SARATOGA SPRINGS — Ten thousand days of newspapers. More than a million published words.
Barbara Lombardo has served as a leading voice in the community for more than a generation - her words educating, entertaining, and often inspiring open dialogue of a variety of issues among political leaders and city residents alike.
“I got into journalism during the era of Watergate,” the longtime journalist and managing editor of The Saratogian explained to a crowd gathered at the Saratoga Springs Public Library to hear her speak about her 38-year career in the local news business. “There was a great feeling of what you could do – and not just tearing down a president – but in your own community.” She joined The Saratogian staff in June 1977 working the City Hall beat and by age 30 became the newspaper’s managing editor, directly supervising the newspaper’s day-to-day operations, overseeing editors, writing her column “Fresh Ink,” and helping to launch a countless number of journalists’ careers. The origins of Lombardo’s own career were founded in a series of serendipitous moments.
“I took journalism classes as a lark and got hooked. As it turned out, someone at The Saratogian had died and I was offered a job to start as soon as I finished grad school,” she said during the discussion at the library, moderated by longtime area writer Maria McBride Bucciferro. “I fell in love with Saratoga. I married my college boyfriend and we raised our children here. Things just worked out wonderfully.”
Lombardo cited a lengthy list of a dozen publishers she worked with during her five-decade career that alternated between collaborative camaraderie and ethical conflict. “There was one publisher - and I won’t name him - but a story in the Associated Press his first day on the job was about one of the big department stores that was being sued for discrimination against its workers and having to pay a big fine. That department store was one of our biggest advertisers,” said Lombardo, recalling pressure that was placed on her to stifle the news piece. “The publisher didn’t want me to put that story in the paper at all, let alone where I did put it: on the front page,” she said.
She spoke about memorable stints alongside publisher Linda Glazer Toohey in the 1970s - at the time one of the youngest female publishers in the country - and a decade later with Monte Trammer, whose actions Lombardo cited as a role models for newspaper ethics. “Monte was at a session with a publisher of another paper when somebody asked: ‘If I buy an ad for your company what do you get in exchange for news coverage?’ The publisher of the other paper said that if you buy an ad, you get a story. Monte said that our news columns were not for sale. That’s just as true today,” Lombardo said. “It’s not like you don’t get some pressure, but say you’re doing a story about apple picking and you go to three or four apple orchards to get comments. I believe strongly that you should go to the orchards that are advertising with you, because it’s an opportunity for you to support the companies that are supporting you. But it doesn’t mean you would only go to them, or give somebody special preference.”
These days she teaches a journalism class at the University of Albany, which she’s been doing since 2008, and maintains an online blog, titled “Done with Deadlines,” at: http://www.donewithdeadlines.com/. “One of the things I always loved about journalism in Saratoga was that we were in a competitive market,” she said, explaining that the competitive scramble for scoops, sources and stories in the pre-Internet days had a definitive timeline that no longer exists. “Once that deadline came it was over. Now, it’s never over. You constantly have to be out there - and with fewer and fewer resources. I’m also concerned now with things being archived online on some cloud somewhere and not in newspapers, or microfilm like they used to be.”
During her time at the Saratogian, Lombardo saw the American newsroom transform from a bricks-and-mortar foundation that housed journalists skillfully trained at scribing barrels of ink, to an open-air market of unfettered opinions, blurring the lines of reality and cluttering cyberspace. The Internet has, at least in part, posed a slew of challenges for the industry.
“The biggest challenge is how to make money out of the way people are getting their news now – which is on their phone. Newspapers have traditionally relied on their advertising from print and they have not succeeded in raising the same amount of revenue from advertising online. That’s been the crux of problem,” Lombardo said. Allowing public commentary alongside articles in real time can be both a blessing and a curse, at times providing new leads and sources while at other times allowing a forum for anonymous posters to verbally skewer public figures and private citizens alike.
“There’s a responsibility to try to avoid some of the comments and on some stories cut the comments off, because they can be so heartless or personal. I believe that’s part of the downside of the Internet: the ability to say things anonymously,” she said. “What I personally enjoyed was the thrill of the chase, pursuing a story that sometimes could be a bad event, but you feel that you’re doing something good,” Lombardo said. “Things that make a difference in the community. Sometimes that might make some people unhappy, but overall it can make peoples’ lives better.”