Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category



Steve Buttry

Steve Buttry, a journalist for more than 45 years, died February 19 at age 62 of pancreatic cancer, his third major cancer.

A memorial service will be held in coming weeks in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Details are pending and will be posted to this blog and other social media platforms.  The family requests that memorial tributes are directed to a scholarship fund created in Buttry’s honor at the LSU Manship School of Journalism.

Buttry spent most of his career as a reporter and editor, but achieved prominence late in his career as a newsroom trainer, then as an advocate for and teacher of digital journalism and media innovation and finally for blogging openly about his cancer treatment.

His first cancer, colon cancer, was detected early and was cured by surgery in August 1999, when Buttry was a religion reporter and writing coach for the Des Moines Register. He did not need further treatment, but had a second bowel resection in 2006 after discovery of pre-cancerous lumps in his appendix and lymph nodes near the colon. Buttry joked after the surgeries about having a “semi-colon,” but was able to resume a normal lifestyle.

A second cancer diagnosis, basal-cell skin cancer, required microsurgery in 2005, but needed no further treatment. Buttry didn’t count that among his three major cancers.

In 2014, he was diagnosed with Stage IV mantle-cell lymphoma. That was cured by six rounds of heavy-duty chemotherapy, followed by a stem-cell transplant, using Buttry’s own stem cells.

In a 2014 blog post announcing the diagnosis, Buttry wrote: “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.”

After finishing the lymphoma treatment, a routine follow-up scan in April 2016 led to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which was not related to either of the earlier cancers. The pancreatic tumor did not respond to chemotherapy and soon spread to the liver.

In his final years, Buttry’s career was recognized with three major professional awards, plus a scholarship in his name at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, the last stop in his career.


Buttry was born at Sampson Air Force Base, N.Y., on Oct. 26, 1954, the second son of Air Force Chaplain Luke Buttry and his wife, Harriet. For the next 16 years, the Buttry family lived on or near Air Force bases in Florida, England, Utah, Japan and Ohio. As an adult, Steve described his childhood as that of an “Air Force brat.” He and older brother Dan were joined by a third brother, Don, and a sister, Carol.

Steve developed severe asthma and other respiratory ailments while living in the United Kingdom. He was too sick to start school on time for English pupils but was tutored by Ellen Shaw, a retired school teacher who lived next door. “Mrs. Shaw” started the young boy on a lifelong love of reading and writing, and Buttry finished reading the Fred Gipson classic Old Yeller before starting the first grade. A painting by Mrs. Shaw, of a rural England countryside scene, hung in Buttry’s LSU office.

Buttry showed an early interest in journalism. As a fifth-grader in Utah, he listened to University of Utah basketball games on his radio (after his parents thought he had gone to bed), taking notes and writing sports stories for a newspaper of which he was the sole reader. (He could not later recall what he named the newspaper.) As a high-school freshman in 1968, Buttry started carrying the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal, waking an hour before he needed to start riding his route, so he could read the newspaper first, imagining the day he would be a journalist writing such stories.

Buttry’s first published bylines appeared in the Doubloon, the student newspaper of Reynoldsburg High School in suburban Columbus, where he was a sophomore in 1969-70. That summer he attended a high school journalism workshop at Ohio University. Both experiences cemented his ambition for a career in journalism. Buttry was also a proud Boy Scout, having earned the Eagle Scout award while in Ohio.


The Buttry family moved to Shenandoah, Iowa when Luke Buttry retired from the Air Force before Steve’s junior year of high school.  The summer before Buttry’s senior year, his mother noticed in the Sentinel that Chuck Offenburger, the sports editor, was interested in hiring a high school student to work part-time covering sports. Buttry applied for the job, starting both his journalism career and a lifelong friendship with Offenburger.

nishna-valley-beats-essexOn Friday, Oct. 1, 1971, a call from an Essex High School student, Mimi Johnson, provided the most important reader feedback of Buttry’s career. She faulted his prediction that Nishna Valley would beat Essex in that evening’s game. Nishna Valley won, 44-6. Buttry and Johnson later met in person and started dating. They would be married for more than 42 years.

