Archive for December 31st, 2015

My announcement on this blog last December that I was starting treatment for lymphoma included a mention that I’d update people about my condition and treatment on CaringBridge and keep the focus here on journalism.

I acknowledged that maybe I’d blog less frequently here because of my treatment. But I didn’t understand how profoundly treatment would affect all my blogging, in good ways and bad. I have four blogs and each has been affected differently but significantly by the chemotherapy, complications, surgeries and stem cell transplant that have dominated my year.

Let’s start first with the issues of volume and frequency of my blogging: While I anticipated a decline in how much I could blog, my illness and treatment not only provided all the material for my newest blog, but it provided many sleepless nights at home and in the hospital when the focus that writing provides was a helpful respite. This post was written in several sittings over a few such nights in December.

But the treatment also affected my frequency of blogging. During two stretches after my brain surgery and during my transplant, I was so immobilized I was unable to blog anywhere for a few days. If I even had the ability to hold a writing device, I had the concentration and stamina only for short messages by email, text or social media. Blog posts would have to wait.

Beyond those general ways that treatment affected my blogging, it shaped each blog differently during the year:

CaringBridge Journal

CaringBridgeWhen I first encountered cancer in 1999, I was a newspaper reporter/columnist, so I wrote a column about having cancer. Well, now I’m a blogger, so a cancer blog was probably inevitable.

But an even bigger influence on my decision to blog frequently about treatment was the CaringBridge journal posted by my brother-in-law, John Devlin, during the illnesses of his children, Patrick and Kat. I posted twice in 2009 about John’s use of CaringBridge, and knew I needed to share my story there. (Patrick died of leukemia in 2009. Kat is thriving as a college freshman nearly five years after her stem cell transplant. They and their parents have inspired me through this treatment.)

So my illness and treatment launched my own CaringBridge blog that has produced more than 120 posts. I’m sure writing about my treatment helped me through that difficult journey, and the loving network of CaringBridge (and the social media where I shared my CB posts) boosted my spirits more times and in more ways than I can say.

Everyone feels differently about transparency and privacy, so I’m not saying anyone undergoing cancer treatment or facing another serious illness should do what John and I have done. But I’m a writer and a blogger and I simply can’t imagine going through an illness without a CaringBridge support network and a place to write about what I’m experiencing.

2 Roads Diverged

2roadsMimi and I launched our travel blog in 2012, sharing our different perspectives of the fun places that my work travel (and occasional pleasure travel) would take us. Well, 2 Roads Diverged was a pretty idle travel blog in 2015. My year-end post there recounts all the travel I turned down or canceled in 2015. We had to cancel travel not just because of my condition but because my schedule changed constantly because of unexpected medical developments.

I was so vulnerable to infection most of the year that sitting on a crowded airplane just wasn’t a good idea. The one flight we took this year was for the wedding of our youngest son, Tom, and Ashley Douglass. That was a wonderful trip, even if lots of disinfectant wipes were used on airplanes. And I wrote about it here, since I vowed in that announcement here of my lymphoma diagnosis that I would dance at his wedding. So our biggest trip of the year went unnoted on the travel blog (until our holiday letter, which we publish on 2 Roads Diverged).

2 Roads Diverged didn’t go dormant, just had a slow year. I posted about a day trip to St. Francisville and our first Louisiana swamp tour. Before those local trips, my only attempt to keep the blog from going completely dark was inspired by a hilarious Mother Jones roundup of one-star Yelp reviews of national parks. So I wrote some mock one-star reviews as if Mimi and I hadn’t enjoyed all our national park visits. It was a weak attempt to keep the travel blog active by revisiting past trips.

But five posts in a year barely make an active blog.

I’ve been fortunate to have all my health care locally and to get excellent care in Baton Rouge. But even if your health care involved heavy travel (as it does for many, including the Devlins), I simply can’t imagine maintaining a CaringBridge journal and a travel blog during a year of treatment as intense as mine has been. People who travel for health care seldom get to see the sights.

Hated Yankees

Hated Yankeeshatedyankees is where I indulge my lifelong love of the New York Yankees and my boyhood fantasies about being a sportswriter someday (a job that actually held little appeal for me as an adult).

