The truth hurts. Just ask Bucky Gleason. Two years after leaving his job as a Buffalo News sports columnist, he remains attuned to the wobbling foundations of journalism. In a lengthy interview with WBFO, Gleason raised important questions about what we read and why we read it.
“The crime in this isn’t what’s in the newspaper or what’s on tv or what’s on the radio. What you’re missing is what’s NOT. That’s the problem,” Gleason said.
“It’s what’s not in the paper. What’s not being mentioned on tv. What’s not being mentioned on radio. That to me is the greater crime.”
Other than a joke about being able to name the starting lineup of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds (“Bench,” “Perez,” “Concepcion....”), very few moments of our 30-minute interview touched on sports. Instead, Gleason aired concerns and insight into journalism.
In recent years, he said blogs, twitter and other forms of social media began to clog up sports coverage. These “voices,” many of which were anonymous, “became greater exponentially in terms of numbers.”
”People didn’t understand the difference between all of the voices that were out there.”
With professional stops at the Associated Press and the Olean Times Herald, Gleason has 30 years in journalism, 22 of those with the Buffalo News. The internet, of course, changed the business model for many newspapers. In recent years, he says decisions on coverage were based on how often readers “clicked” on an internet story. He sees it as a slippery slope.
“The more clicks you get the easier it is to sell advertising. Right? That’s basically what advertising was sold on,” Gleason said.
“The more you do that, the more you get away from real journalism.”
“The real journalism to me was telling the truth. It was identifying problems. It was putting things in perspective.”
“I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that technology ruined newspapers. It didn’t ruin them all,” said Gleason, pointing to the Washington Post and the New York Times as gleaming examples.
“And I don’t want to get into a Liberal conversation here. That’s not what it’s about. They just continue to go about it the right way.”
Growing up in Hamburg, sports were very much at the center of life for Gleason and his close friends. There wasn’t a game they didn’t want to play. There wasn’t a shot he wouldn’t take. That passion and an interest in writing sent him on the road to sportswriting and what many fans would see as the dream job: a sports columnist at his hometown newspaper.
He’s walked away from that, “with no regrets.” Now, part of the internal communications team at Catholic Health, Gleason seems more than at peace. He’s thrilled.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he says, knowing most fans wouldn’t believe it could be more enjoyable than covering sports. Lots of the credit goes to his new co-workers.
“I trust everybody there. That’s a bit of a shift, quite frankly, from what I’ve done in the past. It’s kind of hard when you’re covering teams and you’re being lied to.”
Part of his job at Catholic Health is to act as a sort of interpreter for what he calls “an incubator for tech brainiacs.” Technology-savvy workers are developing programming that he says will help patients. It’s his job to make sure the rest of the world understands.
“My job is to put what they’re doing into English.”
The advice to students seeking to follow in his path to a career in sportswriting: Don’t do it!
When he started out, Gleason says newspapers enjoyed special credibility and embraced a high-minded mission.
“Newspapers back then, they would drive the news. They understood it was their job to determine what was important,” Gleason said.
“Now, I think that is backwards. I think that the consumers are saying, here’s what we want to read and newspapers are listening to it. And, again, when you do that, and you’re making those decisions based on money, I think that you’ve been compromised.”
He exited the Buffalo News as other notable bylines were disappearing. Bob DiCesare. Tim Graham. John Vogl. He remains especially annoyed by the bitter departure of his fellow columnist, Jerry Sullivan.
“To me, I didn’t understand how removing Jerry Sullivan from his position (as a columnist) was going to help the Buffalo News. I didn’t get that at all. I had a pretty good idea of who the most-read people that were there and he was certainly one of them,” said Gleason.
While that was part of his final tumultuous months at the Buffalo News, Gleason admits he had been considering career options in recent years. As a good columnist, he left readers wanting more. For the columnist, though, he doesn’t feel that way.
“I tried to never take it for granted because I always thought this is going to end at some point, probably before I’m ready to retire,” Gleason recalled.
“I saw the shifts in the industry unfold and that reality became more and more clear and you have to come to grips with that. And I did.”