After graduating from Shenandoah High School in 1972, Buttry went to Texas Christian University on a National Merit Scholarship. He immediately started writing as a reporter for the student newspaper, The Daily Skiff. Buttry worked for the Skiff throughout his time at TCU, including two semesters as editor-in-chief.

The Buttry-Johnson romance continued when he went to Texas. They married Aug. 3, 1974, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shenandoah and lived in off-campus housing his junior and senior years.

Upon graduation from TCU in May of 1976, Buttry returned to Shenandoah as a news reporter for the Sentinel. He later added the duties of editorial page editor and managing editor.


Mimi Johnson Buttry with the couple’s oldest son, Mike, shortly after birth.

Also in 1976, Mimi gave birth to their first son, Michael Wesley Buttry, born Dec. 10.

Buttry accepted a job as a copy editor for The Des Moines Register in November 1977. Though he would have preferred a reporting job at the time, he was always grateful for learning the fundamentals of journalism as a copy editor. After nearly two years on the copy desk, Buttry moved to the city desk.

The Buttrys’ second and third sons, Joseph Lucas and Thomas Stephen, were born in Des Moines, Joe on Nov. 27, 1980, and Tom on Sept. 15, 1982. Joe was born on Thanksgiving day and Tom was born 10 days before the final edition of the Des Moines Tribune, the sister evening paper to the Register.

The death of the Tribune caused considerable upheaval in the newsroom, including 15 early retirements and 55 more job cuts, but Buttry received both a pay raise and a promotion, to the chief assistant city editor, known in the newsroom as the “hot seat.” He confessed later to feeling some “survivor’s guilt” over his good fortune at a time when others were losing their jobs.


Steve Buttry, seated at computer terminal, got help on deadline in covering the 1980 Republican caucuses.

He played key editing roles in coverage of both the 1980 and ’84 Iowa caucuses. In 1983, he created “The Iowa Caucus Game,” a board game that celebrated and spoofed the quadrennial political spectacle (and the Register’s role in covering it). One of his family’s favorite photos shows Steve on caucus night in 1980, as the Register was preparing to call George H.W. Bush the winner. Top editors and reporters huddled around Buttry at an old computer terminal as he edited the story.

In 1980 and ’85, Buttry got his first experiences in two pursuits that would later become the primary focus of his career: teaching and newsroom training. He spent two winter quarters (1980-81 and ’83-84) as an adjunct journalism teacher at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and in early 1985 he spent two days visiting the St. Joseph News-Press and Gazette, in St. Joseph, Mo., as a writing coach.

In 1984, Buttry decided he wanted to move from editing to reporting. Managing Editor Arnold Garson accommodated, making Buttry a general assignment reporter covering news around Iowa. After just a few months, though, Garson had another assignment for Buttry: launching Hometown, a regional weekly section of the Register to be based in Fort Dodge, Iowa. After a successful launch of Hometown, Buttry was assigned to spend a few weeks in Mason City, Iowa, helping fine-tune the regional news operation there.


The Register newsroom learns that Gannett is buying the company, 1985. Steve Buttry is at the far right.

In March 1985, shortly after the sale of the Register to Gannett Corp. Buttry accepted an offer to become assistant national/mid-America editor at the Times, and two years later, Buttry was named to replace Rick Tapscott as national/mid-America editor.

After the evening Star and morning Times announced they would “merge” in 1990, producing a morning paper called the Star. Buttry initially was assistant managing editor/national and mid-America for the new paper, but eventually spent his last six months there as an agri-business reporter.

In July 1992, Buttry accepted the job of editor of the Minot Daily News in North Dakota, where he oversaw the newspaper’s conversion from evening to morning publication.  He also got to live out every journalist’s dream of shouting, “Stop the presses!” in response to a late-breaking story, and saw his wife Mimi gain considerable local popularity as a columnist and freelance writer.

In January 1994, Buttry accepted a reporting job at the Omaha World-Herald. After spending most of his career in management, Buttry relished the reporting work. As a senior general-assignment reporter, Buttry wrote stories about a wide range of topics, including rape, abortion, girls basketball, domestic violence, government regulation, murder, the people in a historic photograph and the successful efforts by emergency workers to save 3-year-old twins who nearly froze to death.


A World-Herald house ad promotes Buttry’s work.

