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Archive for December, 2014

I get a little attention now and then in blogs, columns, stories and other discussions of media issues. Here were some of my 2014 mentions:

New York Times

I was “one reader” in a New York Times blog post (but was really pleased that the Times, after my urging, is calling for better linking by staff members). It is accurate. I am a Times reader.

On the other hand, I did get a mention and a second quote, attributed to Digital First Media, my company at the time, in the New York Times Innovation Report (mention on P. 87, blind quote on Page 15).

Other Times mentions included a quote about verification of video images in Margaret Sullivan’s Public Editor blog, and a quote in Ravi Somaiya’s story on the demise of Thunderdome.

Dean Baquet response

The Times made no notice of Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s response to my criticism of him and other top editors who don’t use Twitter. But the exchange was noted by the Washington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, Fishbowl, Tim McGuire, Michael Conniff, Alexander Howard, Mathew IngramJeff Jarvis, Staci Kramer, Richard Prince and Dave Winer. It certainly drew more attention than anything else I did on the blog this year. (more…)

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The leading theme on the blog this year was Project Unbolt, which occupied most of my attention the first half of the year. I worked with four Digital First Media newsrooms on their efforts to “unbolt” from their print workflow and culture and produced more than 30 related posts on this blog and more for the INMA Culture Change blog.

The project’s posts drew good traffic, but nowhere near my best traffic of the year. My post introducing Project Unbolt drew more than 3,000 views, and my “manual” linking to all the Project Unbolt posts and my post on how an unbolted newsroom works each drew more than 2,000.

Other notable posts of the year dealt with my professional transition: the closing of Thunderdome by DFM (nearly 4,000 views, my third most-read 2014 post), noting the response on Twitter (more than 2K), taking a new job with LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication (1,100+) and sharing job-hunting tips (1K+). My farewell to my DFM colleagues was meaningful to me (and to some of them, I hope), but drew fewer than 300 views. A post on preparing for your next job hunt while you’re still working drew just over 400 views.

As in previous years, Twitter was a recurring theme on the blog and one that drew attention. I received nearly 3,000 views for a post noting that editors who aren’t active on Twitter undercut their pleas that their staffs need to innovate. I mentioned Dean Baquet as such an editor and invited him to respond. He was kind enough to respond, warning that social media use could become another bogus “priesthood” for journalism. That post drew more than 7,000 views, my second-most-viewed 2014 post. And it resulted in the busiest day ever for visitors to the blog. A third post on the matter (noting that Lexi Mainland, an editor on the Times interactive desk, had agreed that it’s important to have a top editor active on Twitter) generated another 600 views.

I blogged a fair amount about the New York Times last year, and some of those posts attracted pretty good traffic. An embarrassing Times correction (later named correction of the year) prompted a post about why journalists should link (nearly 2,500 views); a follow-up post about links being a matter of ethics, not just convenience (just over 300); and a later post applauding Patrick LaForge for exhorting his Times colleagues to make better use of links (not even 300). (more…)

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Farewell to my hair

I had quite a head of hair (and maybe a bit of attitude 40 years ago.

I had quite a head of hair (and maybe a bit of attitude) 40 years ago.

Why do we express ourselves through our hair?

I pretend not to care much as I’m about to lose mine to chemotherapy drugs.

But I grew it long in my defiant (or was it compliant?) youth.

By caucus night 1980, I was in the middle of the action at the Des Moines Register. But I soon would grow a beard in hopes of adding some years to that baby-face appearance.

By caucus night 1980, I was in the middle of the action at the Des Moines Register. But I soon would grow a beard in hopes of adding some years to that baby-face appearance.

As a young assistant city editor supervising reporters who were older than my parents, I grew my first beard to sort-of cover up that baby face underneath.

Mimi liked the soft beard better than my five-o’clock shadow, so we had an accord for decades, as long as I’d shave my scraggly neck and keep the beard trimmed. For most of my 20s and 30s, I had a full head of hair (thick, but shorter than in my college days) and a full, if usually trimmed, beard.

That's me at the right, learning with Des Moines Register colleagues in 1985 that the company was being sold to Gannett.

That’s me at the right, learning with Des Moines Register colleagues in 1985 that the company was being sold to Gannett.

Steve b&w mugGray appeared in the beard long before it was noticeable higher up (there it’s still mostly brown). I began describing the beard as salt-and-pepper. But I had to admit salt was taking over the sideburns in the late 90s when my black-and-white photo (left) that ran with my religion column at the Des Moines Register made me look as though I had a goatee, as readers often commented upon meeting me, surprised to see the fuller, frostier hair on the sides.

