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The FishbowlDC Interview With TBD’s Steve Buttry

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steve_buttry.jpg Steve Buttry has always had unusual titles. His current title is no exception – he’s TBD’s Director of Community Engagement. What is that? He explains, “I’m in charge of making TBD part of the community conversation. Whether in community blogs, on our site or in social media, we want to stimulate and contribute to the conversation. Yes, I like the title. I chose it.” At the American Press Institute he was “Director of Tailored Programs” (he went on the road and did trainings). He was “Editor and Innovation Coach” at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, where he worked most recently before he left Iowa for Washington.

Buttry grew up a military brat. He was born at Sampson Air Force Base in western New York. He lived at the northern tip of Japan when his father was stationed at a spy base. In England he learned to read. In Shenandoah, Iowa, he graduated high school. Sunset, Utah – five years. Ohio – three years. Florida. No memory.

Buttry first met TBD GM Jim Brady on Twitter. They steadily followed each other and eventually exchanged direct messages. Buttry said he wanted on board TBD. It just so happened, the two men were on a panel together in Columbia, Mo. The job interview happened in a hotel bar. And so it was meant to be – Brady hired him.

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? A Corona. I used to drink a lot of Diet Coke. The doctor said it was bad for me, in fact, worse. I’ve sworn off sodas but not beer.

How often do you Google yourself? I’ve got a Google alert set up, so everyday. I have ego Google – there’s actually a term for that.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? ‘We no longer have a job for you.’ I’ve said that to 14 people. They were good journalists. It broke my heart.

Who is your favorite working journalist? Colleen Kenney, Lincoln Journal Star, maybe the best feature writer in the business.

Do you have a favorite word? Possible.

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Michelle Obama. She’s a more interesting person and a more honest person. I would enjoy conversing with her more. I’d love to interview Sarah Palin, but that doesn’t mean dining with her. She’s shallow. Egocentric.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? When my wife calls, it’s Mimi’s theme from “La Boheme.” Otherwise default for iPhone.

When did you last cry and why? In April I was visiting my mother who has Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s is doing to her what Alzheimer’s does. We had some difficult private moments that brought tears.

What word do you routinely misspell? I don’t. I’m actually a pretty good speller. I look up words. I know how to spell.

What swear word do you use most often? Probably f–king as an adjective. More than as a verb.

What word or phrase do you overuse? Probably f–king.

Note to Readers: Today we’re running a special Tuesday edition of the FishbowlDC Interview since we scrapped the feature just for the day this past Friday. In this interview you will noticed one new question at the end. We are asking readers to come up with a question for the next FishbowlDC interviewee. Buttry wasn’t too hard on our next victim, but we trust it’s going to get hairy as things move along. Look for our next FishbowlDC Interview on our regularly scheduled day – Friday.

Read more Buttry after the jump…


What TV show do you have to watch? The Daily Show.
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Where do you shop most often for your clothes? Wherever my wife takes me to shop. She’s my fashion consultant. The one time I remember that we shopped was at an outlet in Leesburg.

Whom do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Ellen, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? I have never watched any of those shows all the way through. I don’t have a preference.

Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? Letterman.

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? One who knows how to build a raft. I would say Obama. He’s a face who came from nowhere and made history. At the same time, if he can’t build a raft he is someone who can converse. I’d want to piss him off. I’d want to see him pissed off. He’d kick my ass in a hurry, I’m sure.

Who is your mentor? David Witke, managing editor of the Des Moines Register. I started to work there in 1977. He remains a friend to this day and has been a frequent sounding board as it pertains to my career.

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? Give Twitter a try.

What and where was your first job in journalism? It was 1971. I started as a senior in high school for the local Evening Sentinel in Shenandoah as a sports writer covering high school sports.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? When I learned that an obit I had written and edited for the Des Moines Register was someone who was still alive. We ran a correction. I was afraid they’d fire me, but they didn’t. He was a crazy person who called in his own obit. He had all the facts right except one – that he was alive.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? Crystal Gayle. It was my fault more than hers. She was a star of a rodeo in Iowa. She was on her way up. I didn’t prepare very well because I thought I could wing any interview. She was a very shy person and she gave me one syllable answers. I just did a horrible, horrible interview and learned a valuable lesson about preparation.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? I broke several stories relating to sexual abuse by priests, including at least one priest who was removed from the ministry because of my reporting and another case where I documented instances when families reported abuse to the Archdiocese and the Archdiocese just moved him to another jurisdiction without reporting to cops. This was in the Archdiocese of Omaha, and I was working for the Omaha World-Herald.

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? Probably at some Jon Stewart thing. I just don’t get tears in my eyes often.

When and why did you last lose your temper? I hold my temper pretty well. It was probably on the basketball court 5-10 years ago. If losing your temper is based on shouting, I don’t lose my temper.

Which movie title best describes your journalism career? “The Flight of the Phoenix.”

Who would you want to play you in a movie? George Clooney. People would think I looked like him.

Name some jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Pumping gas; paper route; delivering ice; hotel reservation center; shoveling snow.

Come up with a question you’d like our next FishbowlDC interviewee to answer. Make it good, please. What’s your worst professional screw-up?

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