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Archive for the ‘Gazette’ Category

A Belgian “information designer” has offered some thoughtful criticism of my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

I will address some details of the criticism from Stijn Debrouwere, who writes that he is visiting my former company, Gazette Communications, and read C3 as preparation. First, though, I want to thoroughly agree with Debrouwere’s primary point, that “Steve’s work does feel very much like it’s only halfway there.” (more…)

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Looking back over the past year or so, in many ways it was the most frustrating, disappointing period of my career. I normally would avoid looking back on it at all. I am a positive person and have been looking forward to a new job that has taken me out of the newspaper business.

But I sort of had to look back, mostly in surprise, when I learned in January that Editor & Publisher magazine, which boasts that it is “America’s oldest journal covering the newspaper industry,” was naming me Editor of the Year. The magazine announcing the honor arrives in newspaper offices this week, the week after I left the industry.

A year before I received the news, I was preparing to do two of the most difficult things of my career: (more…)

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Today was my last day at Gazette Communications. Tomorrow morning Mimi and I will start our drive to Virginia, weather permitting, for my new adventure with Allbritton Communications.

This will be the fourth time I’ve bid farewell to Iowa. This state will always be special to me. I’ve spent more than 14 years working for three different newspapers in Iowa, and spent a lot of time over here in the 10 years I worked for the Omaha World-Herald.

I will cherish many memories of my time at the Gaz. All the best to the many colleagues, supporters and even critics I encountered during my time in Eastern Iowa.

-30-

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As one who is leaving the newspaper business for a digital startup, it pains me just a bit to write this blog post. As one who spent 38 years in the newspaper business (starting in high school, so I’m not as old as that may sound) and wishes my print colleagues nothing but the best, I am mostly quite pleased to tell this story:

Mimi and I signed a deal Thursday to sell our condo after just three days on the market. And it was an ad in Tuesday’s Gazette that brought the buyer to us. (more…)

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I wasn’t going to blog about last night’s spelling bee. But a colleague nudged me, so I will briefly tell our tale of woe.

I was one of three Gazette participants in last night’s spelling bee to raise money for the Catherine McAuley Center. Eleven teams of adults matched our spelling (and speaking) abilities against each other in a spelling bee mercifully not shown on ESPN.

The Gazette team, winners last year (before I showed up; coincidense?), failed to defend our championship. We also looked pretty ridiculous, wearing paper carrier sacks and pressmen’s hats folded out of newspapers. (more…)

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I’m sure my new job title sounds like a gimmick to most people. Actually, it’s kind of a wiki.

When Chuck Peters announced my new title in February as information content conductor, it attracted some curiosity and scorn (as well as some praise). I explained it on three levels: musical, railroad and electrical.

As I’ve continued to explain it to curious people, they have added deeper meaning on all three levels:

  • Someone I unfortunately can’t recall (remind me if that’s you and I will credit) noted that in addition to my explanation that a musical conductor orchestrates the work of creative people, the conductor assigns them to roles such as first chair and second chair. The orchestration is not just rehearsing and waving a baton. It’s evaluating abilities and assigning roles.
  • Someone else (unfortunately, I’m only one for three in the credit department today) elaborated on my railroad explanation, which was that the conductor interacts with the public to give them an orderly and satisfying experience. This other person noted that a conductor helps people get where they want to go. In the often-confusing digital world, that may be the most important role.
  • Finally, I can give credit for the third way that others have enhanced my insights about my new title and role. After Chuck made a presentation on our new C3 concept and plans, he got an email from Dan Rogers, CEO of AdTrack. Rogers wrote: “When I first read about Steve Buttry’s new title, I understood the analogy of conducting an  orchestra.  But I also thought it was just as appropriate to think of Steve as a conductor of electricity such as copper or silver. Part of Steve’s job is to move electrons around in a way that makes sense, and to do it with as little friction and heat as possible — the critical elements of a good conductor.”

Again, I appreciate the insights that others offer to a job I am still working to understand and explain. And it’s entirely appropriate that that job and the explanation of it are becoming a wiki.

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I hope you’ll pardon some boasting as I note that The Gazette today won the 2008 Sigma Delta Chi Award.

Our coverage of the floods of 2008 won the deadline reporting award for newspapers under 100,000 circulation.

This continues a terrific run of recognition for our outstanding staff, which has previously won awards for our flood coverage from the Inland Press Association, National Press Photographers Association, Iowa Newspaper Association and Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors (and maybe something that I forgot).

