Monday, March 31, 2008

We're Number 1 ... or ... 2 ... or ...

When I left the employ of the Albany Times Union, I was executive Sunday editor which, in reality, meant I was the guy who had to work weekends -- one of the reasons I left.

Still, the TU remains a personal favorite for me and I especially -- of course -- enjoy the Sunday Times Union. And yesterday's edition was particularly entertaining and informative. Yesterday's TU featured the newspaper's "Capital Quarterly" special section, looking at business and other trends in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area.

Yesterday's "CQ" was filled with numbers, rankings and "Q & A" interviews -- more and more the approach newspapers are taking to woo television viewers away from the 24-hour news channels on television. As a reader who appreciates good writing and something of significance, I have to admit that I was drawn to the simplicity. Some of my favorites, for no particular reason:

  • 23 -- number of homes priced at $1 million or more for sale in Saratoga Springs last month
  • $2.67/$3.32 -- average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas in the Capital District on March 1 2007 and March 1, 2008
  • 89 -- warmest temperature recorded in Albany during the month of March, reached on March 31, 1998
  • 2,636/248 -- number of active physicians per 100,000 Capital District residents
  • "I love my job" -- Paul Tonko, a foreshadowing of his intentions regarding the race for the 21st congressional seat?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blog

My goal when I began "At the Keyboard" in January was to post just about every other day. Then it was three days a week. Now, it's pretty much when I can.

Blogging is hard work. Well, not hard. But it does require discipline and foresight that new bloggers like myself might not appreciate going in.

But I do take heart in the fact that, according to the Times Union, I am not alone finding the demands of blogging, well ... demanding. In fact, according to Senior Writer Steve Barnes, I may be doing better than most with my intermittent posts because I do, in fact, post.

Barnes and the Times Union had an interesting piece on today's "Life" front. If you're reading this -- or other blogs -- or if you blog yourself, enjoy:

A blog of one's own? Post and post again
By Steve Barnes
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Having a blog can be the equivalent of an online diary, a spot to write occasionally about yourself.
Or it can take over your life.
It might be a swell place, now that you're retired, to post photos of the grandkids and a travelogue of your trips.
Or it might take over your life.
You could turn out to be one of those people content with the few dozen blog visitors you get every month, not an compulsive checker of your visitor stats.
Or you could let those stats take over your life.
If your temperament is such that you think you'd fall into the former group, go ahead and launch that blog. Visit any of the popular blog hosts -- WordPress, Blogspot, TypePad -- to get started. If the setup seems a little daunting, ask a young person who has a MySpace or Facebook page to help. Then just start posting your writings and photos. It's easy, and it's free.
But if you think you might become obsessive about boosting your visitor numbers, or if an unupdated blog would peck at your conscience like a raven, resist the urge to launch one.
The abandoned
The wide world of the Web includes a giant dung heap of abandoned and neglected blogs. Although it's impossible to say exactly how many blogs are out there in the electronic ether, the consensus seems to be that almost two-thirds of the world's approximately 160 million blogs are inactive. They just sit there, forlornly unvisited even by their creators, silently offering evidence of someone's daily life and musings from, say, summer 2005.
But that won't be you! You'll post, you'll entertain, you'll inform, you'll enthrall!
The first thing to know is you must post often. That bears repeating: Post. Very. Often.
Why? For the same reason that a daily newspaper publishes every single day, that a radio station abhors going silent for even a few seconds. People find comfort, reassurance in continuity; it's how they develop routines. If you don't put something new on your blog at least once a week or so, readers won't get in the habit of coming back. And then the death spiral starts: You don't post, so readers con't come back, and when you see that no one's reading, you don't feel compelled to post. Within a few months, it's time to toss another blog onto the dung heap.
The five most popular blogs hosted by average at least a half-dozen new posts every weekday. The four staffers in the newspaper's Capitol bureau in the last month put up between eight and 16 separate posts daily over the past month, and some of those posts contained more than a dozen separate links to stories elsewhere; such industriousness, combined with a subject matter -- state politics -- with wide appeal locally, draws by far the largest readership of any on 304,000 in February.
The restaurant blog Table Hopping, written by this reporter, has four to 10 postings every weekday and placed second, with an audience of about 101,000 in February; the third-ranked blog, On the Edge, Kristi Gustafson's take on dating and style, attracted 63,000 with about five new posts daily and frequent use of photos.
What to write
Another strategy for attracting readers seems obvious but is worth pointing out: Write about something a dedicated core of readers want to read about often. Times Union staffer James Allen, who covers high school sports, placed sixth in January with his Sidelines blog, and high school student Kevin Whitaker's exhaustively reported Fan in Motion blog on the same subject -- with posts that can run more than 2,000 words -- also ranked in the top 10. Ditto for the College Sports blog, maintained by writers Pete Iorizzo and Mark Singelais.
Write what you know: Feature writer Stephanie Earls, who chronicles improving her home and her life in A Work in Progress on, landed one spot outside the top 10 last month even though there were only 12 posts. In her blog, which is more of a personal journal than an extension of her reporting work, Earls uses an honest, funny, intimate writing style; with posts about the cracking plaster in her 100-year-old Pine Hills home and a clinical assessment of her last nasty winter cold, she engages readers sufficiently that she received multiple comments on almost every post she put up in both January and February.
Be short and funny: All blogs that keep readers coming back have one thing in common: engaging content, which on the Web rarely includes long, long swaths of text. Instead of writing "I went to the doctor this morning at 8 a.m., where Dr. Smith looked over my bunions and reported that I need to wear cushiony support in my Rockports," write, "The bunions are back. Baby needs new shoes." Then give a little background. And post a photo. Yes, of your own feet.
Borrow, don't steal: This applies to words or pictures. If you like something on another blog or site, whether it's a person's own or a commercial site, provide a link to it or quote the material and credit the source. If you're the sort of parent who would make your child return a pack of gum that he or she stole from the supermarket, don't be a hypocrite and commit electronic thievery by grabbing someone else's photo and sticking it up on your blog. If it's copyrighted, you're stealing.
Find free photos: There are scads of sites that offer completely free photos. Find them by Googling a phrase like "how to find free photos." (Make sure you select completely free photos, not those marked "royalty free," which require a one-time payment.) Photographers often allow some of their photos to be used for free as a way of getting their work seen and generating interest in their paid photos.
At its most self-indulgent, blogging is a form of look-at-me exhibitionism. At its best, blogging is partly an interior monologue, partly a cool way to introduce others to things you find in the world, and partly a rewarding, ongoing conversation among hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.
And it can also take over your life.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jumpin' Jimmy-T

It didn't take Assembly Republican Minority Leader Jim Tedisco long to intrude himself into the campaign for the 105th Assembly seat, even though there are no declared candidates.

Tedisco, a Schenectady fixture and longtime state-senator-in-waiting, couldn't wait to take a shot a my friend and former City Council colleague Mark Blanchfield, a Democrat, for failing to negotiate a discipline process in the city's contract with the Police Benevolent Association. Ever the partisan, Tedisco chided Blanchfield and Mayor Brian Stratton for not using the contract to keep wayward Schenectady cops in line.

The assemblyman's comments were dripping with hypocrisy. For one, Tedisco should know -- he served on the Council a few decades ago -- that the City Council has absolutely no role in the negotiations process. Contracts are reached through talks between the union and the administration. Once a deal's done, the Council is asked to approve it -- or not -- but for any Council member to take an active part in the talks would be inappropriate. The mayor would have correctly called for the head of any Council member who got involved.

Second, state law dictates how police discipline is dispensed and, until his feet were held to the political fire last week, Tedisco has consistently voted to maintain the status quo. It may or may not be the best way to operate but many who are concerned about the antics of the Schenectady Police Department view Tedisco's record as part of the problem, not the solution.

The 105th is the Assembly District represented for many years by Paul Tonko, who resigned in 2007 to work for the Spitzer administration. It includes most of the City of Schenectady and Montgomery County. Blanchfield -- a thoughtful, hard-working public servant -- is, indeed, considering a run for the Assembly seat now held by Republican George Amedore, who has yet to announce his intentions. I think it would be a heck of a race between two, young pols who are obviously committed to their community and I hope Mark makes the leap. If he does, I'm knocking on doors and handing out lit once again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Zip it!

What's become of public discourse? Thoughtful debate? Issues and policy?