My brothers, one older and one younger, started losing their hair earlier and faster than I did, as shown in a 2006 photo of us bowing our heads in a mock prayer for a cure for baldness.

In 2006, my hairline was in retreat, but I still had more hair than Don, center, or Dan, right.

In 2006, my hairline was in retreat, but I still had more hair than Don, center, or Dan, right.

My mother, who fueled my ego more than she deflated it in my youth, brought laughter and humility in the early years of her memory loss by suddenly noticing and exclaiming, more than she was asking, “Is your hairline receding?”

For a few years, Mimi would refer to my “bald spot” in back, but I could feel hair when I put my hand there, so I denied it, just as she kept telling our boys “I’m taller” as they shot up past her in adolescence. Occasional photographs from behind quieted my denials.

Photographic evidence finally silenced Gramps' denial of the bald spot.

Photographic evidence finally silenced Gramps’ denial of the bald spot.

When I was a victim of age discrimination, I asked my attorney if I should shave the mostly white beard in looking for my next job. If we were going to sue, I’m sure she would have urged me to keep it. Since we weren’t, she didn’t have a legal opinion. But as a female friend, she said, yeah, I’d look younger. After I shaved, many others agreed.

After I found a job, I tried a goatee.

After I found a job, I tried a goatee, with the hairline continuing its retreat.

The beard came off when I was a man in his mid-50s, looking for work.

The beard came off when I was in my mid-50s, looking for work.

When I found the job, I grew back a goatee, telling myself that part was still salt-and-pepper. But salt was winning. Eventually I grew the full beard back, embracing the white. But then vanity prevailed and the whole beard came off, even though I wasn’t looking for work (but it certainly stayed off when I had to start looking again).

2013, clean-shaven with large forehead.

2013, clean-shaven with large forehead.

Just when I was comfortable with shaving daily and accepting a slow retreat of my hair (it’s still thick where I have it), I’m facing two developments I can do little about:

  1. Chemo is killing my white blood cells, which fight infection. So I need to avoid nicks. So the beard is coming back, even those scraggly neck hairs Mimi always made me shave.
  2. Soon the beard will fall out, along with what’s left on top of my head and other hair you don’t want to know about, as the Cytoxan and other chemo drugs kill off my fast-dividing cells: primarily lymphoma and hair.

Mimi suggested that waiting to lose my hair would be depressing, not to mention clogging our drains and covering pillows. I briefly pondered whether I’d feel some connection to Roger Maris if I let my hair start falling out in clumps (the stress of his record 1961 season caused hair loss). But I knew I wouldn’t hit any homers. So Mimi took me to her stylist, Jason Keller, for a close buzz, rather than risking a shave.

Jason clipping me close.

Jason clipping me close.

So that’s my new look, scraggly beard, topped by my buzz cut where I still have hair. It will all fall out soon, but short enough to spare the drains and, hopefully, look less depressing on the pillowcases.

I hear it will grow back eventually, and that sometimes it grows back a different color or texture. More on that later.

In the meantime, I might express myself through my hats.

Feeling entirely self-indulgent, I did two video retrospectives. The one below is sort of a history of my hair. The one below the hat photos looks at my hair through four decades of weddings.

bowlerSteve Buttry

straw hatSteve Buttry

Steve Buttryblack cap

Ford capSteve Buttry

Yankee capSteve Buttry Yankee cap

Steve Buttry Heisenberg hat

I AM the danger.

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I love competition, so I enjoy a newspaper war (even if it was just an overhyped skirmish). And I mourn the death of any newspaper, even if it was really just a zoned edition.

So I’ll salute the Long Beach Register at its demise. I admit I thought it had already died, but it cut back in June from six days a week to one. And now it’s finished.

My heart in this “war,” though, was with the other Long Beach daily, the Press-Telegram, colleagues for nearly three years in my days with Digital First Media.

Journalists love to write about each other, and Aaron Kushner’s bold (if foolhardy) adventures in Southern California drew attention from when he first bought the Orange County Register and proclaimed his strategy to double down on print, digital revolution be damned.

I was skeptical from the first and might have said so on social media, and did say so privately, but I refrained from blogging about Kushner. I didn’t want to blog phony optimism, but I was hoping Kushner would succeed, for the sake of all the journalists he was hiring (including friends of mine). Others hailed Kushner’s strategy as bold, showing embarrassingly little skepticism, as Clay Shirky noted this year in a withering commentary.

