Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lake Avenue Follies

Amidst the black hole of a newspaper that some circles call The Saratogian, one intrepid reader recently issued a challenge: say something about what the paper actually does right; perhaps a commentary on its strengths, not necessarily its weaknesses.

Well, listing the endearing qualities of The Saratogian is probably akin to listing the endearing qualities of the city Police Department’s parking Nazi. Sure, there are a few if you think hard; real hard. But it’s pretty difficult to think of them while that mustached bastard is fiddling around with your windshield wipers one minute to the hour after he chalked your tire.

But for argument sake, let’s reflect a bit about the positives. Given its self-imposed size, there actually is a decent amount of paper for the buck, albeit mostly advertisements and wire copy. Through this morass, there lay a few pearls, often among the convoluted and untamed thoughts of rookie reporters.

Take for instance, this report about Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco swearing off ketchup for the 2004 Presidential Election; the seemingly innocuous article gained noteriety throughout the state as it put a face on the ridiculous nature of American politics. While the writer certainly buries the most hilarious segment of the event, the article does take a snap shot of an event all other newspapers felt above covering. Mind you, this is not good journalism; rather it’s stumbling into stories. In this case, the stumble didn’t make it until two thirds of the way through the story.

Outside of the otherwise abysmal news department, there are a few more bright spots to be garnered from this darkness. Since the departure of the recalcitrant Clark Bell, the photography department has produced quality work. Also, the sports desk is both comprehensive in its coverage and generally well versed in its writing; in fact, some of the wittier of the paper's writers have bore their fruits in the sports section. To a lesser extent, the features department also produces some legible copy. Although it appears as though features is on the outs with the paper, as recently one of the longtime columnists ended up doing news, only to jump ship for The Glens Falls Post Star.

Yet with this grain of sugar on the table, let’s pull up the salt truck. When careless mistakes of both style, grammar and worst of all, fact make it to press each day, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for the so-called “tight budgeted” eds on Lake Avenue. At times, it almost seems as though they’re trying to see how low they can bring the paper’s quality before it starts losing subscribers.

Take for instance, the travesty some called Wednesday’s paper. First, there was the story about “Firefighter Hickey” and his daring rescue of a man in the badly swollen Kaydeross. The reporter uses the term “firefighter” no less than 16 times throughout his article, which neglects to even list the victim’s name until halfway into the fourth graph. Then again, when a writer refers to the rescuers as “firefighter Hickey” and “firefighter Russo” on second, third and fourth reference, style obviously isn’t much of a concern.

Then there’s this gem from the City Council brawl Tuesday, a convoluted piece that tries to convey the havoc commonplace at their bi-monthly meetings. In a dizzying account of this bickering, the reporter makes reference to no less than three events that occurred outside the meeting without once bothering to clarify these issues for the reader. It appears as though the reporter considers the city’s populace savvy enough that explanation is not warranted; nor is one about the Fourth of July fireworks display in congress park being cancelled. Suffice to say, news of an event that drew more than 15,000 people last year reached the front page in papers of higher circulation.

Following this, there was the one-source wonder aptly titled “the psychology of tragedy,” namely because the article itself was tragically reported. Aside from the stylistic errors in the lead –reporting is meant to be objective and therefore should not be written in the subjective voice –the prattle brings nothing new to the table, other than a local psychologist’s opinion of a mass murderer he never had any interaction with.

But any criticism for the aforementioned reporter would also need to be attributed to Barbara Lombardo, the paper’s managing editor, after she slapped her by-line on a strikingly similar article the next day. One-source writing is great for announcements and obituaries, but that’s about it. And when you’re trying to “localize” a tragedy such as the Virginia Tech rampage, the only way to write a piece worth the ink it’s printed with is to contact as many sources as possible. Not for Lombardo, however. When there’s laundry to be cleaned and nails to be done, there’s no time to bother with something pesky like getting a second source.

And the list goes on and on at infinitum; the same horse dung every day, every month, and every year. Some regard this bastard child of journalism and think its deserving of apathy, even apologetic pity in some cases; layoff, they don't have the budget, or they don't have the staff, or people just leave once they get experience.

Well, at the end of this sentence, there’s a dot. See it? That’s the world's smallest violin and it’s playing a solemn tune for these apologists. These are excuses used to condone the lack of leadership over at The Saratogian and the daily mistakes that dribble into its paltry daily content. These are basic journalistic precepts that even a drunken sot of an editor should be able to pluck out after a quart of rye and without an ounce of effort. And when they are plucked out, reporters should be made aware of their misdeeds so they’re not repeated –this is called training the inexperienced.

Moreover, there seems to be an attitude among some, who feel this publication doesn’t deserve the flogging it sometimes gets. However, this is the same attitude that seems to be working its way in the public education system, where the duplicity of punishment and reward has reverted largely to reward and only reward. True, if only bad qualities are brought to light, then who’s to know what is good. In the case of The Saratogian, however, there really isn’t much good to be noted. And what little there is hasn’t changed much over the years.


Anonymous Dan said...

I felt compelled to write after I saw the second comment on here. While the portion of the comment that was in response to the first comment was fair, and well written, your analysis of the motivation was so off base.

What I am specifically referring to is this line: "sometimes people, i think we grasp at straws when trying to come up with criticisms about the lake avenue publication."

