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Posts Tagged ‘Columbia Journalism Review’

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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Brady CJRI am late reading Jim Brady‘s Columbia Journalism Review piece on local media. But it’s outstanding and worth catching up on. If you care about local news and also missed it initially, take the time to read it now. It’s long but well worth the time.

Just a few highlights:

Jim absolutely nails the brutal user experience at most local newspaper sites:

Slow load times? Check. Pop-up ads? Yes sir! Auto-play video? Of course! Forty-page slide shows? Why not? User experience? Sorry, not familiar with that term.

A good friend, who has been doing some excellent work, works for a Gannett newsroom. I see a link to some of his work on social media and click on the link. And Gannett tries to push me away with horrible load times (I give up on my iPad before it even loads) and with a question (or a few) I need to answer before I read the story. More often than not, I leave in frustration. And I’m earnestly and patiently trying to read the work of a good friend. How many readers who aren’t trying to read friends’ work give up even sooner?

Jim, founder of the Philadelphia local news site Billy Penn, also explains why he’s optimistic (I am, too) for local news startups:

I think now is the perfect time to start a local digital news operation. There are few greater gifts in journalism than a blank sheet of paper. Billy Penn started with nothing. We had no history, but no baggage. We had no brand recognition, but no brand fatigue. We didn’t cover everything, but we didn’t have to cover everything. Every disadvantage is an opportunity to create an advantage.

I get sick and tired of people dismissing local news as a place of failure for digital startups because of the failure of Patch, the abandonment of TBD‘s strategy (see disclaimer below) and other local ventures that didn’t last. I sent Ken Doctor an email last month, taking him for task for erroneously describing local news as “a sector that’s all but been left for dead.

Actually, local news is a sector with dozens, if not hundreds, of success stories. They’re mostly small success stories that escape the notice of most big-picture analysts, and the sector needs thousands of success stories, but Jim’s optimism is justified, and he lists some of the successes:

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see so many entrepreneurs out there trying their hands at local. On the for-profit side, there’s Billy Penn and The Incline, its soon-to-be sister site in Pittsburgh, plus Berkeleyside, Charlotte Agenda, Mission Local, ARLnowBaristanet, the Watershed Post, the upcoming Denverite, and many others. On the nonprofit side, there are early pioneers like Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego, and MinnPost, plus new sites popping up seemingly every week. Spanning both models are members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers group (LION), including sites such as The Batavian, Richland Source, The Lens, and many more. Journalism consultant Michele McLellan tracks the growth of local sites at Michele’s List.

But there’s room for so much more—unlike in national, the local digital field remains relatively wide open.

If you care about local news, read through Jim’s piece. He captures the excitement and potential of local news.

Disclaimer that won’t be necessary for longtime readers of this blog: Jim and I are friends and he hired me twice, to work at TBD and Digital First Media. And I’d gladly take a third round with him.

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A key issue in the Columbia School of Journalism’s report on Rolling Stone‘s botched rape story is the use of pseudonyms to identify key characters in the story.

I strongly endorse this conclusion of the Columbia report:

Pseudonyms are inherently undesirable in journalism. They introduce fiction and ask readers to trust that this is the only instance in which a publication is inventing details at its discretion. Their use in this case was a crutch — it allowed the magazine to evade coming to terms with reporting gaps. Rolling Stone should consider banning them.

I made a similar point in December in my post (after the story began falling apart) about interviewing rape survivors and verifying their stories: (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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Update: Ryan Chittum has responded to this piece in detail. He’s wrong on lots of points, but I am tired of the argument and think this piece holds up well.

An editor shared some paywall results with me yesterday. I don’t use unnamed sources lightly, but I understand why this editor can’t use his or her name or organization. It’s someone I’ve known and respected for a few years. Here’s what this editor of a small regional daily newspaper said:

We have had a digital subscription plan in place for a few months. We don’t even have 300 subscribers yet. It’s a failure. Even at the corporate level we’ve stopped hearing about paywalls. They know they aren’t working either.

I will be clear about one thing: This is not a Digital First Media editor and I will not disclose here the results of any of the MediaNews paywalls that launched shortly before Digital First took over operation of MediaNews last year. I don’t have those results and wouldn’t be the right person to disclose them.

The editor who emailed me is not the only person outside Digital First I’ve heard from who’s worried about weak results of a paywall, just the most specific and the one who contacted me this week. I’m not about to say that the current wave of paywalls will all be failures, based on this one email from an editor who won’t be named and less-specific comments from some other people.

I am willing to say that anyone who thinks the matter of whether paywalls will help news organizations find a prosperous future is settled is completely lacking in credibility. Specifically, the paywall cheerleading by Ryan Chittum and Dean Starkman of CJR is mystifyingly lacking of thoughtful analysis and skepticism. (more…)

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Opposition to paywalls is a “theology,” Rem Rieder said in moderating a one-sided love-session panel discussion about paywalls a couple months ago at the American Society of News Editors convention.

I considered at the time writing a response to the whole panel and especially to Rem’s notion that opposition is a theology (I come from a family of ministers; I know a theology when I see one). But I resisted the urge. I had other things to do, and I’ve written plenty on the topic.

The arguments before and against paywalls have been made extensively and passionately recently at the Columbia Journalism Review. Journalist-turned-entertainer David Simon made the argument for paywalls last month in a fairly short CJR piece and then his many responses in a long discussion in the comments, which I joined. I wouldn’t characterize anyone in this debate as theological, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call Simon’s argument strongly faith-based.

Howard Owens responded a few times in the Simon comments, then wrote a separate piece for CJR, listing 10 reasons Simon is wrong. He cites facts, dollars, page views and history. It is the most detailed, reasoned, fact-based analysis of the paywall issue I have read, certainly more so than any I have written. I will not try to summarize it here. But if you care about paywalls and about the economic success of the news business, I urge you to read it.

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I bow to no one in my love for the good old days of journalism. But everyone trying to take journalism back to the good old days should understand some basic truths:

  • You won’t find the future by retreating to the past.
  • Whatever comes next in journalism can’t and shouldn’t be built to replace either the best or worst of current or historic journalism. You build the future on the technology and opportunities of the future in the context of the future.
  • Watchdog reporting performed by professional journalists is absolutely part of journalism’s future, and I don’t know anyone discussing the future of journalism who doesn’t plan and hope for a successful future for professional watchdog reporting.
  • Journalism of the past doesn’t look as strong on closer examination as it does through your nostalgic filter.

I worked at the Des Moines Register in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Time magazine named it one of the 10 best newspapers in the United States. I was there when Jim Risser won his second Pulitzer Prize and when Tom Knudson wrote the series that won his first Pulitzer. I was there when our coverage of the 1980 and 1984 Iowa caucuses made us an important player in national political coverage. If someone had a magic wand to turn back the clock to the early 1980s, I would be sorely tempted to wave that wand and throw over my current career with Digital First Media. It all looks so rosy through the glasses of nostalgia.

But if I waved that wand, I would have to relive the death of the Des Moines Tribune, the afternoon newspaper our company folded in 1982. And I would relive the disappointment and embarrassment that the journalists of that day did not shine the light brightly enough to prevent the savings and loan crisis that rocked the economy and cost the taxpayers more than $100 billion.

Nostalgia is fun and it’s warm, and for journalists today, it’s seductive and dangerous. (more…)

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