If you’ve spent any amount of time trawling the internet or social media for news on Saratoga Springs, you’ve likely come across the usual suspects: The Saratogian, Saratoga Living (yes, a shameless plug), Saratoga.com and Saratoga Today. You’ve probably also found articles in Capital Region newspapers such as the Albany Times Union, the Schenectady Gazette and the Glens Falls Post Star. Additionally, there are various social media accounts where you can get your local news fix, like “What’s Going on Saratoga,” a Facebook group, which boasts 14,000 acolytes and has become a quasi–city bulletin board; and the local rabble-rouser set, including Saratoga Flash News (on Facebook) and Saratoga Springs Politics (on WordPress).
Despite it being a city of less than 30,000 people, there are a lot of players out there vying for readers’ attention.
There are also local news aggregation sites, manned by actual people—digital natives who surf the web daily, scrolling through mountains of stories and choosing what to link to, letting their audiences decide what to click on and what to ignore. It’s not a new model by any means: News aggregation has been popular since the middle ’90s, when conservative media figure Matt Drudge launched his Drudge Report newsletter and later, his famously design-bereft website of the same name. (Drudge’s first scoop? The Monica Lewinsky scandal.) Aggregators like Google News, Flipboard and RealClearPolitics soon popped up, spinning the idea forward and building on it.
Since 2016, Upstate New York has had three notable news aggregators. The first to bubble up was Watertown’s Newzjunky, which has been run by CEO Stephen Smith since 1998 and only scratches the surface of the Capital Region, in terms of its coverage. Then came the Empire Report, which was launched by former hedge fund executive and one-time Mitt Romney campaign finance director, JP Miller, who is based in the Saratoga area (he’s a frequent guest on WAMC’s Roundtable radio talk show). Miller’s site is almost an exact replica of the Drudge Report, and has a rather broad scope of coverage, focusing in mostly on the political, and in some cases, cultural, landscapes of New York State, including the Capital Region. (He also sprinkles in a fair share of true crime and “news of the weird.”) While there are certainly quite a few links about our region—Miller has regularly posted stories from this website, among others—the above-the-fold news tends to have a New York City flavor.
As of last year, though, Miller has had a little bit of friendly, local competition from the Saratoga Report—the two sites are not connected, but the two people that run them are friends—which follows a similar format to Miller’s site, though it’s a little more colorful (aesthetically speaking) and focuses only on Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County news. The site also embeds various social posts on its homepage, something that Miller’s doesn’t do. But just like the Empire Report, the Saratoga site triggers a battery of breaking news emails, as well as a daily newsletter, rounding up the latest Saratoga news, that goes to approximately 3,500 subscribers. Like Miller’s site, too, the Saratoga Report has also begun dabbling in originally reported content, but that has come in fits and starts.
At least early on, it wasn’t clear who was publishing the Saratoga Report. Locals, including members of our staff, were genuinely interested, because the site was a bit of an outlier in town: It wasn’t really trying to be a competitor or lightning rod or an attention hog. It was simply collecting all of the best Saratoga news and putting it in one place—something that the city sorely needed, given the many players involved. Within the past year, though, the Saratoga Report‘s founder and publisher quietly unmasked himself. Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t. Who is he, and why does he care so much about Saratoga? He wanted to tell his story to Saratoga Living, and we couldn’t resist.
The story of the Saratoga Report actually begins 15 years ago, when now 55-year-old Dan De Federicis first moved to Saratoga from Albany. “I fell in love with Saratoga,” he says. Still working in Albany at the time, he didn’t care about the 40-minute rush hour commute both ways; living in Saratoga was worth the extra time up and down the Northway. Originally from Cheektowaga, near Buffalo, De Federicis was a newbie in town with a natural curiosity for what was happening in the city, and quickly realized he needed an outlet for that interest. So he launched the Fun in Saratoga blog. “It was not a business,” he says. “It was just a hobby.” He mixed in opinion pieces, hyperlinks to favorite sources and “breaking news”–like topics in the community. He even tried his hand at news aggregation between 2008 and 2009, but it quickly proved to be too much to handle. “It was a lot of work, and I simply didn’t have the business reason to continue aggregating,” he says. “It was a lot easier to put my opinions on a blog, once every three days, rather than aggregate every single day.” That, and blogging wasn’t his full-time job anyway.