But it was a foolish strategy. Newspapers haven’t figured out the right digital strategy yet, but pretending that print isn’t dying isn’t going to work. And Kushner compounded his blunder by buying the Riverside Press-Enterprise and then launching daily “Registers” for Long Beach and Los Angeles (the LA Register launched after Long Beach but crashed earlier). (more…)

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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen may have overstated when he told journalists to quit their jobs if they can’t understand their organization’s business model. But Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan way overstated in telling journalists not to listen to Rosen.

I highly recommend reading both pieces. Rosen’s post is full of good advice for understanding the path your business is taking and contributing to making progress along the path. Nolan’s post is fascinating, the kind of scornful dismissal of Rosen’s visionary digital thinking that I normally expect from those clinging to legacy media, not one of the digital upstarts that the troglodytes are so scornful of.

Jay made 15 points that I recommend reading. I’m going to address seven points, somewhat repeating and overlapping with his:

  1. Journalists should absolutely try to understand your organization’s business: how you deliver value and how the company plans to make money from that value.
  2. Business models change, sometimes with little warning, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. You won’t always be informed immediately of the changes.
  3. Colleagues need to understand and believe in the value you provide.
  4. We can protect our integrity and still discuss and understand the business.
  5. Learn the language; you always have.
  6. Leaders are critical to the success of a changing organization.
  7. Business model issues are worth changing jobs over, but I recommend trying to change the organization before quitting it (and finding another job first, too).

I’ll elaborate shortly, but first I’ll defend Rosen against Nolan’s anti-intellectualist insult. Noting the New York University professor’s brief career at the Buffalo Courier-Express before joining academia, Nolan said Rosen “makes money by producing proclamations about journalism rather than by producing actual journalism.” (more…)

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Chuck Offenburger and me in 2011. Neither of us has aged any since. In fact, I look younger without that white beard.

Chuck Offenburger and me in 2011. Neither of us has aged any since. In fact, I look younger without that white beard.

Chuck Offenburger has appeared frequently in this blog. He gave me my first job in journalism and I’ve profiled him and cheered him on in his successful treatment for lymphoma (before knowing that I’d be facing lymphoma treatment myself).

The past 14 years he’s been a journalism entrepreneur, working for himself and the people of Iowa. Part of that has been writing books. So, when I decided to blog this week about book promotion, I asked Chuck for his advice. He responded with enough good tips that I wanted to use them as a guest post, rather than rolling them into Thursday’s post with advice from me and several other writers. Buffy Andrews also sent enough promotion tips to merit a separate guest post.

Here’s Chuck’s advice (with a few links from me):

After doing seven books over the last 32 years – mostly biographies or histories about notable Iowans – I’d say that no matter how much technology has changed, the most effective book promotion is for the author to show up at libraries, book clubs, bookstores, trade groups and civic organizations, do a reading, talk about the story and answer questions.  Then you sell & sign those books as quick as you can.

Beyond that, and before you even go to print with the book, I’d tell aspiring authors to use the technology. Do that book online. Invest in a good web developer who can do an attention-getting website that is interactive, so readers can write you for chats, so that you can do video and audio, too. Do it with photos and artistic illustrations.

Meanwhile, you promote the bejeepers out of it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. If your book is good enough, you’ll create a real stir with people, and they’ll be quoting it and sharing it. Meanwhile, agents and publishers will be watching – especially if you ask them to watch. When they see that you’ve got a good one, one of them will be more likely to pick it up for actual print publication without you as the author having to cover that cost.

If you’re going to do a small-market book – say 5,000 or fewer copies – you’ve got to really want to get that story out there to make it worth your time.

One reward that new authors might not realize is that you will meet people you’ll never meet otherwise, and develop new audiences.  That’s why in addition to your book, you should be blogging all the time.

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Neighbors who ask Buffy Andrews for a cup of sugar probably get a full canister.

I emailed several authors, asking their advice on book promotion for the post I published yesterday. Some didn’t respond, which was fine. I knew they were busy. Some responded with a single tip or a few, which I was hoping for, and I gladly included them in the post. Buffy responded in less than an hour “off the top of my head” with a detailed promotion strategy. So I’m using her tips as a separate guest post (yesterday’s post was pretty long already), with a few of my observations sprinkled in and at the end. So here’s Buffy:

I market my books just as I market anything else. You want to fish where the fish swim. So, identify your audience, figure out who would be most interested in your book, then go fishing. (more…)

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Tim McGuire coverWhen I visited my friend Tim McGuire last month, he was awaiting the publication of his memoir and we briefly discussed the challenge he faced in promoting it.

