Sage Buttry, 100 percent correct, and years too late

Steve Buttry‘s journalism blog caused a major stir in editorial circles in the last week, even though those circles are smaller, dizzier and less relevant — victims of a 20-years-long crisis.

He deserves credit for trying to lift, cajole, influence, motivate and/or wake up that section of traditional reporters and editors he calls curmudgeons.

Because I worked for and even with some grand curmudgeons during 30 years in journalism, I offer a few unsolicited curmudgeonly views on Buttry’s blog. Most relate to comments it generated from the Luddite Legion still running too many American newsrooms and newspapers, different as each is.

He’s entirely correct and you must love his passion and his commitment to screaming loud and frequently enough to be heard — and still he’s three or four years too late.

How ironic that journalists praise him for prescience. He’s like the French colonel riding hopelessly on his black steed, saber drawn, charging at German tanks in the blitzkrieg.

The agreement and hope stemming from his blog is refreshing for anyone who reveres the First Amendment and loves newspapers. Would that he wrote this years ago. Maybe he did, but journalists as a class weren’t listening.

That some reporters and editors admit to only recently patching in to Twitter, or even not yet, screams the problem. Facebook is eight. Twitter is five. Email came into widespread use via the Internet in the early 90s, almost 20 years ago.

And yet gleeful journalists herald Buttry’s urgings to embrace social media now, while proclaiming their optimism for the institution of newsgathering?

I’m no pioneer, at the same age as Sage Buttry. I have almost equal years working for the AP and two newspapers and occasionally teaching at the American Press Institute, as he did.

But having left the rigid confines of newspapers almost six years ago, as many of my mentors did before me, for public affairs work, I can certainly testify that more journalists need to raise their heads above their foxholes. Now.

You’re already too late. But go for it. These methods of communication are not experiments you need to analyze and deem worthy or not. The internet is the highway and social media is the internal combustion engine. Get down off your high horse and throw away your buggy whip.

If you truly want to embrace communications in ways that will help you survive this crisis and thrive, cut most of your story lengths by 80 percent — write 10 four-inch stories a day instead of one 40-incher; use more Instagram and less Kodak; don’t tell us the news, let us share the news with you — while you honestly act like you appreciate it.

Buttry’s right — 100 percent on the mark. But he gives journalists castor oil in an MRI world; he coaches them on a chalkboard while the competition reviews high-definition digital video; he urges them to the Titanic’s lifeboats when he knows only a few will find seats.

Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram, a few weeks after the once-mighty Philadelphia newspapers — the Inquirer and the Daily News, worth $600 million in 2006 — sold for $55 million.

Someone with passion had to say it. Buttry did. God love him. Will you survive? Will you journalists save thyselves?


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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2 Responses to Sage Buttry, 100 percent correct, and years too late

  1. Steve Buttry says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Steve, and for the vivid image of me on my steed, charging into the tanks. I was pushing for digital innovation in newsrooms in the 1990s, and, I could argue, even in the ’80s. So if this message was three or four years late, I think I was at least a few years early. You may be right that we don’t have enough seats in the lifeboats, but I’d like to at least fill them.

    • Steve,
      Thanks for reading it. It’s been a fun blog, slowly gaining some interest. I really appreciate your leadership on this. There are so many ostriches leading newspapers. I tried 10 years ago to get changes at the Buffalo News they’re finally getting to now. It’s ridiculous. As I’m sure you have encountered, I left after the publisher again decided the News couldn’t afford to respond in smart ways to the internet. Now of course they’re scrambling to catch up. I loved my time there, and w/AP. I was city editor, business editor, managing editor and editorial page editor. But it was time to leave when I did, before the buyouts started and while I still projected value for an advertising/PR/PA agency. It’s worked out great.
      I’m following you now on Twitter so maybe I’ll check in now and then, see how the good fight is progressing.
      Take care,

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