For nearly two decades at the time of his arrival in Saratoga, De Federicis had been a New York State trooper and had been heading up one of its unions. He’d started in 1987, been promoted to sergeant in 1992 and was elected president of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) of New York State Troopers in 2001. (The year before, he earned his law degree.) He served in that role from ’01-’09—hence, the move to Albany—before retiring, taking a year and a half off, before becoming the founding executive director and counsel for a different law enforcement labor union, the PBA of NYS. De Federicis served in that role from 2011 until this past August, when he left the role. (In the middle of all of that, De Federicis married Dr. Margarita De Federicis, a family physician; the couple has two young daughter.)
But let’s rewind the tape a little bit. Jettisoning the news aggregation idea in ’08/’09, De Federicis decided to continue blogging, and it quickly became clear that Fun in Saratoga had some fans. Case in point: One memorable post was about a Saratoga business removing its coin-operated kids ride, the Skycopter, from the strip mall at the corner of Caroline Street and Henry Street. “It was a neat, little Saratoga thing,” says De Federicis. “Apparently, other people thought it was neat, because when it was removed, readers emailed me and asked if I was going to write about it.” Even though he effectively stopped updating the site once his eldest daughter was born in 2013, he never lost interest in reporting on Saratoga in some capacity. “I knew that I would be coming back to it in some fashion,” says De Federicis. And about seven years later, opportunity knocked in the form of a global pandemic.
In April 2020, with all manner of New Yorkers trapped inside due to the governor’s statewide lockdown, De Federicis launched the Saratoga Report. The initial idea was to do something, anything, for all of the Saratoga bars, restaurants and businesses that were forced to close. (The site is a legitimate small business, too, with De Federicis selling advertising against it.) That quickly morphed into De Federicis taking the best of what all the local media outlets were reporting on during the pandemic and putting it on the pedestal he thought it deserved. “I saw my website as something to support [local media],” says Dan Federicis. And he’s done just that since.
For those unfamiliar with the Saratoga Report, De Federicis updates it daily, starting at 5am, with some updates coming after hours and even on major holidays. And he tries to make what he’s updating as relevant as possible to the community at large. “If schools are closed [because of a snowstorm], I tell my wife, ‘Sorry, you’re going to lose me for 20 minutes; I need to notify my readers with an email.'” The way De Federicis sees it, some parents will no doubt be watching the local news reports to get school-closing information the night before. But there will always be a group that isn’t plugged in that way, that he feels that he can reach via his breaking news emails or regular updates. “I know that there’s a percentage [of people] that are only going to find out about [news] because I emailed them,” he says. “And I feel good about that.”
That said, De Federicis is quick to admit that he’s not a trained journalist by any stretch of the imagination. But in his executive-level union roles with those two PBAs, he says he learned quite a bit about what makes the media tick, and that’s helped inform how he runs his news site. “For a union to be effective, you have to communicate with your members and the outside world,” he says. “I was on Capital Tonight 8 or 10 times, I probably did 100 TV news interviews, 300 print interviews, sent out press releases, held press conferences and got really exposed to that world.” During his tenure at the first PBA, he says, social media was also just beginning to blossom, so he was able to “grow with it.”
