First this blog was “Puttin’ on the Gaz,” back when I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Not sure why I settled on that, but I never liked it much. Before long, when I was trying to lead some big changes there, the blog became “Transforming the Gaz.”
When I left Cedar Rapids, I sort of needed to get “Gaz” out of the name, so it became “Pursuing the Complete Community Connection,” a nod to my vision for transforming news organizations but a cumbersome title for a blog.
With the 2010 launch of TBD, I decided on “The Buttry Diary,” working my name into the title as well as the initials of my new organization. Well, Allbritton Communications decided to kill TBD in the cradle, but I kept the name. After all, my name hadn’t changed. And I thought most people wouldn’t notice the initials. And, if they did, I was happy to honor a great news team and a vision that, I’m certain, would have succeeded if we had been given a chance.
I was figuring it would be “The Buttry Diary” indefinitely. Until Gene Weingarten suggested a change:
.stevebuttry should re-name his blog: “Mmm. Smooth Buttry Goodness.”
— Gene Weingarten (@geneweingarten) March 21, 2014
Well, people with my surname don’t make it through junior high without a thick skin. I was Butthead before anyone thought of Beavis. And I was Buttface and Assbush and any number to plays on the part of my name that reminds people of their rear ends. I played along. In my fantasy baseball days, my team was the Kissmy Buttrys (league champions two out of four years before I decided to take my money and run). Posterior plays on my name are so easy to make that few have thought of playing on the dairy sound to my name.
So I decided to turn Gene’s suggestion into a challenge: If people would donate $500 or more to the American Copy Editors Society Education Fund, which provides scholarships for editing students, I would change the name one month for every $1,000 raised.
Ivan Lajara quickly developed a blog header (for which I kicked in $100 in his name):
— Ivan Lajara (@ivanlajara) March 21, 2014
Then Ivan kindly revised the logo to fit the dimensions of my header. And then a lot of people (25 at this writing) contributed a lot of money ($640 at this writing), many of them spurred by a plug on Gene’s live chat.
Here’s that plug, with some links and smart-ass remarks from me inserted:
I’m going to do something for the first time in Chatological Humor: Solicit you for money, during the chat. It will go to a tax-deductible organization, The American Copy Editors Education Fund, which combats writing stupidities, and awards scholarships to young journalists. But that’s just gravy. Every $10 you send in will make the following statement: “Suck on it, soulless digitizers.”
This is about ending the madness. This is about respecting the written word, and saving its soul.
Steve Buttry is a friend of mine, and a good guy. He is a former newspaper editor who early on saw the future, embraced the Web when others feared it, and he has never looked back. He is part of the intelligent, principled vanguard looking to convert the Internet into an efficient and profitable vehicle for delivering news and stories while retaining basic journalistic values. He was a key editor at the original TBD, the Washington-based hyper-local news site that had the right idea but feckless ownership that slithered away when instant profits didn’t arrive fast enough.
I forgive Gene all the BS about branding that follows just for that great dig. But here’s the BS that follows:
Steve now works for the aptly named “DigitalFirst Media,” where he’s doing well and doing good. He is a true believer in all ways, which is mostly a good thing. Mostly. He has also drunk some bitter Kool Aid.
In the frantic lurch from paper to pixels, mostly a good thing, some bad has happened. Steve, for example is also an unapologetic proponent of “branding,” which is the process by which journalists make smoochy-smoochy love to themselves in a frenzied humping quest for ego validation and eyeballs, accomplished via shameless self-promotion across multi platforms and blah blah blah.
For more background on Gene’s and my disagreement over branding, check out the three blog posts I wrote on the subject, (with links to Gene’s post that started it all), plus a guest post from the journalism student whose inquiry to Gene really started it all.
And, by the way, a guy whose columns include caricatures of himself is pretty good at branding, even if he’s in denial. And, while I am pretty good at self promotion, you can also find 1,800 hits if you Google “Steve Buttry self-deprecating humor.” (I guess that’s part of my brand.) But back to Gene:
(Bear with me. There will be penis jokes later.)
You’re familiar with “branding,” I am sure. It sets fame as a goal itself, instead of as an incidental reward for work well done. I hate it. I have spoken out against it.
(You will notice, this is “Chatological Humor,” not “The Gene Weingarten Blog, Featuring the stylings of Gene Weingarten.” There are a few other old fashioned newspaper people out there who quail at branding, among them the great Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times, who writes a blog every goddamn day. The title of the blog is “Every Goddamn Day.” THAT is a rejection of branding.)
Pssst, Gene: Chatological Humor, Below the Beltway and Every Goddamn Day are brands. But let’s be honest: To most readers, the real brands of the first two, whatever you call them, are “Gene Weingarten’s chat” and “Gene Weingarten’s column.”
“Building a brand” has replaced “earning a reputation.” For a look at the unsubtle mischief branding does, one need go no further than The Erik Wemple Blog, one of the best blogs out there about the media. Erik is smart and conscientious. He has style and integrity. He is fearless. You should bookmark him. But the blog is still feverishly trying to “brand” itself, and so you are going to have to wade through a minefield of self-reference like this: “Jones told the Erik Wemple blog that Smith won’t be writing about politics anymore, which the Erik Wemple Blog confirmed in a subsequent interview of Smith conducted by the Erik Wemple Blog and published here, exclusively at The Erik Wemple Blog.”
Another bad part of the digitization of the media is the loss of good headlines to the dumb-down requirements of Search Engine Optimization. That is why The Erik Wemple Blog is called “The Erik Wemple Blog,” as opposed to, say, “MediaLust!!” which would be better but would not be as easily horizontally findable by persons wishing to find The Erik Wemple Blog by Googling “Erik Wemple.”
