Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Maya Poulter, five-plus years after being rescued from the Haiti earthquake, with help from Robin Roberts and "Good Morning America."

Maya Poulter, five-plus years after being rescued from the Haiti earthquake, with help from Robin Roberts and “Good Morning America.”

Maya with Sofia the First at Disney World this May

Maya with Sofia the First at Disney World this May

My great-niece, Maya Poulter, will be a guest on “Good Morning America” tomorrow, featured as one of the best stories from GMA’s 40 years on television. Nov. 12 update: The show aired this morning (their story is mentioned about the 3:00 mark of the ABC video and the studio interview begins at about the 7:00 mark).

I blogged several times about Maya and the GMA coverage of her story in 2010, when the show’s Robin Roberts helped find Maya among the wreckage and chaos there following the 2010 earthquake. My posts from that time are all linked at the end of this post. But the short version is that my niece, Mandy Poulter, and her husband, Matt, had completed the adoption process and were just waiting for Maya’s passport to bring her home to Iowa when the earthquake hit, devastating much of Haiti, including her orphanage. Of course, the wait to learn news about her and the exhilaration when Roberts found her, were a memorable story to our family. We’re glad they were as memorable, too, to GMA.

Maya sleeping on the ground after Robin Roberts and a GMA crew found her in Haiti in 2010.

Maya sleeping on the ground after Robin Roberts and a GMA crew found her in Haiti in 2010.


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My drugs have not improved, but my earworms have.

Here’s how my stem-cell-harvest drugs work (besides supposedly stimulating release of my stem cells for the next day’s harvest): I get the shot of Mozobil at 10 p.m., then head home exhausted after about 15 1/2 hours at the hospital, ready to sleep. Depending on how long it takes me to settle in and what we need to talk about, I crash hard sometime between 11 and midnight. Then about 1:30 or so, I wake up suddenly, as if someone came into the room and shook me hard. Then I try to fall back asleep. Then the earworms invade.

Sometimes I fall back asleep (and then wake up, as if startled again, at 3 or so). Sometimes I give up after 15, 20 or 30 minutes and get up to blog until I think I can get back to sleep again.

I don’t play much music myself. But I hear songs on TV or movies or when Mimi plays her iPhone as we’re driving. From one of those sources, I get my earworms, usually songs I don’t like. I can’t recall what the song was in July, the first time we tried a stem-cell harvest, but it was an annoying song and tortured me all week.  (more…)

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Mimi and I saw “Rock the Kasbah” Sunday. I don’t cover entertainment much here, so I’m not going to write much about the movie itself. For that, I recommend David Corn’s excellent piece in Mother Jones.

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

The movie took me back, though, to one of the most meaningful experiences of my career. The Bill Murray character in the movie, Richie Lanz, discovers and provides an opportunity for an Afghan girl with an enchanting voice, Salima Khan, played by Leem Lubany.

As I watched Salima pursue opportunity, at risk of her own life, in an oppressive culture, I remembered the courageous Afghan women I was privileged to cover, and spent most of a month with, back in 2002, when they came to Nebraska for a teacher training program. The women taught surreptitiously when the Taliban prohibited schooling for girls. They learned more English than I learned Dari, but through interpreters and their ability to communicate passion and courage across the language barrier, they touched me as deeply as any sources I ever worked with. I think of them every time I read of a bombing at a school in Afghanistan, and hope they are all safe and continuing to teach. (more…)

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Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving.

Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving. Photo by Dan Buttry

Last December, when I announced my lymphoma diagnosis on this blog, I promised I would be dancing at the Oct. 10 wedding of my youngest son, Tom, and Ashley Douglass.

At that time, my hope and plan was that I would be finished with treatment by then. I needed to wait a minimum of 21 days between each of eight rounds of chemotherapy (which would damage my immune system). Then they would harvest some stem cells from me, and then I’d get them back in a stem-cell transplant that would restore my immune system. Treatment started Dec. 20 (Mimi’s birthday), so I marked all my rounds of treatment on the calendar and figured we’d finish by late June.

Well, marriage is way better than chemo (at least mine has been), so don’t take this metaphor any further than this point: In both cases, you really don’t know what’s going to unfold when you start out.

If you haven’t already read about all the delays and complications of my treatment on my CaringBridge journal, you can find details there, if you care. But they involve low platelet counts, an infection, meningitis, a weak stem-cell harvest and a brain surgery. The only thing that worked out as planned was that chemo kicked cancer’s ass. A May PET scan showed “no active disease,” so that listing of delays is not a complaint (well, not much), but an explanation that for a while we weren’t sure whether I would make it to the wedding. (more…)

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NewsboyWhen I was visiting Toni Momberger‘s office at the Redlands Daily Facts (one of my favorite newspaper names) in California a few years ago, Toni had to be out of town. But I got to use her office briefly. This cartoon, on display in her office, fit well into the slides I was using that day, so I shot a quick photo and added it to the slides (below).

I’ve used it in some other slides since, and I had been meaning to ask Toni (Digital First Media’s Journalist of the Year for 2013) the story behind the picture.

