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Gilly Day

gilley.thumbnail.jpgSteve Gilliard passed away June 2, 2007, one year ago today. The blogosphere mourned. Friends and family laid Steve to rest. And life moved on. Except of course, it’s never that simple. How do you move on when you’ve lost your mentor, your friend, part of your own heart?

You do. You breathe. You breathe some more. And you get on with it. We got on with it. July 1, 2007, Group News Blog welcomed readers home with its first post. We’re not Steve or The News Blog, and don’t try to be. We’re us. Off and on people play “Steve Would Have…” with us. We know they’re really saying how much they miss Steve.

Sara Robinson, on our masthead as well as at Orcinus and who also blogs at Campaign for America’s Future, reports on one of our early decisions — now just how we do things –made during the 2007 Orcinus fundraiser before we’d even imagined GNB:

Thanks to Jesse for the kind words and support. They brought back a fond memory of last year’s fundraiser, which took place not very long after Steve went into the hospital.

The News Blog community was already scrambling to organize itself to support Steve and his family in any way we could; and those of us who’d stepped up to keep the place running were busily directing a tidal wave of outpouring concern and generosity. Blog fundraisers bloom like daffodils this time of year; but amid all this, a few folks felt understandably touchy about asking readers to divert attention from the main cause.

The debate on how we were going to handle the Orcinus fundraiser (which even then had a family tie, so I largely stayed out of it) and, by extension, other similar occasions in the future went back and forth for a couple days. Finally, Jen stepped up and put an end to it. "Steve wouldn’t hesitate to do this," she said (not in those exact words, but in pretty much that tone). "Supporting our friends is what he’d want us to do. So we’re doing it." Since she was still the Goddess-in-Charge, it was done.

It was sweet and bold — and one of the first occasions that "What Would Steve Do?" was applied as the cardinal guideline for shared decision-making. By now, it’s become so ingrained in us that we just sort of reflexively go there whenever there’s a question of policy or attitude. But it’s nice to look back from a year’s distance, and remember where that came from.

Steve believed in new media, in the intersection of the Internet and journalism. While most people think of Gilly as a blogger and appreciate him for his bold, unmistakable blogging style, I never forgot that he had studied journalism and history at New York University, and that the name of his blog was The NEWS Blog. Steve was, yes, a blogger, but first and foremost, he was a journalist, holding to journalistic standards, from Off The Record, to what is news worthy and what isn’t.

Lower Manhattanite, put it this way on Steve’s birthday last November:

Every day, and with every post, we—Jesse, Hubris, Sara and myself put up here—we think of Steve. And I suppose it would be quite the understatement to say aloud that we miss him. Terribly. Some of us knew him better than others, like Jen, for whom this day brings its own particular sort of memories of a friend, and yes…heartache. But it’s a heartache we all—“the regulars”, and the occasional “dip-in-ers” are well acquainted with in varying degrees as we ruminate on what was, and what might have been with the big fella.

The thing that helps me get through it all is focusing on what Steve would have wanted me…and us to focus on—namely, the dedication to doing this work and to doing it well. Back in the day, when I’d check in at The News Blog, I’d find myself simply astonished at the quality, passion and breadth of coverage that Steve managed to blast out there every single day. Just astonished! And as I read the pieces and laughed along at the crazily inspired accompanying photo choices, it didn’t take long for it to dawn on me that here was someone who was flat-out enjoying what he did.

I want to celebrate the fella who managed to get me where I am with you now. A lot of folks would ask me “Hey! When you gonna get your own blog, man?”, after a particular comment at TNB. Steve never pushed me. He let me putter along, saying this n’ that, here and there downtown in Haloscanville, and sometimes bringing one of my—or anybody’s he felt should be seen by more—comments up to the front page. We were in effect, all wood-shedding together—unwittingly developing the muscle to write every day about issues, while soaking up all of the good from reading an undeniable master at it.

That’s what an influence does.

And then, one day…they depart. They go where they go, and there you are. What do you do? With all you’ve absorbed? The turbine they helped fire up—now full to bursting with sparks and vibrating with energy—what do you do with all of that?