I’m sure I’d have blogged about Yogi Berra’s death and Alex Rodriguez’s return to the Yankees whether I was in treatment or not. I’d have to be feeling pretty sick not to take a swing at A-Rod’s bizarre post-season TV studio pairing with Pete Rose. And I’d have turned my attention to the Kansas City Royals for their championship run (as I did last year for their World Series run).

If you’d told me a year ago how intense and lengthy this treatment would end up being, I probably would have predicted as quiet a year for Hated Yankees as for 2 Roads Diverged. But those sleepless nights produced a whole lot of Hated Yankees posts.

Sometimes my mind turned to baseball on its own when I couldn’t sleep. But some nights I’d start writing about a journalism topic and make the conscious decision that I wasn’t sharp enough that night to write for this blog. I built and maintain much of my professional reputation on this blog, and I think I do my best work here. I’m not saying I don’t try to achieve quality in my baseball writing, too. But my passions are different and my audiences are different.

The Buttry Diary is my contribution to the journalism conversation, and it has more than 15,000 followers. If a few drug-influenced rants or poorly edited posts caused colleagues around the country and world to wonder if Buttry’s slipping, that could damage my career.

But Hated Yankees just passed 1,000 followers this year, presumably mostly from that tiny niche of Yankee fans (probably with strong interests in history, stats or the Hall of Fame) who can’t get enough sports minutiae and commentary from the pros. I never gained more followers than during my two October binges about the Royals, so lots of my followers probably tune out my Yankee posts anyway.

So really, it seemed to me that the potential consequences of a Hated Yankees post that seemed a bit disjointed or drug-clouded were trivial in at least two ways:

  1. The resulting post would not be easily distinguishable from the Yankee-fan cloud I readily embrace as the premise for the blog.
  2. If someone did notice, they’d be less likely to be a journalist who’d wonder privately or out loud or online: Is Buttry OK?

So some nights professional vanity or prudence steered me toward baseball. Other nights baseball provided a pleasant and even needed escape. The boy who studied stats on the backs of baseball cards through some childhood illnesses felt a bit better as an ailing old man searching Baseball-Reference.com for trivial stats.

Early in the year, I began two separate series of posts that I wouldn’t publish for months, but that kept the blog active every weekday for a long stretch of late September and early October, plus a separate post written in the spring and timed to run with the September Subway Series against the Mets.

My 20-part series (I’m telling you, there were a lot of sleepless nights) on Yankee starting pitchers was probably pretty close to my usual Hated-Yankee standards, maybe a notch below. For years, my someday to-do list for the blog had included doing posts on Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds and Don Larsen, and I think I did justice to all three, as well as Dave Righetti, who wasn’t on that list but should have been. Maybe a few more.

But really? Twenty posts on Yankee starting pitchers? I’m not saying any of them sucked, but if I were to rank the 101 Hated Yankees posts I’ve written since 2009 in best-to-worst order, I doubt any of the starting-pitcher posts would be in the top 10 and at least three or four would be in the bottom 10. But they helped pass those sleepless nights, and they fit my blog’s niche.

On the other hand, my five-part series on continuing racial discrimination in Baseball Hall of Fame selections might all be in my top 25 to 30 posts. The lead-off piece in that series, noting the absurdity of baseball having a Pre-Integration Era Committee this year to consider whites-only candidates for the Hall of Fame, when Negro League candidates are no longer eligible for consideration, might be one of my five or 10 best Hated Yankees posts.

I was proud enough of that lead-off piece to offer a localized newspaper-column version to editors who might have a local interest in the players mentioned, and a few used it, at least online. I’m pleased to say that this year’s Pre-Integration Era Committee did not select anyone from baseball’s segregation era for the Hall of Fame. (My series noted the worthiness of several African American and Latino players who’ve been rejected in recent years by Golden Era and Expansion Era committees.)

And some sleepless October nights helped fuel the Royal blogging I’d have done anyway, sharing my sons’ euphoria over Kansas City’s return to glory. (We lived in KC in the ’80s and I spent many evenings at the ballpark with one or all three sons. They ignored all the stuff Dad was telling them about the Yankees but fell in love with the team they were watching.)