During his time at the World-Herald in the 1990s he started learning and practicing the skills of digital journalism and he actively promoted himself as a newsroom trainer, setting the course for his later career as he continued as a reporter.

In 1997, after returning from a National Writers Workshop in the Twin Cities, Buttry decided he knew as much about journalism as the veteran editors and reporters who led sessions at the workshop and decided to seek business visiting newsrooms and journalism conferences to lead workshops on various reporting and editing skills. He decided on a few topics for workshops, developed a promotional flier and sent it out to newsrooms and press associations around the Midwest. His first client was the York News-Times in York, Neb. The North Dakota Newspaper Association also invited him up to Bismarck for a conference, and he arranged a visit to his former newsroom in Minot as part of the trip.

Rick Tapscott, the editor who hired Steve in 1985, recruited Buttry back to Des Moines as religion reporter and writing coach, including his first weekly column.

He also enjoyed formally adding training to his duties and quickly connected with a network of newsroom trainers around the world who shared tips and techniques through a list-serv and at an annual conference. He moved his workshop handouts and promotional materials to the Register’s website, where they attracted more attention.

Buttry’s first cancer diagnosis came in 1999, which was quickly treated with surgery.

In early 2000, Buttry again was involved in coverage of the Iowa caucuses, including a story that generated some national attention about the role of religion in the caucuses.

Gary Fandel and Steve Buttry

Gary Fandel and Steve Buttry  on assignment in Venezuela.

Buttry’s biggest foreign reporting assignment came during his second hitch at the Register. First Assembly of God, one of Des Moines’ biggest churches, sent a mission group to Venezuela following a mudslide disaster there. Buttry persuaded Tapscott to send him along for the nine-day trip, along with photojournalist Gary Fandel.

In May 2000, Buttry agreed to return to the World-Herald as national correspondent and writing coach. The World-Herald agreed to let him train at other newspapers using vacation time and to use company time to speak to non-paying conferences at journalism organizations and press associations. Buttry spoke extensively, building an international reputation as a newsroom trainer.

At this time Buttry also joined a major newsroom trainer projects, the launch of the No Train, No Gain website to share newsroom training materials with colleagues around the world. Buttry quickly volunteered to be content coordinator for the website and posted all of his own workshop handouts on the site. He eventually added a blog about training issues, called Training Tracks.

Buttry credited NTNG with spreading his reputation as a leading newsroom trainer, and he soon was visiting several newsrooms a year to present workshops for journalists as well as training for state and regional press associations, universities and other journalism organizations.

Steve Buttry interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev

Steve Buttry interviews Mikhail Gorbachev. Photo by Kent Sievers.

Stories that dominated Buttry’s reporting in the 2000s included 9/11, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s involvement in Afghanistan, sexual abuse by priests and a former Boys Town counselor and Omaha’s Sudanese refugee community. He also interviewed former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 2002. Buttry’s seventh time covering the Iowa caucuses included coverage of a 2004 Democrautic caucus in Council Bluffs.

The Buttry family began growing in the same decade. Mike married Susie Burke in 2003, Joe married Kim Bagby in 2007 and Tom married Ashley Douglass in 2015.

In April 2005 Buttry took a new job as director of tailored programs at the American Press Institute. At API, he worked in the Newspaper Next project, which sought to lead the industry in development of new business models.


Carol Ann Riordan, center, and Steve Buttry in a radio studio following an interview on their visit to Saudi Arabia.

He wrote his first draft of a business model called A Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection while at API, proposing it as part of the Newspaper Next 2.0 report. When API decided not to include C3 in the 2.0 report, Buttry began looking for a company interested in trying the approach.

Buttry thought he had found the right home to try C3 when he accepted the job of editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and Gazetteonline.com (now thegazette.com). The situation at the Gazette changed dramatically Buttry’s third day as editor, June 12, 2008, when Cedar Rapids was inundated by a historic flood.


The Gazette‘s 12-column wrap-around front page on June 13, 2008.

Buttry was always proud of his staff’s excellent flood coverage, but the company’s interest in his new approach to business started waning almost immediately. What seemed like a perfect fit in May 2008 had turned into a miserable situation a year later, and Buttry was looking for his next job.