You do the thing you thought you couldn’t. Because of time, or priorities or all of the myriad of things that keep us in a “safe space” but often hold us back from maximizing our full potential.

You go for it yourself.

There was only one Steve Gilliard. He posted every day. He never took a vacation. He worked, with Jen’s help, pretty much around the clock for years. His poor health and never taking a real break, killed him.

We are the beginning of Steve Gilliard’s legacy. Gilly’s community remains intact. While not everyone stayed, everyone had the opportunity. We have four masthead bloggers and two guest bloggers. People take time off as needed. Our writers post from Tokyo, New York City, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC., in both short and long-form.

At Netroots Nation in Austin this July, we are awarding the Steve Gilliard Grant for Political Journalism to a blogger who strives for and achieves excellence in journalistic/news blogging.

This past Thursday I received word GNB has been awarded credentials by the Democratic National Convention Committee to the convention in Denver this August, one of roughly 120 blogs accredited. As Steve Gilliard was one of roughly 30 blogs credentialed for the 2004 convention in Boston, we’ve truly come full circle.

In less than a year.

Each of our writers has blossomed this past year. Hubris Sonic is the backbone of our election coverage, writing with passion and heat; his commentary has been seen everywhere from Olberman to Juan Cole. Lower Manhattanite is a brilliant long-form writer, whose essays frequently lead the pack by days to weeks. Sara Robinson has so many invitations to write, GNB now only gets her perhaps once or twice a month. She is a brilliant futurist whose work is taken seriously at the highest levels. And I’m learning to grow and develop writers, communities and the space they work in, such that people are nurtured and consistently have the opportunity to grow and move on to larger possibilities — their successes are my successes. (I haven’t even mentioned our great Guest Bloggers, The Littlest Gator and Evan Robinson.)

GNB is only a small part, frankly, of Steve’s legacy. And we’re only at our beginning. After the election, in addition to my work publishing GNB, I intend to work (probably as a separate start-up) on what Steve and I used to kick around. "What is news?" he’d say. "What do you get with just the Internet and a reporter?" It’s totally old school. The purest form of journalism would be a reporter, an editor, and a hand-set press. Set up your own newspaper and say any damn thing you wanted. Steve and I had that conversation repeatedly — except that today, we said, instead of a hand-set press, it’s the Internet and publishing software. Put a reporter in a small community, say of 50,000. Tell the reporter to cover everything, from kittens up a tree to fires, town counsel meetings to high school soccer. Report on everything, throw it all up there; someone wants to know. Put in a section for people in the community to talk with each other, even to load up their own stories if they wish. Have your reporter in addition to the written stuff, do video reports and shoot lots of photos. Now you have a new kind of modern newspaper, able to cut the legs out from under the bricks and mortar newspapers which are struggling inside a dying business model. This is what I think I want to try next, after the election.

And GNB’s staff and I are not the only ones having breakthroughs in effectiveness and creativity. GNB’s readers write in constantly. Over the last year many of Steve’s regulars somehow — and they’re usually not quite certain how it happened — have become creative forces in their own rights. Many have returned to writing: poetry, novels, blogging, recipes, the screenplay they always wanted to do. Some people have returned to cooking; Steve loved food and used The News Blog to bring us lessons on how to pick a great knife, setting up your kitchen, beer can chicken, Steve’s famous Bread Pudding, and other great recipes. Some have returned to music, painting, photography, and other artistic ventures. Others are in politics, from advocacy blogging to running for office. Most everyone is doing something. And this is just the people of whom I know.

How Steve’s family are doing I don’t know — Mrs. Gilliard, his sisters, his nephews and his niece… everyone was changed by Steve’s life, and by his death. What I am sure of is, in the midst of the pain of our loss which remains even today, Steve is present in all of our lives.

We are all Steve Gilliard’s legacy. And we are in action.

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Jesse Wendel

Jesse Wendel

Jesse Wendel, publisher of Group News Blog, and a retired flight & field paramedic, has almost thirty years experience in Information Technology. A writer/director, he is producing "What's Your Pattern?", a documentary asking "why do people date the same types over and over again?" Father of four, he lives near Seattle and road bicycles with his kids.