Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Steve Buttry, my journalism mentor, dies at 62

Mug shot of Steve Buttry
Steve Buttry
My condolences to the family of Steve Buttry, who died Feb. 19 of pancreatic cancer at age 62. I met Steve when I worked in the newsroom of a California newspaper; his employer, Digital First Media (DFM), provided management services for the newspaper’s parent company.

Our newsroom was transitioning to a multi-platform publishing strategy that placed an emphasis on “digital first,” and Steve came to our newsroom during a tour of member newspapers to share resources and strategies, and also to bring back with him any challenges we might face at our stage of implementing.

In a typical day, a reporter might use Twitter to “live-Tweet” from the scene of a story and use a hashtag to enable readers to pull up all Tweets in the developing storyline. Those tweets essentially served the function of what used to be a reporter’s notes jotted on a pad.

Back in the newsroom I might amplify those tweets across the newspaper’s social accounts and, when an early write-up was ready, I would post it to the newspaper’s website. This story might be updated and reposted throughout the day as additional information became available.

The integration of “digital first” was a dramatic departure from the standard newsroom routine, of reporters filing a story at their desk after returning to the newsroom. The earliest opportunity that readers might have to access the latest news might be the batch upload of a limited number of articles to the website at 12:01 a.m. For many readers, news would arrive with delivery by carrier of the morning’s newspaper in the driveway.

The “digital-first” strategy represented a paradigm shift, but Steve’s influence instilled a willingness in me to explore the new landscape. During his in-person visit, he gave us a comprehensive overview of tools and strategies available to share our communities’ stories.

He also blogged extensively about the practices and ethics of journalism, and through his blogging is where Steve and I had the bulk of our interactions. I consider “The Buttry Diary” to be a must-read for journalists in a multi-platform publishing environment. Even while exploring the emerging media landscape, it upheld core journalistic practices of accurate and ethical reporting.

Even after leaving the newsroom and going to work in a library, I continued to find value in Steve’s insights about effectively using social media.

I appreciate Steve’s contributions to what is surely a shared concern between journalists and librarians: the ability of an informed and engaged readership to distinguish “real” news, backed by informed sources and subject to rigorous editing, from opinion unsupported by evidence.

At the time of his passing, Steve was Director of Student Media at Louisiana State University. I believe the formal role of educator was an especially good fit for Steve, since his work with DFM and his pursuits as a blogger were so passionately geared toward offering guidance. LSU credited Steve with being “the nation’s top expert in using social media to communicate the news.”

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