He blogged frequently, though, about issues relating to digital journalism and business models to sustain it. The blog, which he eventually called The Buttry Diary, was where he published his C3 Blueprint and a call for news organizations to pursue mobile-first strategy. The ideas drew international attention, including an invitation to teach about C3 in Siberia.

Buttry became one of journalism’s busiest bloggers, especially considering his job was never full-time blogging. In addition to the journalism blog, he launched a baseball blog, Hated Yankees, in 2009, and a travel blog, with his wife, 2 Roads Diverged, in 2012. After Mimi published her journalism novel, Gathering String, in 2012, Buttry also published a blog promoting the book. He was a regular contributor to the International News Media Association’s Culture Change blog in 2014 and a guest contributor to still more journalism blogs.

ep-coverButtry’s performance in Cedar Rapids earned him recognition from Editor & Publisher magazine as Editor of the Year. The award praised the vision outlined in C3.

Fittingly, that next job was with someone Buttry knew only digitally before they met to discuss the job, Jim Brady, former executive editor of washingtonpost.com. Brady and Buttry followed each other on Twitter and were scheduled to be on a panel together at the University of Missouri in November 2009. The month before, Brady announced that he was launching a new venture covering local news in the Washington area for Allbritton Communications, owner of Politico as well as two Washington TV stations. Buttry messaged Brady that he’d like to be involved and they agreed to talk in Columbia. By February 2010, Buttry was moving to Washington to lead community engagement for the venture, which they eventually named TBD.

While in the Washington area, Buttry taught as adjunct faculty at graduate programs at Georgetown and American universities.


Madeline and Gramps at the park.

Buttry also became a grandfather in 2010 while in Washington, waiting at the hospital for the birth of Mike and Susie’s daughter, Julia. Buttry was a doting grandfather, known as Gramps to Julia and her sister, Madeline, born in 2012 in Edina, Minn.

Though TBD’s launch attracted considerable attention (Buttry was in charge of media relations, among other things), Brady lost an internal battle for control of the operation and left just three months after TBD launched. Brady landed quickly with the Journal Register Co., whose CEO, John Paton, wanted to transform how newspapers thought and operated. Brady soon hired Buttry to help him lead newsrooms at JRC, which became Digital First Media and took over operations of the former MediaNews Group.

Buttry visited the newsrooms of all DFM daily newspapers, visiting some of them in multiple locations as newsrooms moved as well as some weekly newsrooms. In all, he visited 84 DFM newsrooms, leading workshops for staffs as well as coaching editors and other staff members. Two primary focuses of his work at DFM were training new editors in leading Digital First newsrooms and “unbolting” newsroom culture from the newspaper factory model.

Iowa Caucus Game

Iowa Caucus Game, 1983

The DFM experience ended when the hedge fund that controlled DFM, Alden Global, changed its strategy. Buttry’s job was cut April 2, 2014, along with other members of the company’s Thunderdome newsroom. Brady and Paton eventually left DFM as well.

The day of the Thunderdome cuts, Dean Jerry Ceppos of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication offered Buttry a job as Lamar Visiting Scholar. Buttry eventually accepted the job and moved full-time into academia. After initially accepting a one-year position, Buttry became the director of Student Media in 2015.


Family photo on the Alaska cruise. Standing from left, Madeline, Joe, Kim, Ashley, Tom, Mimi, Steve, Mike. In front, Susie and Julia.

Before starting the LSU job, the Buttry sons and their wives took Steve and Mimi on an Alaska cruise to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in August 2014, taking Buttry to his 50th state. After cruising with the whole family from Vancouver to Anchorage, the couple continued alone on a trip to Denali National Park, where they saw both clear views of the highest U.S. mountain peak, which is often shrouded in clouds, and the big-game “grand slam” of wolves, grizzly bears, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.

Another family highlight followed later in 2014, when Buttry kept a 29-year-old promise, made when he took Mimi to Game Two of the 1985 World Series. That was the Buttrys’ first year in Kansas City, and Buttry promised to take Mike the next time the Royals were in the World Series. The Royals didn’t return to the Series again until 2014, when Buttry kept his promise to Mike and took Joe and Tom to the game for good measure.