No way. Absolutely wrong - at least in reference to the local bloggers. In fact, just the opposite is true. I am often so frustrated after reading the Saratogian, that I can't help but write about it. The problem I have is that the errors, sloppiness etc. happen so often that I worry that I'm being redundant and perhaps boring the readers of my blog ( in reporting the Saratogian's severe, yes severe, shortcomings. I try to discipline myself and not criticize so often - even though I feel it is more than warranted. I once went on a two week self imposed moratorium on criticizing The Saratogian. Therefore the opposite of your analysis is true - The Saratogian arguably receives less criticism than it deserves. I generally concur with the gist of Horatio's criticism - The Saratogian is just simply a poor publication that repeatedly makes inexcusable and basic errors. The question I have is whether the second comment above was simply an honest differing opinion, or was it a calculated public relations maneuver in an attempt to counter the valid criticism about The Saratogian on I-Saratoga and other blogs.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Well, listing the endearing qualities of The Saratogian is probably akin to listing the endearing qualities of the city Police Department’s parking Nazi. Sure, there are a few if you think hard; real hard. But it’s pretty difficult to think of them while that mustached bastard is fiddling around with your windshield wipers one minute to the hour after he chalked your tire."

True! True! The man really needs a hug, especially when he is on some quiet side street on a Sunday morning at 0900 enforcing alternate parking. WTF!

BTW, the "victim" in the river is a perp, in my book. Keep up the good work.

Mike L.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I guess that about sums it up. I am going to cancel my subscription and will only read isaratoga from now on. A little bitter are we, Horatio?

3:53 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Bitter? No. Fed up? Yes. And for the record, The Saratogian: 50 cents; i-Saratoga: free. So fiscally speaking, I laud your decision. Keep on reading.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious as to your background. You seem to make it a point be critical of The Saratogian, but do you have any journalistic experience? You seem to be really angry at Barbara Lombardo. Did you work for her at one point? I would love to know the answers to these questions. I think it would give you some credibility if you posted an honest background about yourself on your blog.

Any chance of that?

6:16 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

The background already posted is about as honest as it gets. And I assure you this, when it comes to hacks, I’m about as professional as they get. Look no further than the masthead of this blog to find the reason for such vitriol, if you’d even call it that. To be honest, this semi-daily diatribe poses the basic question of media accountability; journalists should be taken to task for what they write and report.

The Saratogian and Barbara Lombardo are often singled out here simply because they represent the most egregious breeches of journalistic principles and basic reporting know-how. Look back into i-Saratoga’s stacks and you’ll find plenty of criticism of other publications and editors.

As for my credibility, it speaks for itself; take it for what it’s worth. If you’ve found error in what is posted or disagree, please feel free to chime in with a friendly or not-so-friendly message. Provided it’s reasonably written and not some deleterious profanity-ridden rant, I’ll more than likely post it.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hooray for Horatio!! Huzzah Huzzah Huzzah! There! Is that what your ego needed? Now you can go back to personal attacks on Saratogians and their families. You are mature in your knowledge of Saratoga history and unfortunately that is where your maturity ends. Kudos to Lombardo for throwing Jim Kunstler out the door when his column became a ramble and a rant. It's possible you feel threatened because she would do the same to you.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

No, it’s not possible as I’d rather trim off both of my hands at the wrist than write for a talentless editor like Lombardo. Maturity is subjective, as are your perceived notions of this blog’s so-called viciousness. What you call attacks I call accountability. And if you can’t see the shortcomings of a paper that could easily be a mid-sized daily that SERVES its public, then you’re more than likely towing the JRC line, my anonymous friend. Or should I call you Barbara.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The complaints about the Saratogian seem awfully picayune. Sure, the paper's got its limitations, and its green reporters may not be too savvy about the finer points of writing a sharp news story. But it's no worse than many small papers you'll find in hundreds of small towns around the country, and it still serves a purpose.

I worked as a reporter at the Saratogian for a few years a long time ago, and for the most part I found it to be a pretty positive experience. Sure sometimes we made some mistakes, but other times we kicked ass and led coverage of local issues that had the other media scrambling to follow us.

True, there has beem something of a decline since those days, but no doubt the paper's sale to cheapskates Journal-Register had something to do with it as well.

In any event, your complaints may have some validity, but you can't fault the Saratogian for not having heart. And the city is better off with it than without out it.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Horatio. I read all the major newspapers online, such as the,,,, and read the weekly Economist. Compared to these websites and weekly magazine, the Saratogian is absolutely terrible. I find it a joke and a travesty to the people of Saratoga Springs. To the previous commentators defending the Saratogian - shame on you. The people of Saratoga need a better paper than that tripe they call news. As for Barbara - I think she is a lazy jerk who can't be bothered to improve the standard of journalism in Saratoga.

To get MY news in Saratoga, I read this blog.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you measure the Saratogian against the washington times, new york times, msnbc and cnn? well of course you're upset. would you feel cheated out of your money if the saratoga phillies kept losing baseball games to the likes of the Mets, the Red Sox, and the Yankees?

you're holding the publication with the smallest daily circulation in the capital district (and a budget more suitable for a Ghandian fast) to wholly unrealistic standards. reporters, editors, and photographers work their whole lives in some cases for the honor to call the new york times et al. their home. the average Saratogian news employee is in his/her 20s, thrilled to be contributing, and very unhappy with how little JRC deems their worth.

shame on me?! i defend the Saratogian because i WORK for the Saratogian. i pour my heart and soul into my craft, as do many of my co-workers. so shame on *YOU* for calling our livelihood "tripe".

6:48 AM  

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