I’d have blogged about the Royals’ championship anyway, but the World Series came when some strong drugs kept me awake, so I’m sure I wrote more and longer posts than I could have squeezed into a normal life, even with the Royals winning.

Anyway, cancer treatment helped make 2015 my most-productive and most-read year ever on Hated Yankees. And I still have a couple of drafts from those sleepless nights that are likely to publish in January. Jan. 7 update: My post suggesting a Scoundrels Committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame was published today.

The Buttry Diary

Buttry Diary LogoI’m not going to tell you this was my most productive year ever on The Buttry Diary. Traffic will fall about 20,000 views short of last year’s record of 351,000, but most of my traffic comes through search to posts from my archives. Only one 2015 post would make the list of 10 most-viewed posts of the year, and only four new posts would make the top 20. My production here was down notably.

In the six full calendar years I’ve been blogging here, my slowest year was 2010, with 136 posts. I actually topped 250 posts in two separate years. I’m not a full-time blogger, so I work this in around the demands of work, and that’s been the previous biggest influence on my productivity. (To add to the health issues, I moved to a more demanding day job this year.) This is my 116th post of 2015, so this was easily my least-productive year, counting just by frequency of publication.

Before I deal with how my health affected this blog, I should note another factor in the decreased productivity here. I was part (the weakest part, I should admit) of a five-person committee led by AP’s Tom Kent, editing the Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project.

I’m really proud of the helpful tool we’ve developed to drive newsroom ethics discussions and development of ethics codes for a variety of types of news organizations. But the writing, editing, email exchanges and long-distance meetings with Tom, Katy Culver, Alan Abbey and Wendy Wyatt came heavily or entirely out of the time I otherwise might have spent blogging here. It was one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on, but it did affect productivity here.

More times than I can remember, I saw or heard about an issue in journalism and thought: I should blog about that. But I didn’t have the energy or time that day, because of health or the ONA project or normal work duties. That always happens, but it certainly happened more this year. And sometimes my treatment or my efforts to juggle work and treatment made me late in noticing developments, so I didn’t feel I had much to add to the conversation when I caught up.

Sometimes I’d start a blog post but not have the concentration to finish it. I have three or four such drafts that I might finish and publish next week. Or never.

The New York Times’ Our Path Forward document came out right before Tom’s wedding in early October, so I couldn’t blog about it then. But it’s the kind of thing I might weigh in on late anyway, so I filed it away as something to work on during an upcoming hospital stay. But other things were higher priorities when I had the energy to write during the two hospital stays I’ve had since then, and I had less energy for writing during the transplant than I’d hoped. I’d really have to struggle to find a news peg if I decided to weigh in on it now (but I still might).

I had a great email exchange with some excellent copy editors, addressing a question from a colleague about pronouns to use in writing about transgender people. I asked them if I could use their responses in a blog post, thinking I’d work on it during the December hospital stay (at the time, I think I was still scheduled for a November start to the transplant).

But by the time I got to the hospital and had the energy to maybe write about the topic, Merrill PerlmanJohn McIntyre, Bill Walsh, Tom Freeman and others had covered the issue thoroughly.

That lack of travel certainly cut into my productivity here. I nearly always blog about journalism conferences I attend or blog about the points, links and slides from presentations I was making. I blog my keynote speeches, but 2015 included none of those.

Still, I was determined to keep this blog active and I think I wrote some good stuff. And the treatment, or the timing of my treatment, played into some of the year’s most notable work:

Marie Christmas

My post about the Marie Christmas hoax was my most-read new post of 2015, and that was originally written, then updated, over a couple days when chemo made me restless but not yet exhausted (not a bad condition for writing).

If that hoax had happened the week before, I’d have been too busy at work to even notice it. If it had happened the week after, I’d have been too exhausted (from the chemo drugs I got the week of the hoax).

Whether it was good or bad, and I wouldn’t call it one of my best, that post happened only because of treatment.

David Carr

I was a big admirer of David Carr personally and as a journalist, but our acquaintance was only digital and not close. He died late on a Thursday evening (Feb. 12), and the Friday outpouring of reaction by journalists who knew him much better than me was swift and amazing.