De Federicis tells me that he prides himself on offering as unbiased a perspective as possible, in terms of the news and information he’s posting about Saratoga. He tells me that he’ll often post links to stories about Saratoga that he may not personally agree with but believes have value to a local audience. One example would be his posting of links from the blog Horseracing Wrongs, which covers the epidemic of horse deaths at racetracks like Saratoga Race Course, during track season. This, despite De Federicis being a horse racing fan and owning his own modest racing partnership, Gray Riders Stable. “First of all, [stories about horse deaths] have an effect on Saratoga, so regardless of where my personal feelings are, I’m going to post [them],” he says. “Second of all, if I’m a stakeholder in the horse racing industry, we need to know what people are saying about the industry, and we can’t stick our heads in the sand. You may not get it on the other horse racing sites, but you’re going to get it on mine.” He also caught some flak from his readers for posting a Times Union editorial that slammed the Saratoga Springs Police Department and local government’s handling of local Black Lives Matter protests and protestors. “I was a longtime state trooper, a longtime union official for police…but I have the duty to post things even though I may strongly disagree with them,” he explains. “It was about Saratoga Springs, and I wanted to post it. It’s important to do that.” While he does admit that his personal biases do seep in every so often—he did not offer up any examples—he says that he “[strives] to make the Saratoga Report as neutral as I can.” If you want something that’s hard right- or left-leaning, he says, there’s more than enough media outlets out there to whet your whistle. He’s just not going to be that guy.
Even though De Federicis may strive to keep his personal biases off the site, he isn’t afraid to poke the bear from time to time. If you follow the Saratoga Report‘s Twitter handle, for instance, De Federicis has pulled no punches on how he feels about The Saratogian‘s waning authority as a news organization in the city. (In his first post on Fun in Saratoga, he took a swing at the paper.) “That’s Citizen Dan really mad and fired up that his hometown newspaper is essentially nothing,” he says. “Back [when] Barbara Lombardo [was editor], no one would call it a ‘great’ paper, but it had a presence. They wrote editorials; they had good, timely articles, even if they were a day after the TU. And sometimes, they would be before the TU. It was a mix.” De Federicis says that his presence on Twitter is “part of me blurring the lines” between Saratoga transplant and publisher of a one-man-show news aggregation site. (He also has a personal Twitter handle.) “What I want to make clear to people is [that tweeting about The Saratogian] is not a business move on my part; I’m not trying to hip-check my competition. The Saratogian‘s doing it to themselves. They don’t have a presence in this city. And that really bothers me.” And if that rubs you the wrong way as a native Saratogian or Saratogian reader, then, well, tough noogies. “I blur the lines, I admit it and I don’t apologize for it,” he says.
De Federicis says he kept his name off of the Saratoga Report, unlike Miller, for personal reasons. (In all fairness, Miller’s name isn’t anywhere on the Empire Report site, but a quick Google search will reveal that he is its editor.) “I got a number of emails, saying, ‘I really enjoy this, but who is doing this?” he says. Personal reasons or not, De Federicis says that his anonymity haunted him. “I kept my name out of it on purpose, and it pained me,” he says. “I hated doing that, because I knew that, to have a respected publication, the readership has a right to know who’s publishing it.” For close to the first year the site was live, his name wasn’t on the site. During that year, he estimates that only about 10 people knew his true identity. (One of them was actually me, and I respected his privacy.) “Then it was 20 people, but there were still people, movers and shakers, that had no idea who it was that was doing this,” he says. That anonymous streak ate at him until he could bear it no longer.
These days, De Federicis is happy to tell anyone who will listen what he does for a living, and his name and title now appear in bold print near the bottom of his site (De Federicis also mentions his title in his personal Twitter handle’s bio). When I ask De Federicis if he’s worried that this story might put him in the crosshairs of internet trolls or locals who might disagree with the types of stories he’s been linking to, he says he falls “somewhere in the middle” on that subject. “I do have faith in what I’m doing,” he says. “If anyone accused me of posting something that’s biased or in favor of a group, whether they’re controversial or not, I think I can quickly show them these other four things I posted that are completely the polar opposite of that group’s position.” For him, it’s ultimately all about reporting the Saratoga news, though. “I hate to miss anything that is, in my view, because I have no other yardstick, relevant to Saratogians,” says De Federicis. “So, when in doubt, I post it.”