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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

2016 has been an outstanding year for Mimi and me.

We’ve had our disappointments, and they may be our biggest news of the year. We’ll get to them in due time.

But we regard this as an outstanding year for a whole lot of reasons. (We’re talking about the personal level here, setting aside the train wreck that was the 2016 election.) And we’re not going to let those disappointments get in the way of celebrating 2016 as it draws to a close. Some great things that happened this year:

Madeline and Julia enjoyed an Easter egg hunt in our home.

Madeline and Julia enjoyed an Easter egg hunt in our home.

Our granddaughters, Julia and Madeline, visited us along with their parents for Easter (we have a ceramic pitcher on a shelf still with a pink plastic egg resting in its head, remaining from the Easter fun; Granny and Gramps found it a few weeks after Easter and leave it there just for the smiles it brings). We visited Mike, Susie and the girls (and Joe and Kim visiting from Las Vegas) in the Twin Cities in early August, right after our 42nd wedding anniversary. Then Julia and Madeline came with their parents for another visit in early December. And we’ll be visiting them again for Christmas. What could be better than four visits with the granddaughters in a year? (Well, five, but four visits make for an outstanding year.)

Mike, left, me, Joe and Tom at Kaufmann Stadium in June.

Mike, left, me, Joe and Tom at Kaufmann Stadium in June.

We had more than 10 visits with one, two or all three of our sons. The boys and I met in Kansas City for a weekend of baseball and barbecue in June (and I managed to see both of my brothers, Mom and some friends on that trip). Mimi and I went to Washington for Thanksgiving with Tom and Ashley, with Joe and Kim joining the fun again from Vegas. And earlier in November, Tom and Ashley came down to Lexington, Va., to join me for a weekend with niece Kate and Mark Prylow and their children, when I was speaking at Washington and Lee University. Plus we had solo visits (including Joe and Kim surprising me with a visit in Baton Rouge for my birthday and Mike taking me to my first New Orleans Saints game).

We had more family visits this year, too: Mimi visited her sister, Carol, in Jacksonville, Fla., and my brother, Dan, visited us last week in Baton Rouge. My travels (more on that later) allowed me to squeeze in dinners with three of Mimi’s siblings and others family members in Iowa, Florida and Ohio. And more family visits are coming in January: my sister, Carol, and her family, and all four of Mimi’s siblings with their spouses.

Professionally, this was a wonderful year for me. The Online News Association surprised me at its awards dinner in Denver with the Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award. Friend Jim Brady (who was in on the surprise) was waiting at the next table and caught the moment on video. If you want to watch me blubbering my ­gratitude, go to the 50-minute mark on the video of the Online Journalism Awards. I’ll repeat more succinctly here my profound thanks to the ONA board for this career highlight. In reading about the award later, I learned that my friend Dori Maynard won the award posthumously in 2015. I am delighted to have my name associated with Dori’s and Rich’s in this way.

And just last week, I learned of another honor: I will receive the Chairman’s Citation at the National Press Foundation awards dinner in February in Washington. Chairman Kevin Goldberg chose me for the award. Again, I am deeply grateful, both for the award and for the kind praise from many after it was announced.

Another professional delight­ came in feedback from a source about a story I wrote in 1996. The source, Bridget Hegarty, actually provided the feedback in 2015, through a Facebook message on Christmas Eve, when I was still hospitalized, recovering from my stem-cell transplant. She told me that my story “helped give what happened to me a voice. It was a voice that I can now use, and do use every day of my life. You gave my voice confidence and reassurance when I thought that part of me was gone forever.” That was as strong an affirmation of my work as a journalist as I have ever received from a source. I include it in the 2016 highlights because I went back to Omaha in February for a follow-up interview and wrote a story about the experience for the Columbia Journalism Review. And Bridget gave me a shout-out last week at her graduation from nursing school.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me.

Another touching experience relating to feedback on my writing came in October, when I received a gift from Pat Maris, the widow of Roger Maris. I have written repeatedly for years about why Maris belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And this fall, I learned that a grandson of Maris is in a colleague’s writing class at LSU. I shared some links to my blog posts with the grandson, and he shared them with his grandmother. And she sent me a blanket from Maris’ celebrity golf tournament. Of course, I blogged about it.

buttry-by-duffyStill another highlight of the year was when Brian Duffy, my former Des Moines Register colleague and favorite editorial cartoonist, drew me for my birthday, based on my Heisenberg Twitter avatar. It has become my social media avatar and the original hangs on our dining room wall.

I didn’t blog as much as usual this year, because I’ve been writing letters to our sons. But my post on the newspaper industry’s defensive digital strategy created a bit of a ripple, drawing attention from the Poynter Institute, Carrie Brown-Smith, Guy Lucas, Dan Kennedy, Dan Rowinski, Tom Grubisch, Lee Procida and lots of journalists on social media. I wrote a few other posts of note during the year, wondering for The Hill about Hillary Clinton’s birthday wish list (we share a birthday) and sharing tips for localizing national and world news for the National Press Foundation.

