles. Meanwhile, could you let me know if “Earth’s neighborhood” is anywhere near Saratoga Springs, N.Y.?

May 11, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Survival of local news endangered by hedge fund media owner Alden

An Associated Press photo with one of many stories being written about how Alden Global Capital is killing the newspapers it owns.

President Trump’s declaration of the media as the enemy of the people and his continuous degradation of the press scare the heck out of me. But I’m worried, too, about the enemies of a free press that come from within.

Heading the list: Alden Global Capital.

Alden is the hedge fund owner of about 200 newspapers, including The Saratogian, whose newsroom I led for more than 30 years until the owners’ massive cuts made the job untenable.

They’ve been in the news for making obscene profits from their newspapers while slashing staff and funneling the money instead into their pockets and questionable investments, for prompting resignations, for firing an editor in Colorado who published a criticism of the company, and for banning its newsrooms from publishing criticism of itself without prior approval, which you wouldn’t hold your breath for.

I get why an employer wouldn’t tolerate employees badmouthing the hand that feeds them. If you’re unhappy, leave. At the same time, the story about how Alden is undoing local journalism around the country needs to be told. Those of us whose jobs are no longer at stake need to speak up.

The latest resignations, on top of huge layoffs, were from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver Post, Alden’s cash cow. Among them was Dean Singleton, the Post’s prior owner who until this week had been its chairman. “At the end of my career, I don’t want to be a part of it,” Singleton told media writer Ken Doctor. “The Post has been totally gutted of news coverage and of editorial coverage. That’s a fact.”

Sound familiar?

I don’t want people to give up on local news or their local newspaper. I want Alden to sell its newspapers to investors who care about news.

Apr 20, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

19 years after Columbine — isn’t it time for gun laws to change?

Erica Miller of the Daily Gazette took this picture of Saratoga Springs students and others participating in today’s #NationalSchoolWalkout on the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School.

So proud to see Saratoga Springs students among those in #NationalSchoolWalkout on today, April 20th, on the 19th anniversary of shooting of Columbine students. Keep at it! Get out the vote, nationwide. Thanks to Erica Miller of the Daily Gazette for photo. I was also was moved to learn about Columbine  survivor Austin Eubanks and how that trauma has affected his life these past 19 years at

Apr 17, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Can local news be saved? Not in the hands of Alden Global Capital

This illustration shows the original Denver Post staff members still remaining from a 2013 Pulitzer celebration photo. The Post and its sister papers, including The Saratogian, have suffered debilitating staff cuts by its hedge fund owners, Alden Global Capital.

Anyone want to buy The Saratogian? Please?

I don’t mean today’s edition or a subscription, print or online. I mean the whole kit and caboodle. The newspaper.

Local news is dying, and it’s not merely because publishing companies failed to figure out how to stay profitable in the Internet age. In Saratoga Springs and a couple hundred other cities and towns around the country, one particular owner of local newspapers is intentionally killing them.

The hope for local news, as I see it, could come in one of two forms: a buyer with big bucks and a real commitment to news, or an existing publisher who realizes that in-depth local news can be profitable as well as altruistic.

A few years ago, a hedge fund called Alden Global Capital bought the bankrupt Digital First Media. It owns about 200 papers, including The Saratogian and The (Troy) Record. The purchase wasn’t to save local newspapers from being shuttered, but to squeeze every last penny out of them.

It’s not like these papers, especially the smaller ones, were flush with resources to begin with. But Alden hasn’t simply cut staff to the bone. It has sucked out the marrow, cut the arteries and yanked out the organs. It did this to The Saratogian, which was consistently among the top-earners of journalism awards for its coverage despite its small staff, and to its Pulitzer Prize-winning papers, including its flagship, The Denver Post, and to all its papers in between.

The owners not only made a beloved job not fun; they made it intolerable. That’s why I and other colleagues took a buyout in 2015, and why others, including the esteemed editor of The Denver Post, walked away a year later. It’s why staff at the Berkshire Eagle rejoiced when Digital First sold them to new owners who truly care about local news and restored newsroom positions.

Earlier this month, the Denver staff – or what’s left of it – did a remarkable thing. The Post published a no-holds-barred criticism of Alden Global Capital and urged the owners to sell the paper. Pretty amazing for the employees to call out their owners so dramatically and publicly. I guess they figured they had nothing to lose and they were right: A Colorado civic group has responded, and investors have thus far pledged $10 million toward the purchase, CBS News reported Saturday.

Digital First Media’s staff cuts cannot be shrugged off as a sign of changing times for the media: Alden has been accused of draining hundreds of millions from its newspaper holdings to improperly prop up other questionable investments.

Meanwhile, a cadre of 10 dedicated journalists – no exaggeration, you can count them on two hands — do all the reporting, writing, photography, editing, headline writing, web posting, social media, everything for two seven-day-a-week papers (The Saratogian and The Record) and southern Saratoga County’s weekly Community News.