Erik, by the way, was editor of TBD. But back to Gene (he’s coming to the point, as he notes):
And now, at last, I am coming to the point: Indeed, I am brilliantly triangulating disparate threads into an exciting, single, orgasmic point of release. Behold the magic, and be awed:
Another soulless search-engine blog name is “The Buttry Diary,” which is Steve Buttry’s blog.
Gene is a smart guy, a great writer and maybe the funniest journalist in the business. But he actually knows nothing about search-engine optimization. Nothing. The Buttry Diary does OK on search because I write content that people link to and share and click on and I’m pretty good at using the names and words people might search for in my headlines. My name has little to nothing to do with it (or I’d be blogging at thebuttrydiary.com, not a free WordPress site). In fact, I’ll bet you that more people who Google my name type “Buttrey” or “Buttery” rather than my actual name spelled right.
In fact, take a look at yesterday’s search referrals to my blog: Two visitors came to my blog searching for “Steve Buttry” (my name, not my blog’s name) and no one came looking for “The Buttry Diary.” And one person was looking for some other Steve Buttry I never heard of: “obituary to pluto the planet by canadian author steve buttry.” Yeah, my name is a real search magnet.
Here’s how little Gene knows about SEO: In 2010, he wrote a column mocking the practice, with the headline, “Gene Weingarten column mentions Lady Gaga.”
He wrote in the column:
That’s because, on the Web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for “search engine optimization,” meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted “eyeball.” Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers.
The column was funny, ending with the gratuitous mention of Lady Gaga and the suggestion that someone would change the headline to mention her, though, of course, the Post used exactly the headline Gene suggested. Funny, but I just did a search for “Lady Gaga” and got 709 million hits. Gene’s column didn’t show up in the first five pages of search results. I didn’t keep going, but I’m confident it will show up somewhere in the first million or so pages of results. When’s the last time you looked through five pages of search results. Wait, I just hit the sixth page. Still no Weingarten. Now back to Tuesday’s chat:
Two days ago, on Twitter, I was needling Steve about this, and suggested that he re-name the blog “Mmm. Smooth Buttry Goodness.” He did, for a few moments, as a joke. When I goaded other Twitter people to urge him to retain it, Steve demanded money. Extortion. He said he would rename the blog “Mmm. Smooth Buttry Goodness” for one month per each thousand bucks he got donated to the Copy Editors fund.
You see where I am going here, but you do not yet suspect how diabolical it is going to get.
The first thing that happened after Buttry made his challenge is that one of his coworkers, the graphically talented Ivan Lajara, instantly created a header illustration for the newly renamed blog. It is here. It is completely hilarious. And idiotic. Steve becomes a greasy pat of butter on what has to be the single worst image for any opinion blogger trying to build a brand: A WAFFLE.
Here’s where you come in. In the first two days, Steve has raised just over $500. That’s probably as far as it goes, without more help. Steve promised to round up the number for every $501, meaning he now has to rename the blog for a month. Big deal. No skin off his nose. But if we can pop it up today by a few more thousand … he’ll be committed to the new design for MONTHS. (e.g., $2,501 = 3 months.)
To clarify, after the first grand, I’m actually rounding up from one dollar, not 501. So $1,001 will be two months, $2,001 three months, etc. Though he didn’t generate a few more thousand bucks for the scholarship fund, Gene did push it up by more than $100. I am grateful and hope the thousands are in the future (perhaps from this blog post, as a bit of a dig to Gene?). But back to Gene:
You see where this goes? If he has to keep the butter and the waffle and the idiot name for months, he is committed forever because THAT IS WHAT BRANDING DEMANDS. We can hoist Steve Buttry by his own petard. Once he is cemented as the host of “Mmm. Smooth Buttry Goodness” for months on end, he is forever committed to it. All this publicity helps, too.
Actually, as noted above, I’m fine with changing the blog name (remember all those hits for my mentions of self-deprecating humor). I’ve done a good enough job branding my own name that the blog name is almost secondary. I’ll bet most of my readers call it “Steve Buttry’s blog.” More Gene (a nice touch; if I hadn’t been driving at the time, I might have made up a funny name to see if I could get a book.)
Let’s make this happen. I will add an incentive. The donation website, which is here, allows you to donate under whatever name you wish. (I gave as both myself and “Clytemnestra De Nunkyhaven.”) Just before the chat is over, I will select the funniest nickname under which you all have donated, and send the winner a signed copy of either “The Fiddler in the Subway” or “Old Dogs” (winner’s choice.) Also, anyone donating $100 or more gets a book.
Minimum donation is only $10. Isn’t this worth the price of a venti skim latte and a scone?
Setting aside Gene’s and my tweaking of each other, which will continue long after I change my blog’s name to whatever comes next, profound thanks to him and to everyone else who contributed. I’m glad we could help the ACES Education Fund and contribute to the education of a future editor.
So the blog is “Mmm. Smooth Buttry Goodness” until April 26. Or longer if donations reach $1,001 or higher. Or unless it grows on me.
And I just checked the seventh page of “Lady Gaga” search results. Still no Weingarten. Or on the 8th. If you look far enough to find it, let me know which screen it’s on. I’d volunteer to kick in another buck to the ACES Education Fund for every screen you have to click to find Gene’s column. But I’m afraid it could be on the millionth screen.
Update: Ivan’s swift response:
— Ivan Lajara (@ivanlajara) March 26, 2014