The next month, a pain in Buttry’s back and a lump in his left armpit led to a series of tests that diagnosed mantle-cell lymphoma. Chemotherapy and related medical problems, including a craniotomy to drain bleeding in his brain, took up most of 2015. However, Buttry was able to travel to Maryland to keep another vow to dance at Tom and Ashley’s wedding. The lymphoma treatment concluded with a stem-cell transplant, using Buttry’s own cells, in December 2015.

Toward the end of the stem-cell transplant recovery, Buttry received a message that provided a journalism highlight for 2016. Bridget Hegarty, a source from a 1996 story, tracked him down to thank him:

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!

Buttry used the experience to write an article for Columbia Journalism Review on the journalistic principle of “giving voice to the voiceless.”

Soon Buttry’s focus returned to medical matters, though. A routine follow-up scan in April detected problems in the pancreas and subsequent tests diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer, unrelated to the earlier cancers. Later tests showed the tumor was not responding to chemotherapy and had spread to the liver.

Buttry was honored for his contributions to journalism with three major awards in his final years: the Glamann Award from the American Copy Editors Society in 2015, the Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award from the Online News Association in 2016 and the Chairman’s Citation from the National Press Foundation in 2017. He also will be honored with The Steve Buttry College Journalism Award by The Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation and the creation of the Stephen Buttry Scholarship at the Manship School. He was recognized in 2010 as a member of the Hall of Excellence at TCU’s Schieffer School of Journalism.

Buttry is survived by his wife, Mimi Johnson Buttry; sons Mike, Joe and Tom; daughters-in-law Susie Burke, Kim Bagby and Ashley Douglass; granddaughters Julia Burke Buttry and Madeline Burke Buttry;  mother Harriet Buttry of Lee’s Summit, Mo.; brothers Dan of Hamtramck, Mich.; and Don of Shenandoah, Iowa; sister Carol Devlin of Bolton, Vt.; and many in-laws, nieces and nephews.

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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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As Washington braces for a winter storm (and the metro area’s inability to deal with winter storms), my mind wandered back five years.

On Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, almost exactly five years ago, Mimi and I drove nine hours to get home from the heart of Washington to our home in the Virginia suburbs. In good traffic, the drive usually took less than 45 minutes. In normal Washington traffic, an hour was not unusual, an hour and a half certainly possible.

But when it snows in Washington …

I am not the only one to remember that evening (or my whining about that evening):

Nine hours, 11 hours. For recalling a nightmare from five years ago, two hours seemed a minor exaggeration.

David Heyman (who will appear more in this tale later) also recalled our shared 2011 Odyssey:

My daughter-in-law, Ashley Douglass, took three hours to get home in some light snow Wednesday evening, prompting her husband, Tom, to ask if I had the link from my account of the 2011 trek to share with her. He thought it was on this blog, but it was on TBD.com, the Washington local news site I helped launch less than six months before that snowy day.

The TBD archives were preserved a few years, but have vanished from the Internet. I couldn’t even find my story of the snowy commute on the Wayback Machine (which preserves snapshots from websites, but not full archives). But I did save the html files.

Some background on that day before I share my five-year-old tale: This was the year after Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse paralyzed Washington for days. But not every winter storm forecast for DC materializes as predicted. At least a couple times earlier in January 2011, weather forecasters had warned of potentially snowpolalyptic storms that either missed Washington entirely or only provided a light dusting. So when we were warned of the Jan. 26 storm, most of Washington shrugged and headed to work as normal. But this time the forecast actually lowballed the storm. By mid-afternoon, huge, wet flakes were falling fast, sticking to the streets, and the federal government (and nearly everyone else) shut down early, sending virtually every vehicle in Washington into the streets at the same time.

I’ve spent most of my life in the Midwestern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and North Dakota. I know winter storms, and laugh at Washington’s inability to handle light snow. But this was a genuine winter storm, falling fast and hard and wet on a metro area whose drivers and cities don’t know what do with a mild winter snow that wouldn’t cancel school in Iowa.

So here is my account of my commute from hell (on a day off even!) five years ago (with a few updates): (more…)

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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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Few sights are more beautiful than a Tofino sunset.

Few sights are more beautiful than a Tofino sunset.