One of my favorite writing projects for the year was a LifePost timeline about my father, Luke Buttry, who died in 1978. The project was an effort to share Dad’s story with the many grandchildren who have no memories of him (and provide a refresher for those of us with fond memories). My great-nephew (and Dad’s great-grandson) Keaton Poulter died in February at age 7, and I memorialized his short life in a Lifepost, too.

sailorsMimi had a productive year in writing and with the needle. She got a good freelance gig for much of the year, writing questions for the weekly news quiz that was part of Reuters’ White House Run app. She also continued the needlepoint hobby that helped her get through a trying 2015. Her “Expert sailors aren’t made on calm seas” hangs above my desk.

2016 was a good year at LSU’s Student Media, too. Student initiatives helped lead us further and faster toward a digital-first operation than I could possibly have led our students on my own. Students proposed combining our print, TV and digital operations into a single newsroom this fall and switching from a daily newspaper to a 32-page weekly, with a ramped-up digital newsroom, in the coming spring semester. The students are making great progress and plans, and we’re excited about the spring semester.

I also collaborated in the planning and presentation of Just the Facts, an American Press Institute fact-checking boot camp at LSU. In a year when facts seemed to matter so little in the presidential election, I was pleased to be swimming against the tide, exhorting journalists to check the facts and call BS on politicians and others in power. And, as an old API hand, I enjoyed collaborating with the current version of that important organization.

Chemotherapy curtailed all of my travel in 2015, except for Tom’s wedding and some Louisiana day trips. But I was free to travel extensively in 2016, free from chemo for part of the year and later taking chemo that didn’t make me as vulnerable to infections as my 2015 drugs. So I traveled. I was a keynote speaker at the Future of Student Media Summit at Ohio University in April and an ethics fellow at the 62nd Journalism Ethics Institute at Washington and Lee University in November. I spoke on panels or simply attended journalism conferences in New Orleans, Gainesville, Fla., Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, in addition to ONA. I returned to TCU, my alma mater, in a faculty exchange with Steve Myers, who spoke at LSU. I flew to St. Petersburg, Fla., to lead a day of workshops for The Penny Hoarder.

A great benefit of the travel was that I had breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks or just hallway conversations with dozens, if not hundreds, of new and old friends at the various conferences and other travels. I won’t try to name you all here (because of the certainties that I’d overlook some and that I’d bore everyone not listed). But those conversations and hugs raised my spirits again and again throughout the year. I am more grateful than I can say for my many friends and the support you have provided.

A year packed with that much joy is a terrific year, even if some heartbreak came along, too.

My two visits of the year to Mom in Kansas City were difficult. Alzheimer’s has taken not only her memory, but most of her awareness of life around her. When I visited in February, she didn’t even know I was family. Four visits over two days in June showed her in a different mental state each time, never recognizing me but a couple of times understanding that family members were visiting. She still enjoys music, even if she can no longer sing lyrics. One special moment of recognition involving my brother Don showed us that occasionally some understanding cuts through her mental fog. My older brother, Dan, visited in December for her 90th birthday and reports that on a few occasions she seemed to understand and appreciate that her Cubs finally won the World Series this year.

Again, cancer brought the year’s greatest heartbreaks.

Mimi and I enjoyed dinner in Denver with Meg and Dave.

Mimi and I enjoyed dinner in Denver with Meg and Dave.

We wept over the breast cancer diagnosis of our niece and goddaughter, Meg Winter. Mimi and I were honored to preside at Meg’s wedding to Dave Winter in Colorado in 2012. Her diagnosis came shortly before ONA this year, so we were able to share hugs and dinner in Denver in September. Meg is enduring the ups and downs of chemo now, and we wish we could be there to continue supporting her in person.

And, as you may know, I had another major cancer diagnosis myself in July. This pancreatic cancer is unrelated to either of my earlier major cancers, colon cancer in 1999 and mantle-cell lymphoma in 2014-15. An edited version of my blog post about Cancer 3.0 ran on the health-care site STAT. After a few months of chemotherapy, we learned in November that the tumor is chemo-resistant. It’s growing and has spread to my liver. When I decided to stop treatment, my friend, Matt DeRienzo wrote a nice post about the Tao of Steve Buttry. I’ve been honored by lots of kind comments from friends, family and other journalists throughout my struggles with these diseases.

Cancer treatment (and the end of treatment) are tougher on a spouse than on a patient, and Mimi has been a powerful source of support and comfort through this all. Whatever lies ahead, we’re facing it together and I have the help I need. We’ve exhausted the treatment possibilities, so now I’ll just enjoy as much life as I have left, savoring every day, even the tough ones. Because I’ve seen this year that a lot of wonderful things happen even in tough times.