The conversation revived a blog-post idea that had been rattling around on my to-do list for more than two years, since Mimi published her novel, Gathering String, and I helped her promote it. I’m not sure I’m the best person to help Tim with this challenge. While we had some success, I wish we had done a better job on Gathering String. So I’ll share my advice as well as inviting yours: How have you promoted your own books successfully? How would you promote a book, if you had published one? How have publishers succeeded in getting your attention about a book that you later bought and read?

I also asked for advice from some authors I know, and I’ll share tips below from Robert Mann, Doug Worgul, Patricia T. O’Conner and Dan Buttry, as well as some of my own. Novelist Buffy Andrews and author Chuck Offenburger both gave me so much advice I’m breaking their responses out into separate guest posts for tomorrow.

I’m not sure what’s the best path for publishing a book today: self-publishing, as Mimi and Tim did (and keeping a bigger share of the proceeds) or getting a traditional publisher to handle your book (a difficult and not always successful path). Either way, you need to promote the book. An agent, who was willing to handle Mimi’s book but said it might take too long to get published going through traditional publishers, told her that, with rare exceptions, the author is responsible for promotion even when you get a traditional publisher. (more…)

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The New York Times needs to do a better job of linking.

I said that here in two posts on Nov. 24. Big deal, I rail about linking all the time, and Society of Professional Journalists and Poynter, among others, have blown me off.

But now the Times’ Standards Editor and Editor for News Presentation are telling Times staffers they need to do a better job of linking. Now, that’s a big deal.

In his After Deadline blog of “newsroom notes on usage and style,” Standards Editor Philip B. Corbett laments, “For all our progress in digital journalism, we sometimes still neglect one of its most basic tools: the link.” (more…)

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Tim McGuire coverJournalists don’t tell our own stories often enough.

I practiced the journalism of neutrality and objectivity for most of my reporting and editing career. I became aware that my humanity helped me identify with the people I interviewed and persuade them to tell me important and intimate stories. But the stories were always about someone else.

I learned when Mimi was a columnist (and wrote about our lives frequently, to the readers’ appreciation) and relearned as a blogger that journalists have our own stories to tell, and I believe we should tell them more often.

So here’s my buried lead: Tim McGuire, a longtime editor and now a journalism professor, tells a powerful personal story in his memoir, “Some People Even Take Them Home.” Tim edited a lot of big stories in his career (the Minneapolis Star Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1990, when he was managing editor). But I doubt that he did anything more important than sharing the story of his physical disability (which he denied for years), his son’s mental disability and their “journey for acceptance.” (more…)

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Yesterday’s post about my lymphoma diagnosis has brought a lot of messages by email and social media, assuring me that I am in people’s prayers.

The response reminds me of the first time I had cancer, in 1999, when I was religion editor at the Des Moines Register. That job, of course, entailed working with a lot of religious people. Add the fact that I’m a son of two clergy, brother of two more and other kind of kin to still more and related to many lay people of faith. Then and now, I’ve been surrounded and uplifted by people’s prayers.

I didn’t have a blog then, but I wrote a weekly column. This is my column from the Saturday after my surgery to remove colon cancer in 1999:

Before I knew I had cancer, people were praying for my recovery.

I was on the road the day we would get my biopsy results. We didn’t expect bad news, so I didn’t change plans. My wife, Mimi, got the news over the phone while she was at work: The polyp in my colon was malignant. I would need surgery to remove it and part of my colon.

Stunned, she told friends in her office at Creighton University, and the prayer campaign on my behalf began. A while later, I called her and got the shocking news.

As we told family, friends and colleagues, the word spread and more and more pleas went heavenward on my behalf, many from people I barely know, if at all.

Prayer chains at churches in at least five states took up my case. So did Jesuits at Creighton, monks at the abbey where my youngest son goes to school and teachers, staff and students at Holy Trinity School in Des Moines, where my sister-in-law is the media specialist. As I canceled interviews and changed plans, pastors, bishops and other sources said they would pray as well. Jaded journalists who, I figured, invoked the Lord’s name only in vain assured me sincerely that I was in their prayers.

I’ll be honest. When it comes to the physical healing power of prayer, I fall somewhere between enthusiast and skeptic. I’ve prayed for relatives and friends who recovered and prayed just as hard for others who died.

Keep the prayers coming, I figured, but just in case, I’d get a good doctor and get this thing sliced out.

After all, cancer killed my father and Mimi’s mother, and no one prayed more fervently than those two people. They had more people storming the heavens on their behalf than I could ever hope to muster.