Perhaps the most alluring job I ever turned down was an offer to lead newsroom transformation for Canada’s largest newspaper company.

My fondness for Canada is long and deep, and a job that would mean lengthy stays and frequent visits in such beloved cities as Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Victoria was enticing. I relished the opportunity and challenge of helping metro newspapers retool for digital success. I nearly accepted the job.

I’ll quickly address the national-loyalty issue. Except when my father was assigned to overseas Air Force bases, I’ve happily lived my whole life in the United States. I love this country and wasn’t looking to leave it. But when a Canadian company recruited me, I listened. I love Canada, too.

Cox Beach, south of Tofino

Cox Beach, south of Tofino

Mimi’s and my favorite place in the world may be Tofino, a tourist/fishing village on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. We’ve visited there several times at different seasons of the year, always enchanted by the crashing waves, the lovely beaches, the bears and whales, the fish tacos and other fine dining.

If she writes a best-selling novel and sells its movie rights for a whopping sum, or if I could make a living writing, consulting and training based there, we would happily live the rest of our lives in a small Tofino home, walking distance from one of our favourite beaches. Those are huge ifs, but we share the fantasy every time we visit.

And Tofino is just one of the many places we’ve loved visiting in Canada. From Cape Breton and the lighthouses along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast to the crystal waters of Lake Louise in Banff National Park to golden eagles near Williams Lake, B.C., to a Jeep ride into the Yukon territory, we have enjoyed Canada’s spectacular scenery coast to coast. We’ve enjoyed the museums, restaurants and other cultural offerings of Canada’s great cities. (more…)

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After her morning appearance on

After her morning appearance on “Good Morning America,” Maya enjoyed the sights of New York.

As I recounted in the blog yesterday, my great-niece Maya Poulter, now 10 years old, and her parents were featured Thursday morning on “Good Morning America.”

As Robin Roberts recounted her favorite GMA moments as part of the show’s 40th anniversary celebration, the most memorable was the day she found Maya after the 2010 earthquake (and shared the good news by Skype with Mandy Poulter, my niece and Maya’s adoptive mother). The earthquake devastated Haiti after Maya’s adoption had been completed but before the U.S. State Department issued a visa to bring her home to Iowa. (Maya’s story is mentioned at about the 3:00 mark of the ABC video linked above and the studio interview begins at about the 7:00 mark).

Until Roberts called, Mandy and her husband, Matt, didn’t know whether their daughter had survived the quake. On Thursday’s program, Maya and her parents updated Roberts and her viewers on Maya’s current life in Pella, Iowa, again thanking Roberts and ABC for their role in rescuing Maya from the catastrophe in her homeland.

I recounted the story and various follow-up angles at length in Wednesday’s post previewing the ABC appearance and earlier posts linked at the end of this post. Nothing new to report today, but Mandy gave me permission to share some photos from Maya’s first visit to the Big Apple. (I usually try to avoid clichés, but that one seems to fit the fun of this trip).

“We are having a great time in New York,” Mandy reported in an email Thursday. “Maya really enjoyed meeting Robin.”

Matt, Maya and Mandy outside the Good Morning America studio in Times Square.

Matt, Maya and Mandy outside the Good Morning America studio in Times Square.

Maya gave Robin Roberts a Christmas tree ornament.

Maya gave Robin Roberts a Christmas tree ornament.

Maya enjoyed a cruise on her day in New York.

Maya enjoyed a cruise on her day in New York.

Mandy, Maya and Matt enjoying New York by carriage.

Mandy, Maya and Matt enjoying New York by carriage.

Maya outside ABC's TImes Square studios.

Maya outside ABC’s TImes Square studios.

Previous posts about Maya and her rescue from Haiti

The search for Maya made the Haiti disaster story personal

Mandy and Matt reunited with Maya Esther in Haiti

Maya’s enjoying life in Iowa

Maya’s adoption becomes final in Iowa

Humanity is more important and honest than objectivity for journalists

An update on Maya Poulter, six months after Haitian earthquake

Hoping Robin Roberts moves past MDS swiftly

My great-niece, Maya Poulter, was one of the best stories of Good Morning America’s 40 years (and my 60+)

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