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The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

Patricia Maris, the widow of Roger Maris, sent me a blanket as a gift this week. I am overwhelmed.

I’ll explain, but it will take a while: This story starts more than 55 years ago.

I don’t remember being at all aware of baseball from 1957 to 1960, when my father was stationed in England in the U.S. Air Force. My strongest childhood memories of England are of Mrs. Shaw, the retired school teacher next door who tutored me and taught me to read, using Janet and John books.

We moved to Utah when I was 5, and I was reading at the fourth-grade level, already launched on a lifetime as a nerd who loved to read and pursued passions single-mindedly. One of my first such passions was geography. My parents bought me some flash cards of the states to amuse me on that long drive west from New Jersey, where we landed in the United States, to our new home in Utah. I memorized the shapes and capitals of the states. I asked Mom or Dad which state I was born in. Dad was stationed then at Sampson Air Force Base in the Finger Lakes region of New York. So that became my favorite card and my favorite state.

Soon baseball became another passion for this intent, focused nerd. We didn’t have a television yet (my parents didn’t cave in on that indulgence until after the JFK assassination in 1963). But Mom listened to the 1960 World Series on the radio. A lifelong Cubs fan (yeah, more on that later), Mom rooted for the National League team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. But New York was my state and New York became my team.

So my early baseball heroes were Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Whitey Ford, who had historically great performances in that World Series. And the season’s Most Valuable Player, Roger Maris, played pretty well, too, and I started liking him as well. But Bill Mazeroski broke my young heart. (more…)

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LifepostsI’ve shifted much of my writing time from blogging about journalism to personal storytelling. So I thought I should blog about personal storytelling and its place in journalism.

My work days are still filled with journalism matters: leading LSU’s student media operations and teaching journalism classes (though didn’t teach a summer class). But I used to spend considerable time on weekends, early mornings and evenings writing on this blog, where I am certainly practicing journalism, usually about journalism. I spent less time, but occasionally considerable time, on two other blogs that are types of journalism, my Hated Yankees blog about baseball and Mimi’s and my 2 Roads Diverged blog about travel.

More and more, I find that personal writing is crowding journalism out of my non-work writing. And it’s not all related to my experience with cancer. Certainly, since my 2014 diagnosis of lymphoma, I have chronicled much of my treatment and observations about cancer on my CaringBridge journal. That, and the treatment itself, have cut into my time spent here.

But another project recently, unrelated to my illness, also took many hours. Steve Waldman called my attention a while back to a new product he’s working on called LifePosts, and I thought it would be a great tool to tell my father’s story. Dad died in 1978 at age 56. He died before his oldest two grandchildren’s second birthdays, so none of his 22 grandchildren has any memory of him. So I spent a few weeks earlier this year developing a timeline of Dad’s life. It was a mix of writing and research, and I enjoyed working on it immensely, stirring up many fond memories of Dad and learning (or relearning) things about him from various family documents. (more…)

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Cancer 3.0

Mimi and me at Tom's wedding last October

Mimi and me at Tom’s wedding last October

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Tom spent the Fourth of July posting photos from his wedding last October to Facebook. I liked a photo of Mimi and me together on that happy day, so I made it my profile photo. More than 200 people “liked” it and another 20-plus commented, all encouraging messages. Several noted that I looked good. I was tempted to note that the photo was from last October. But I got some similar comments about looking good when I posted some photos from the road that same day on the way to Houston.

I do look good. I don’t say that boastfully, but kind of ruefully. I look (and feel) better than my news: I was at the MD Anderson Cancer Center last week getting my third major cancer diagnosis. This time I have pancreatic cancer.

I was honored and uplifted by how many people encouraged me during last year’s treatment for mantle-cell lymphoma. If you were heartened in some way by my kicking-cancer’s-ass narrative, please know that I did kick that cancer’s ass. My lymph nodes look great, and they’ve gotten a close look the last three-plus months in a PET scan, an MRI, two CT scans, two endoscopic ultrasounds and lots of lab tests as doctors have tried to figure out what the hell was going on in my pancreas. (more…)

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CJR storyNearly 20 years ago, Bridget Hegarty gave me one of the best interviews of my career. This past Christmas Eve, she paid me one of the best compliments of my career.

Often journalists don’t learn about the impact, good or bad, of our reporting on the people we write about. A beat reporter will hear criticism or praise from regular sources. And sometimes we’ll hear some feedback right away. But journalism about personal stories is often a hit-and-run activity. Especially if you move as frequently as I have in my journalism career. I moved to another newspaper less than two years after writing about Bridget, and I never expected to hear from her again.

Generally I sort of presume that good stories have a good impact, if any, on the lives of good people I write about. And maybe I don’t want to know if that’s not true.