I know of people who claim miraculous healing and credit it all to prayer. I also know people who tell of miraculous recoveries and don’t mention prayer at all. (When you have cancer, you hear a lot of cancer stories.)

If a cancer does or doesn’t spread, does or doesn’t return, we don’t truly know how much credit, if any, prayer should share with surgical skill, powerful chemicals, radiation, diet, quackery and other measures we invoke against this frightening disease. Heck, I gladly accepted a four-leaf clover Mimi found at a picnic.

In the past few weeks, though, I’ve learned something about the power of prayer. Regardless of what happens inside your body, prayer is a wonderful gift. A gift with healing power.

It’s too soon to say whether prayer or anything else will heal my colon, though we’re hopeful. As you read this, I’m home, recovering from surgery on Monday. The surgery was successful, and tests showed the cancer was contained to the colon.

But the cancer invaded more than my colon. It attacked my enthusiasm, my vigor, my sense of humor, my sense of hope. Fear, anger and doubt tried to shout down every encouraging word I wanted to utter, every wisecrack, each expression of hope.

For fear, anger and doubt, I can attest, prayer has miraculous healing power. Each assurance that someone was praying for me lifted my spirits, restoring a bit of hope or humor. Did the healing come from some divine power? Or was it just the soothing effect of sympathy? I don’t know. And I don’t much care.

Each prayer is a personal gift. In intimate conversations with their Lord, people are offering my burden as their own.

And with each prayer, the burden grows a little lighter.

The details are different now. But I’m as grateful now as I was then.

After posting yesterday about cancer, I was uplifted by reverent assurances of prayer, irreverent cheering that I’d kick cancer’s ass and a vulgar but touching anti-cancer hashtag (thanks, @jeffjarvis!). In phone calls and in person, in public and personal messages on Facebook and Twitter (see the sampling of tweets below), comments on my blog, comments on Caring Bridge, text messages, emails and even a couple LinkedIn messages, friends, family and strangers have provided balm that I am sure is as powerful in its own way as the chemotherapy will be.

Thank you!












Final note: Yeah, I know I said I’d do my cancer updates on my Caring Bridge page, and I will. But I’ve posted and updated old stories here quite a bit, so I decided to do this one here, too.

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Our family has doubled in size since my first cancer diagnosis.

Our family has doubled in size since my first cancer diagnosis.

Let’s get one thing straight: If Steve Buttry Cancer 2.0 doesn’t come out the way I’m hoping, I don’t want anyone saying I “lost a battle” with cancer. I kicked cancer’s ass back in 1999 and lived a wonderful 15-plus years since my first diagnosis. If my second round doesn’t end as well, I still won.

Cancer 1.0 was in my colon. We caught it early, the surgeon sliced it out and life went on. A second surgery in 2006 cost me another section of colon, as well as my appendix and a bunch of nearby lymph nodes. The lumps in the appendix and lymph nodes that prompted the surgery were benign, and life went on again.

I also had microsurgery in 2005 to remove a basal-cell skin cancer. Call it Cancer 1.1. Not as big a deal as colon cancer, but again, an ass-kicking. Also possibly an indication that I’m fertile soil for tumors.

I’ve lived more than a quarter of my life since the first diagnosis. By the 10th anniversary of the surgery, I was so cancer-free I didn’t even notice the milestone until a few days after it had passed. I won’t say that a semicolon works as well as the full colon, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying life.

I’ve felt more than the usual aches and pains lately, but they raised no concerns initially. I thought a few creaks were part of middle age. Two or three ibuprofen usually kept discomfort at bay. Nov. 14, a Friday afternoon, I came home from work early, complaining of a sharper pain in my back. When the pain was still strong that Saturday, Mimi took me to an urgent care clinic. The doctor there suspected a kidney stone and also diagnosed diabetes. He said I needed to get a CT scan and follow up Monday with my regular doctor. I hadn’t yet visited a Baton Rouge doctor (I had an appointment in December for my physical and planned to set up my next colonoscopy then), but the urgent care doc said I’d be able to get in Monday with an internist at the nearby clinic.

When I was showering that Sunday, I notice swelling under my left armpit. I was unsure whether that was a new development or something I was just now noticing, with greater awareness of my flawed body. I showed the swelling to the doctor the next day. That concerned her more than the diabetes or the possible kidney stone.

I now have a bunch of Baton Rouge docs and they ran a bunch of tests: blood, urine, CT, EKG, colonoscopy, two biopsies. The results: Cancer 2.0. No kidney stone, though. (more…)

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