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Updated with BeatBlogging Q&A:

The transformation we are undertaking at Gazette Communications continues to draw attention:

Those are new developments. These are other links I posted recently:

As I wrote in an earlier post, all of this means nothing but ego stroking and eventual embarrassment if we don’t deliver in the executing of our plans. Lots of people in the newspaper industry have been wrong about a lot of things before. You could compile many more links than this of people eloquently making the case that news web sites need to charge for their content. And the fact that you could find a lot of them wouldn’t change the fact that they’re all wrong.

But I am encouraged that a lot of people I respect think we’re on the right track. And I’ll keep sharing those links if they keep writing.

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I spend a lot of my time involved with digital communication – blogs, tweets and multimedia. But occasionally I have to lose myself in an old-fashioned book.

I recently finished Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas and will start soon on Harper Lee‘s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. I could read them digitally if I could pry the Kindle away from my wife, Mimi. But sometimes it’s good to just stretch out with a good book and turn some actual pages.

I’m participating in the annual Linn Area Reads program of the Metro Library Network. People are encouraged to read these two books and participate in a series of programs reflecting on them. We started with a March visit from Sandra Dallas, author of Tallgrass, March 1 at Theatre Cedar Rapids. I hadn’t read the book when she visited (wish I had), but I finished it last week.

Related programs continued Saturday at Collins Road Theater with a screening of the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird. I hadn’t seen the movie or read the book in years. I look forward to reading the book again. Usually the movie version of a great book disappoints me. But with this one, you marvel at the storytelling skill of either version.

I’m trying to recall whether specific scenes from the movie were even in the book and how the book treated them. I’m trying to recall whether anyone ever nailed a role better than Gregory Peck did the role of Atticus Finch.

Organizers of Linn Area Reads picked the two novels because of their similarities. Each book examines racial prejudice in a small town: Tallgrass is set in southeastern Colorado during World War II outside an internment camp for American citizens of Japanese heritage, relocated from California in one of our nation’s most shameful episodes; Mockingbird examines racial injustice in Alabama in the 1930s.

The books had other parallels: Each is told through the eyes of a young girl (Rennie in Tallgrass, Scout in Mockingbird); each girl’s father is the moral rock of the story, standing strong against bigotry; each book examines other prejudices (against unwed mothers and people with mental disabilities).

Jim Kern of Brucemore will lead a discussion of those similarities Thursday, April 9, at Barnes & Noble. I need to finish Mockingbird by then. Wouldn’t want to comment on parallels between the scenes where the fathers stand up to potential lynch mobs if the Mockingbird scene was in the movie but not the book.

A “Buseum” traveling exhibit of “Held in the Heartland,” about German prisoner-of-war camps in the Midwest, will come to the Westdale Mall parking lot Tuesday, March 31. Linn Area Reads will conclude with a “Stage to Page” discussion with cast members of the Classics at Brucemore production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The discussion will be Friday, May 8, at 6 p.m. at Marion Public Library. The play opens July 9. 

I will moderate and The Gazette will sponsor a “Race in America” panel discussion Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

I’d be interested in hearing how you view racial issues in our country and in our community. In the 1930s era when Mockingbird was set or in 1960, when it was published, it would have been impossible to imagine an African-American president. We have come a long way. But I receive too many emails and letters loaded with overt or subtle racism to think that one election wiped away centuries of bigotry.

Tell me the questions and issues you would like us to address in this panel discussion: If you are a racial or ethnic minority in our community, how do you feel included and excluded? What barriers remain? What opportunities have you had that were denied to your parents? If you are in the majority, how has your understanding of other races grown in recent years? In what matters, if any, do you think that race becomes a false issue?

If we are so fortunate as to have a Harper Lee in our midst today, what issues would she address in a novel that would still touch hearts a half-century later?

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If you want to follow or help chronicle the progress of flood recovery in Czech Village, spend some time with “It Takes a Village.”

This multimedia project by Gazette staff members Cindy Hadish, David Miessler-Kubanek and Greg Schmidt shows pictures and reports the status of businesses in the  historic Czech Village area of Cedar Rapids.

Click on the Bohemian Cafe and Pub or the Red Frog and you’ll see when they reopened (I need to choose one of them for dinner this weekend). Click Zindrick’s and you’ll see that it should be reopening in May. Eight businesses show that they will not be returning and 12 are still undecided. But an encouraging 17 are  either open or planning to reopen.