Without treatment, I probably would have learned of his death Friday morning from the reaction. Or I might have learned Thursday night on social media and thought maybe I’d do something the next day. But that swift reaction by others would have brought one of two likely responses from me:

  1. I’d decide others have covered this well and I don’t have much to add to this conversation (a decision I make frequently).
  2. I’d curate some of the best tributes by others and add a few comments.

But I was taking a steroid at the time that severely disrupted my sleep. I saw the news of Carr’s death shortly after it happened. I read a riveting and extensive Twitter tribute by David Brauer, his former Twin Cities colleague. And I spent a few late-night hours writing one of the first tributes to Carr, including a curation of Brauer’s tweets.

Writing about writing on drugs

I’m not saying I’m Hunter Thompson, in either the good or bad ways you could take the comparison. But I think I was honest about what was happening to me, and how my drugs affected my writing. In posts about inspiration in writing and about earworms, a secondary (or even primary) theme was candid discussion of how chemo drugs were influencing my writing.

Another post or two might have acknowledged the effects of chemo insomnia. Both of the baseball series that I worked on in the wee hours included disclaimers at the end, though I edited all during more normal waking hours:disclaimer

Nancy Levine

Nancy Levine

Nancy Levine

I get occasional emails suggesting that I address this or that journalism issue (often an ethics issue). Most such emails don’t prompt me to blog about the suggested topic. Sometimes I’ve already blogged about it and reply with links to those posts. Sometimes I’m too busy. Sometimes I disagree with the writer but don’t feel like turning our disagreement into a blog post. Sometimes I reply privately but don’t feel like developing my response into a blog post (though I’ve developed many posts from email responses to such inquiries).

If Nancy Levine had messaged me in early August about the New York Times’ refusal to correct an eight-year-old story, she’d have gotten the too-busy response. If she’d messaged me Aug. 21 or later, her message would have received little or no attention because it would have been buried in a mountain of emails that accumulated when I had my Aug. 22 brain surgery.

But she wrote me Aug. 20. I didn’t sleep well that night, and her email caught my attention. Typing just with my right hand, because the brain bleed that would cause the surgery had made my left fingers useless, I told Nancy in an email at 10:38 that evening that I was interested and may blog about the case:

I am swamped through Sunday, but may call you Monday.

Well, I didn’t call Monday, of course, but Nancy emailed me more information about the case. When I was home from the hospital Aug. 26, I emailed Nancy that I was still interested. We did talk on the phone, and my Aug. 28 post about her quest to correct a fundamentally flawed 2007 New York Times story (still showing up high in Google searches) was my third most-read 2015 post. That was the first of five posts on the topic, the most recent taking note of an examination of the issue by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. Margaret called Nancy persistent and both of us dogged (labels I think Margaret meant kindly and I know Nancy and I both accept proudly).

But I don’t think Nancy’s persistence would have mattered with me if she hadn’t written at just the right time in a month filled with professional and medical challenges. She wrote on the day that I couldn’t sleep because I was wondering what was happening in my brain. That ethics challenge seemed a welcome escape that particular night, almost like baseball.

What about 2016?

Well, if there’s anything I learned (or relearned) in 2015 (and 2014, for that matter), it’s that life will surprise you. So I don’t know how 2016 will affect these blogs, but here’s some speculation:

CaringBridge: I’m cancer-free and finished with treatment. This blog won’t slow down as much as 2 Roads Diverged did in ’15, but it’s already gearing down, as I noted in a post today. I don’t anticipate much more than brief occasional updates about my recovery and follow-up doctor visits.

2 Roads Diverged: Mimi and I will be back on the road, and I expect to be more active here. But I doubt we’ll resume our previous pace. That new job I accepted this year needs and deserves my full attention, and I still have a few months of recovery before I’m back to full strength. But I hope to take a few special personal and/or professional trips this year, and blog about them.

Hated Yankees: I can’t imagine the Yankees having either the wonderful year or horrible year that would be needed to even approach this year. This will slide back to the occasional blog that it has always been and should be. I have plans for a post that could be really special, but I won’t boast about that unless I can pull it off.

The Buttry Diary: This blog is important to me, and I expect to return to previous production levels unless life throws me another surprise. Again, I have plans for a blog post that could be really special. I want to be a bigger part of the journalism conversation in 2016.

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