In this age of tell-all and celebrity, now our politics is riddled with sex and innuendo. TMI, Gov. and Mrs. Patterson. The state Capitol is not Maury. It's not even Oprah!

I don't care who slept with who when. As long as it doesn't affect the operation of our government and no laws were broken, what goes on in a relationship is between those in that relationship (and, in the case of the former New Jersey governor, their driver).

Of course, character matters. But we elect people based on their intellect and positions, and I don't mean their sexual positions. Bill Clinton may have done some inappropriate things with an intern and a cigar, but he was a darn good president. I am confident that Gov. Patterson will be someone of whom we can be proud as our leader. Let's judge the man on his policies and sensitivity to the needs of New Yorkers. That's all that's owed us.

Meanwhile, politicians and public figures: We don't want to know. Really, we don't!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Short takes ...

Florida for sale ... Apologies for going missing the last week or so. Did I miss anything? But more on that in a moment. I just returned from the Tampa-St. Pete area where I travelled to watch the Cazenovia Wildcats baseball team open its season against other northern college teams that, for the most part, hadn't even gotten out of doors until their trip south. My son, Tim, is in his third year as a pitcher on the Wildcats and it's always a joy to watch him and his buddies play. While in the Bay Area, I was surprised to learn that it is one of the regions in the U.S. most adversely affected by the current mortgage crisis. There are almost as many "for sale" signs as palm trees; the real estate market is struggling as badly as the now 2-6 Wildcats! Coming from a northeastern city that's had decades of economic and public relations problems, I assumed that Florida and other tourist destinations were booming. But, not so. In my view -- and I am far from an economist -- if beautiful Tampa Bay is in trouble, we all are. President Bush: It's a recession. Really! Read a book. State of chaos ... Like all New Yorkers, I was stunned and disappointed in the way Eliot Spitzer went from being a political VIP to a punchline for late night comedians. Who am I kidding: Everyone had a Spitzer joke by the end of the week. Anyway, the Schenectady Daily Gazette ran two thoughtful pieces on today's op-ed page. Froma Harrop reminded us that Spitzer -- for all his faults -- did get some things done ("Let's not forget all the good that Spitzer did"). Harrop focused on Spitzer's accomplishments as attorney general -- "Spitzer offended a lot of people who needed offending. And he fought for the unconnected at a time when our so-called leaders in Washington could not care less. for that, Spitzer deserves a parting salute: He was on patrol when almost no one else was." I would add that, as governor, Spitzer also spearheaded an historic investment in public education, recognized higher ed as a vital component in upstate's revitalization -- and was creative in how he supported that -- and, though I'm no fan of his property tax cap -- was serious about lessening the tax load for most New Yorkers. Not a bad record, though it won't be how he'll be remembered. Meanwhile, the always insightful E.J. Dionne looked at Spitzer's successor ("Don't underestimate Gov. Paterson") and gave us all hope that we'll soon have a true public servant who can bring us all together and move us past this national embarrassment: "Spitzer turned Albany upside down. Paterson will try to change it from the inside out. New Yorkers may welcome a governor who is less adventurous, as least in certain respects." I think I'm safe in saying, we're all hoping that's the case. Good luck Gov. Paterson.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Snow Please Go

When I was an editor with The Times Union, I usually cringed when a superior -- in title, anyway -- would order I put a "weather story" in a prominent place in the newspaper. It was usually Page 1 and it was usually a story that told readers it snowed ... during the winter ... in upstate New York.

Now, if it was 70 degrees and sunny on Valentine's Day -- well, that's news! But snow here at wintertime? Yawn.

So this blog is very much out of character; I loathe to opine about the weather. It's snowing and it's still winter. What's the big deal?

The big deal is that I am convinced this winter is not going to end. Never. Ever. And I can't take it anymore!

Snow. Ice. Cold. Wind. More snow. A broken snowblower. It's been going on since November; that according to an article in today's Schenectady Gazette. The Gazette quoted the National Weather Service: We've had nearly five feet of snow since July. Yep, July. That's apparently when the Weather Service starts keeping tabs on the snowfall around here. No, I don't get it either.

But the point is, this winter started early and shows no signs of letting up. I don't think it will. Sure, the forecast is for temperatures in the 40s, maybe some sun this week. But it won't last. We'll be planting our American flags in the snow on the Fourth of July.

And that will be news.