While our staff has prepared the basic information, we invite you to help tell the story. If one of these is your business, or if you were a loyal customer, each entry has a place where you can add a comment.

“It Takes a Village” is part of our continuing effort to tell stories, especially the complex and continuing stories of flood recovery using interactive tools such as multimedia and databases.

If you haven’t already spent some time clicking through (or adding your information to) IowaFloodStories, I encourage you to spend some time checking property by property for information throughout Cedar Rapids’ flood zone.

Or check out our projects on the collapse, cleanup and reconstruction of the CRANDIC bridge across the Cedar River; the “Year of the River” series we did last fall, with journalists Orlan Love and Jim Slosiarek canoeing the river; our “Unstoppable Epic Surge” video; or our directory of flood coverage.

We’ve written a lot of stories and shot a lot of photographs relating to the flood and the recovery. But our staff is demonstrating that we have many other storytelling tools as well.

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I believe and hope we’re on the right path in the organizational changes we’re making at Gazette Communications. We’re getting some positive attention in the industry:

All of this means nothing but ego stroking and eventual embarrassment if we don’t deliver in the executing of our plans. But a lot of people whose insights about innovation and journalism I respect think we’re on the right track. I find that encouraging.

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I posed by my initial at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, in April 2007.

I posed by my initial at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, in April 2007.

This will be my Monday column in The Gazette:

 

I can be a little smug when I receive e-mails from conservatives who attribute the decline of newspapers to our supposed liberal leanings.

I understand the shifting media landscape so much better than these people, I tell myself. Aren’t they aware that conservative newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and Orange County Register are facing the same upheaval?

That smugness reared up in another place last week when I was reading a message from an academic who wanted to know more about the “experiment” we’re undertaking at Gazette Communications. I mulled how to tell the professor this is no experiment. We’re undergoing a no-turning-back transformation here.

Then I read Clay Shirky’s blog post “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.” I realized I’m just beginning to understand the shifting media landscape. I can see that even a no-turning-back transformation is truly an experiment.

For nearly two years now, my closing shtick at presentations for newspaper industry gatherings has revolved around Johannes Gutenberg, whose development of movable type and a printing press transformed the world in the 15th Century.

I told of visiting the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, in 2007. For a journalist in his fourth decade working for newspapers, it was an emotional experience to see the history of printing in its birthplace and to see three ancient, original Gutenberg Bibles. In the same room where the Bibles were displayed, I also saw several older Bibles, beautiful works of art handcrafted by monks in the centuries before Gutenberg.

In closing my presentations about innovation in the news business, I likened those monks to today’s newspaper industry. If the monks’ product was a beautiful handmade book to be passed down through the generations as a treasure, its days were numbered when Gutenberg developed the printing press. But, I added, if their product was a message that they believed in their souls was the word of God, this new technology would help spread that message to countless millions who would never be able to have one of those precious handmade Bibles.

Similarly, I said, our product today is not ink on paper, delivered to your home daily with an account of yesterday’s news. We’re pleased that so many people count on their newspaper and we certainly have been hearing from them the past week after we made some changes to The Gazette. But that newspaper you love or hate is just a delivery system, not the actual product. Our true product is news, information, meaning, context, connection to the community and connection to the marketplace. If we can use today’s revolutionary technology to advance that product and deliver it in different ways to new audiences, we can thrive in this revolution the way the Bible thrived in the printing revolution.

It’s a good shtick and I deliver it with a fervor that would make my preaching parents proud. But when I read Shirky, I realized I didn’t fully understand the Gutenberg revolution and its meaning for today’s newspaper industry.

Citing Elizabeth Eisenstein‘s book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (I’ve already ordered it and may write more about it in the future), Shirky cited lessons from the Gutenberg revolution that snuck right past me: “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.”

Shirky couldn’t predict, and neither can I, where this revolution will lead: “No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.”

After reading Shirky, I had to admit that we are experimenting, even if we aren’t turning back. The Gazette Co. remains by far Eastern Iowa’s leading news source. We need to experiment now from this strong base, even if the local and national economy and the newspaper industry are in turmoil.

We face an opportunity as profound as Gutenberg’s. We need to be bold enough and visionary enough to seize that opportunity and contribute to this revolution.

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