I interviewed Bridget for a story the Omaha World-Herald published Nov. 17, 1996. I told the stories of six women who had experienced difficult pregnancy situations, and their decisions to have an abortion or give birth. Bridget decided to have an abortion when she got pregnant after being raped.

The story stands out as one of my best and most challenging in about 15 years as a reporter. A few years ago, I was blogging updated lessons from my old stories. I’d usually post a story, with lessons sprinkled throughout, both timeless journalism lessons about writing and reporting and updated observations about how I might do the story differently today using digital tools and skills.

I had persuaded Bridget and the other women in the pregnancy story to speak for the record back in 1996. But in those pre-Google days, that didn’t mean that a story about abortion or a problem pregnancy might show up whenever anyone searched the internet for your name. So I just used initials of the women when I posted in 2013 on updated lessons from the story about difficult pregnancies.

The post didn’t get much interaction, but now it was there on the web for Google to find. Bridget couldn’t find it looking for her name and searching for your initials is pretty pointless. But this past December, she wanted to find some information about the abortion clinic where she was a patient (and later a staff member). So when she Googled that, she found my post. And she wanted to reconnect, to tell me what the story meant to her.

Soon she found my professional Facebook page. And she messaged me:

You left a permanent imprint in my mind and heart that has never left me since the day you interviewed me that I will always cherish. You helped give what happened to me a voice. It was a voice that I can now use, and do use every day of my life. You gave my voice confidence and reassurance when I thought that part of me was gone forever. I have always wanted to thank you for that!

I fought back tears as I read the message. What Bridget couldn’t know was that she wrote me on a discouraging day, my 24th straight day in the hospital, Dec. 24, and the day I learned I wouldn’t be getting out to spend Christmas at home (I got out the 26th). My stem-cell transplant had been successful, but my blood counts were not yet high enough to release me. I was pouting and petulant when the message arrived, and it immediately picked up my spirits.

Bridget and I messaged back and forth on Facebook and email and eventually chatted by Skype. When I had recovered enough to travel, I met her in Omaha in late February and interviewed her again.

That interview resulted in a story for the Columbia Journalism Review about Bridget’s voice and the journalism ethics principle of giving voice to the voiceless, which posted today.

I don’t have a lot to add here on my personal blog, except thanks to Bridget for her kind words, for sharing her story in 1996 and for today’s story about the personal impact journalism can have.

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Displays at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum recount the arrest, trial and execution of terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

Displays at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum recount the arrest, trial and execution of America’s most infamous terrorist.

The front page of the Daily Oklahoman, displayed in the museum.

The front page of the Daily Oklahoman, displayed in the museum.

OKLAHOMA CITY — We treat hate these days as something benign. Presidential candidates and their legions of supporters defend hatred as preferable to “political correctness,” whatever that is, as if those were the only alternatives. The dangers we face all look and dress differently and speak with accents, so it’s shrugged off as OK to fear and hate those who look and dress and speak differently.

Walk through the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and you remember how hateful our own can be. If you ever forgot. I haven’t. I can’t.

I was here in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s and Terry Nichols’ hate crime. I felt the grit and grief that filled the air still days after their bomb devastated this city. I interviewed spouses and siblings and parents of the Americans killed by American terrorists on April 19, 1995. I walked through the museum and the outdoor memorial this week for a second time. My first visit was in 2001, shortly after the museum opened. I am back for a conference of student media managers.

The first time I visited, the killer received scant attention. McVeigh’s trial was under way and Nichols had not yet been tried. The museum focused on the devastation, on remembering the dead, on the rescue and recovery attempt, on healing and peace. Nearly 20 years later, the museum is still outstanding and still does those things. But it also tells the stories, in a frank and necessary way, of the investigation, arrests, trials and sentences.

I have not yet visited the 9/11 Memorial, though I will make time for it on my next visit to New York. Both places necessarily honor the dead and are important tributes for Americans to visit. But Oklahoma City feels more important, more necessary, to me. We don’t need help fearing foreigners. But this memorial and museum remind us how malignant homegrown hate can be. (more…)

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Iowa Caucus Game

Iowa Caucus Game, 1983

Before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, I wrote two blog posts about them, one complaining about Iowa hogging first place in our presidential selection process and one recalling my seven election cycles covering the caucuses as a reporter and editor.

Both pieces got more attention than I had anticipated, because The Atlantic republished my piece criticizing Iowa’s sense of entitlement and did a separate post on my 1983 board game (pictured above and mentioned in my post about my caucus experience).

I don’t have much to add this year, except that every critical thing I wrote four years ago is more true than ever this year. The reality-show series of debates, especially on the Republican side, has been a debacle of posturing and sniping that underscores all that is wrong with our system.

I will make no predictions about who will win tonight, but I think there’s a better than 50 percent chance that November’s winner won’t win tonight. And I know we can find a better way to choose a president. But we won’t.

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