I was walking down the street in Minneapolis when I saw the notification on my phone. It was a direct message on Twitter.
“You around now? We should connect.”
Whatever plans I might have had were instantly postponed.
Steve Buttry wanted to connect. We ended up meeting at the hotel bar/restaurant and chatted for a bit over glasses of unsweetened iced tea. We talked about our work as faculty advisors to student media, picking each others’ brains over what worked well and what we struggled with. It was far too short a meeting — we both had busy schedules that weekend — but just being asked to connect with him was a highlight. It felt like I had arrived.
To be in the online journalism space was to know Steve Buttry. He was one of the preeminent voices in discussions about the evolution of newspaper journalism to the digital space. His blog was a must read for anyone who cared about the future of journalism. He was an advocate for experiments in media. He knew that the business model for traditional journalism had been broken for a long time, and that nostalgia was not a business model.
What inspired me the most about Buttry’s career was how he re-invented himself. He had a long and distinguished career as a print journalist and a writing coach long before this digital thing happened. I first learned about him from his writing worksheets he created to help young reporters become better at their job. This was someone who knew what it was like to grind for a story. But he saw where the puck was headed, and he started skating there.
And by doing so, he inspired a generation of journalists and educators. Including me.