Browsing "Uncategorized"
Oct 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Jansing, Hale-Spencer honored for grassroots and global reporting

Honoree Chris Jansing and new board member Barbara Lombardo at Women’s Press Club of NYS annual awards dinner.

Chris Jansing reports national and international news with intelligence, depth and poise. Melissa Hale-Spencer keeps you abreast of the news and issues in your town, if you’re lucky enough to live in her coverage area. Both are stars of journalism, providing indispensable information to citizens who wish to be informed and engaged.

At a time when journalists are disparaged for doing their job by the president of this country, and journalists risk their lives doing their job in other countries, it is a pleasure to join in honoring Jansing and Hale-Spencer for their commitment to reporting the news – reporting the truth – that is so essential to our democracy.

The two were among six honorees at The Women’s Press Club of New York State’s Annual Awards and Scholarship Dinner Sept. 28. Hale-Spencer was the press club’s 2017 Media Person of the Year and Jansing was named to its 2017 Hall of Honor.

The other honorees were also impressive for their promise and their media-related accomplishments: student Heather Knott, recipient of the Betty Flood Morrow Scholarship; Tracy Ormsbee, a former Albany Times Union editor now publisher of the Adirondack Explorer, honored for career achievement; and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and longtime League of Women Voters volunteer Barbara Bartoletti, for being women in public life who have presented a positive image in the media.

Hale-Spencer and Jansing struck me for the combined scope and importance of their reporting, locally and globally.

Altamont Enterprise editor and co-owner Melissa Hale-Spencer chats after being recognized for her grassroots journalism by the Women’s Press Club of NYS.

Hale-Spencer and I chatted from time to time over the 30-plus years of our overlapping newspaper careers while I was managing editor of The Saratogian. Weeklies like her Altamont Enterprise and small dailies like The Saratogian offer similar experiences to journalists: long hours, low pay, and a chance to practice their craft and make a difference.

She has won international and national recognition for her editorials and news coverage, but I suspect that prestigious peer accolades pale in comparison to how her efforts are appreciated by readers, in print and online. She continues to lead (both staff and the community), teach and do hands-on work as editor of The Altamont Enterprise, which she and her husband now co-own. Now that’s commitment.

Jansing, meanwhile, is a senior national correspondent and news anchor for MSNBC, and fondly remembered locally for her years as a news anchor under her maiden name, Kapotasy. In accepting her press club award, she lauded Hale-Spencer for her grassroots journalism, told of attempts by Trump staff to intimidate her, and urged press club members to check out the Committee to Protect Journalists which, among many things, keeps track of the number of journalists (25 so far this year) killed while doing their job – or as she put it, while reporting the truth.

Sep 8, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bingo! Combining casual bicycling with visiting local businesses

Ian Klepatar sold me a Bike Bingo card at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market in August. The game continues through Oct. 22.

One afternoon last month, my next-door neighbor saw me buckling my helmet and waved me over to see if I was playing Bike Bingo Saratoga. She and her daughter, a second-grader, combined bike riding with discovering places that they, as fairly new residents, hadn’t been to before. For instance, she said they stopped in Roma Foods (wishing she’d known about it sooner) and Humpty Dumpty (before it closed for the season). I was on my way to the Saratoga Farmers’ Market on High Rock Avenue and found Ian Klepetar staffing a table with Bike Bingo cards. You bike to supporting businesses and get your card stamped, then collect gifts when you complete a regular bingo or fill the full card, now through Oct. 22. Nice to see businesses participating to encourage casual bicycle riding. Learn more at

Sep 2, 2017 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

It finally became time to put the cat’s pain ahead of my own

Stewart had a good run for most of his 16 years as a member of our family.

Stewart, our 16-year-old tabby, died in my arms Friday morning.

It took a few seconds for the overdose administered by the veterinarian to do its job as she and my son David sat patiently with us in a cozy hospice-style room at the animal hospital.

About a year ago, he stopped eating more calories than he burned. Neither blood tests, an ultrasound, medicines nor a veritable buffet of canned food and home-cooked salmon identified the problem or reversed the loss of fat, then muscle. But for months his decline slowed, making his wasting away more deniable.

Then, about five weeks ago, Stewart quit meeting us at the door. Four weeks ago, he no longer loped up the stairs and onto our bed. Three weeks ago, no more jumping on the table to tear at the newspapers. Two weeks ago, he took to spending day and night sphynx-like under an end table except to lap at his water dish, sniff at his food and use the litter box (fairly accurately). One week ago, he didn’t want to sit in my lap, not even on the floor next to his end table.

He was bone and fur, but still I couldn’t put down this living thing I loved. Until Friday.

I broke down throughout my phone call the day before with the sweet young lady at the animal hospital, who explained the options, since I didn’t pay attention when the vet explained them on my last visit with Stewart a couple of weeks earlier. Thursday was another day without Stewart eating a thing. He was weak. His spot under the table wasn’t private enough; he curled up in the back of the closet.

I resolved that, if he made it through the night, I would put his pain ahead of mine.

Wow, I just devoted about 300 words to Stewart’s sad last days. I should tell you instead how my sister remembers coming to my house one New Year’s Eve when he was a kitten and he was “on the dining room table, enjoying the dip (straight from the bowl, no chips).” Our now-grown kids remember how Stewart would leap at them from the back stairs, eager to play – or attack, tiger-like. And for years he forced me to forego many a chore by refusing to leave my lap.

Stewart was a rescue cat who, despite being on house arrest his entire life, had a good run. He was a pet, not a person, but he was a part of the family. And, more than I realized, I loved him.

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 the experts from freight companies that pack and ship 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.