Who cares if no one digs into local news? Here’s one case for caring: Then-reporter Caitlin Morris took the time to review police logs and investigate an “unattended death” that turned out to be a homeless woman who froze to death – a story that ultimately led to the creation of the Code Blue shelter in Saratoga Springs.

The remaining two handfuls of staffers at The Saratogian and The Record are doing a good job against impossible odds. They believe, as I do, that local reporting is vital for providing news that people need to know and ought to know, to hold our institutions accountable and to serve as a catalyst for positive change.

All we need are people with big enough hearts and wallets to keep it alive.

Mar 23, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Young water-sellers back in business thanks to City Council member Franck

Accounts Commissioner John Franck has once again demonstrated leadership and problem-solving as a member of the Saratoga Springs City Council member, this time making it possible for kids to continue selling bottled water outside Saratoga Race Course.

Last fall, then-Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen announced a ban of the young vendors as his solution to a few problems with some of the sellers (or their parents). The ban was announced after the six-week racing season was over, in plenty of time for someone to figure out a better solution before the track reopens in July.

WAMC’s Lucas Willard explains how Franck worked with Skidmore College interns, the city attorneys, the police department and the code enforcement office. As Saratoga Springs resident John Kaufmann noted on his recent blog, Franck came up with a proposal that addressed concerns to the unanimous satisfaction of his four City Council colleagues.

I’m glad to support a youthful entrepreneur hawking bottled water for $1 – a real bargain compared to prices inside the gate. Common sense, with some rules attached, has prevailed thanks to Franck taking the initiative.


Mar 13, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saratoga Springs City Council to young sledders: Use common sense

My neighbor is a law-abiding citizen who wants to set a good example for her second-grade daughter. So rather than simply ignore the “no sledding” post that suddenly appeared in January near a short, low-grade, unobstructed slope in Congress Park, she reached out to City Hall by phone and email to make a case for removing the sign from that area.

For four weeks my neighbor was bounced between well-meaning but ineffectual people in the mayor’s office and the public works department and was finally told that the sign was posted in error and would be removed that day.

It wasn’t.

This is a textbook example of the inefficiency of Saratoga Springs’ commission form of government, which is designed to have no one in charge. The mayor can eventually determine that a sign should be removed but lacks the power to direct public works staff to remove it.

My neighbor didn’t give up. She spelled out the situation in an email to City Council members and politely brought the matter to their attention during the public comment period of their Feb. 6 meeting.

Long-tenured City Council member Skip Scirocco, the commissioner of public works, responded at the meeting, saying the signs were posted to keep sledders off steep slopes near trees or stumps. Scirocco said “it’s not an issue” on the mild slope if children are supervised and people use “a little common sense.”

One of Scirocco’s council colleagues, Accounts Commissioner John Franck, whose oversight responsibility includes “risk management,” added that years ago an accident on a steep hill in the park had raised insurance issues. But neither he nor anyone else disputed Scirocco’s statement that parents needn’t worry about supervised youngsters sledding in the area that can barely be called a hill.

You can see and hear what my neighbor considered to be a satisfactory response from Scirocco on the video of the meeting, which is readily available on the city’s website. But that part of Scirocco’s comments are totally absent from the written meeting minutes, which are also on the site.

As a lifelong journalist, I know reporters must pick what to include and what to emphasize. They must condense long and sometimes rambling statements. And they must decide what to leave out. A clerk responsible for creating minutes of a public meeting faces similar challenges. In this case, the Feb. 6 meeting minutes ought to be amended to note Scirocco’s unequivocal assurance in response to my neighbor’s specific concerns.

My neighbor didn’t want the lesson for her daughter to be that it’s OK to ignore official signs. But at least she received the City Council’s promise that common sense would prevail in allowing children to enjoy mild sledding in that safe little section of the park – even though the poorly placed sign remains, two months later.


Mar 13, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Stefanik offers weak explanation for partisan vote on Russia probe

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik cites 2018 elections for supporting partisan end of House probe into Russian interference.

A day after the Republicans on the House intel committee announced its conclusion of its Russian interference (totally excluding the committee’s Democratic members), this area’s congress member, Republican Elise Stefanik, offers this weak explanation for supporting a totally partisan action in what she calls a “bipartisan investigation.”

She went along with her GOP majority colleagues in light of “2018 primary elections already underway and only several months until the mid-term elections.”


She says she will “continue to be an outspoken supporter of the Mueller investigation, which I believe is best equipped and our best hope to get to the apolitical truth.”

Meanwhile, she considers her committee’s incomplete report finished, and the Republicans can tout its findings, which fly in the face of what our nation’s intelligence has established about Russian interference and the unresolved question of collusion by Trump or his family and supporters.

Mar 12, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Silent Stefanik should justify vote on House Judiciary Committee

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik should tell us how she justified her vote.

To U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, who likes to tout transparency: Please tell us how you, as a Republican member of House Judiciary Committee, justifies closing the Russian election interference probe without committee Democrats, and drawing conclusions in direct conflict with U.S. intelligence. Your silence on anything controversial is deafening.