When I used the cartoon in a recent blog post about newspaper carriers (and Facebook), I wrote her asking the origin, because I wanted to credit it appropriately (and use with retroactive permission).

Toni connected me with Al Hernandez, owner of Citrograph Printing Co. in Redlands, who provided this explanation:

The original crate label is from our archive of crate label images.  If you notice the newsboy is carrying copies of the Citrograph Newspaper under his arm.  The Citrograph is the oldest continuously operating Print shop in California and it was the original newspaper in Redlands.

As far as we know, the original label is now in the public domain.  This piece was created in celebration of our 125th Anniversary in 2012.

Thanks to Toni and Al for that help in identifying an image I really enjoy.

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Glamann Award for Steve ButtryFriday evening was an incredible time for me.

After waiting most of the day to work out details of how I would receive intravenous antibiotics at home, I finally left the hospital about 7:15, ending an eight-day stay to treat an infection that arose because chemotherapy had damaged my immune system. It was great to get home.

As I started opening packages that arrived in my absence, Mimi said I needed to open my laptop. We were going to Skype with our granddaughters before they went to bed. Sounded like a nice welcome-home. I had no idea.

The Skype callers were not my granddaughters, but Teresa Schmedding, president of the American Copy Editors Society, and the 500 copy editors gathered for the ACES conference in Pittsburgh. Teresa and Mimi had conspired to Skype me into the conference, so ACES could give me the Glamann Award. Mimi had the plaque and Teresa said some kind words about my contributions to journalism. (more…)

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Andrew Sullivan’s note telling readers he plans to stop blogging.

Occasionally I wonder whether I blog too much and consider whether I should stop, cut back or change directions.

I identified with some of the things that Andrew Sullivan said when announced this week that he will stop blogging. Even as a sideline venture, as my blog has always been, a blog keeps whispering “feed me” in your ear. You read or hear things and start thinking about blogging about them, even if you only actually blog about a small minority of them. If you care about a blog, it becomes demanding or time-consuming. If becomes a big part of your life, and sometimes you need to make changes in your life.

Sullivan wrote:

I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged.

He posted that on Wednesday. I feel like a slacker for waiting till Saturday to blog about it. So many people have already weighed in:

Sullivan’s reasons for deciding to stop blogging are deeply personal, related to his health and feelings about how he wants to spend his time and about feeding the beast that a blog can become (he started charging for The Dish two years ago, which no doubt raises the pressure for feeding the beast; my blog is free).

Each blogger’s situation is different by many factors: what you have to say; your relationship with the people who respond to your blog; how unique or important you think a particular post may be; how frequently you want or need to blog; whether you blog for pay, passion or both; whether and how the blog is advancing your career; other things going on with your life, such as jobs, health and family.

I have kept blogging through several career and personal turns because I always felt like I had something to say and I have enjoyed my relationships with people in the blog comments, on social media and in person who appreciate my blog (including many who disagree on some points). And the blog has advanced my career and raised my profile within journalism. (more…)

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The Bloomington Pantagraph's first "Scoop," a Waco "90" biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

The Bloomington Pantagraph’s first “Scoop,” a Waco “90” biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

In the way that one idea leads to another which leads to another, this post is a flight of fancy. We start with an old family story about the ride my Uncle Pleas took 85 years ago on a plane called Scoop, then to some other stories I found from a bygone era when newspapers could afford their own pilots and planes, then to some flying stories from my career.

My mother, Harriet Buttry, was a tireless archivist of family writings before Alzheimer’s took over her mind. A shelf in her home displayed books by authors in the family, and notebooks collected magazine articles and other writings, including too many of my newspaper stories, columns and blog posts.

After helping Mom with a recent move, my brother Dan thinned the collection a bit and sent me some boxes of family writings. Most were my old newspaper stories. I was surprised how faithful I had been sending clippings to Mom, but not at all surprised how faithful she was at filing them away. But Dan sent me more than just my own work. The collection included The Great Depression: True Stories of Trials and Triumphscompiled by the McLean County Home and Community Education Association in Illinois in 2006.

That book had three family connections: My cousin Mary Lou Lawson was one of the editors, and a story toward the back of the book was written by my uncle, Pleasant J. Buttry (we called him Uncle Pleas and he also went by Pat). His sister (Mary Lou’s mother and my aunt) Minda was a key character. Here’s Uncle Pleas’s story: (more…)

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

New York Times

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

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

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

Dean Baquet response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Farewell to my hair

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

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

Why do we express ourselves through our hair?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After I found a job, I tried a goatee.

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

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

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

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

2013, clean-shaven with large forehead.

2013, clean-shaven with large forehead.

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

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

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

Jason clipping me close.

Jason clipping me close.

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

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

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

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

bowlerSteve Buttry

straw hatSteve Buttry

Steve Buttryblack cap

Ford capSteve Buttry

Yankee capSteve Buttry Yankee cap

Steve Buttry Heisenberg hat

I AM the danger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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