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In his own words: The ever-quotable David Carr

[Photo: New York Times Media Company]
[Photo: New York Times Media Company]
New York Times media columnist David Carr died last week. His sudden passing on Thursday was a severe shock to the journalism industry, coming toward the end of a week that had seen punch after punch land on the gut of the news institution — some injuries in which Carr, himself, lent his talent to help the public understand and digest.

Judging by the voluminous tweets, comments and memorial posts that flew around the Internet in the hours — and now, days — since his death, it was easy to see that Carr spent the greater part of his career doing just that: Helping the public make sense of the fascinating, egotistical, wonderful, narcissistic, much-revered, sometimes-loathed, public-serving, self-serving industry called journalism. His part-perspective, part-advice sometimes came through in his Monday media column. Sometimes it came through in a phone call. Sometimes in a tweet.

On January 2013, it came in the form of a “ask-me-anything,” a two-way conversation in which a person opens themselves up to interrogation from Reddit’s million of users with absolutely no foreknowledge of what will be thrown one’s way. Carr handled the questions — from the mundane to the silly — with his signature, unique style of honesty, wit and elegance.

The Desk has compiled a handful of the best questions and answers from Carr’s ask-me-anything below (lightly edited for clarity):

On his best story

“The story I cared most about, I didn’t write. A woman came to me when I was editor of the Washington City Paper and said that she had been gun-stalked by this maniac for years and the police would not do anything about it. We had to talk a lot before publication, because I didn’t know what this guy would do. Suffice to say it had a happy [ending].”

On how to succeed in journalism

“You have to make stuff. The tools of journalism are in your hands and no one is going to give a damn about what is on your resume, they want to see what you have made with your own little [fingers].

Can you use Final Cut Pro? Have you created an Instagram that is about something besides a picture of your cat every time she rolls over? Is HTML 5 a foreign language to you? Is your social media presence dominated by a picture of your beer bong, or is it an RSS of interesting stuff that you add insight to?

People who are doing hires will have great visibility into what you can actually do, what you care about and how you can express on any number of platforms.”

On allegations of bias against the New York Times

“We’ve done a good job of holding the president to account for using the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers…something I care a lot about, but my email is full of people who think we are in the tank for him. Ultimately, the audience has to judge whether we are biased, or as sometimes happens, over-correcting for bias.”

On opinions, validation and feedback

“I am always struck by the fact if I write something vaguely critical of Jon Stewart, I get emails written in language that makes even me blush, or if I get linked on Drudge, a whole hoard of people come over the hill trying to fill me with ack-ack.

No one really wants to talk, no one is really asking a question, they are just telling me what a worthless idiot I am before moving on to the next drive-by.”

On the economics of new media

“We are living in a time when more and more news organization are turning toward their audiences and looking for money. BuzzFeed, which I read and enjoy, is in a building phase and will do their best to build out quickly. Think it is amazing to think that less than a year after Ben Smith went and started turning it into a news org, the New York Times partnered with them on the elections.

It’s freaky when you think about it. It used to take five years and $50 million to build out a news brand, Arianna did it in far less time than that and now BuzzFeed seemed to do it in no time.”

On Vice News

“There is a constant battle at Vice between hype and performance. They are part of a new, post-agency world, going direct with consumers. Sometime their stuff is amazing and sometimes it is a mess. I’m glad they exist and am looking forward to seeing how big of deal they are in the end.”

On News Corporation

“I think of News Corporation as very talented entertainment and media organization that will use whatever sort of leverage that they can. They are like a pirate ship that comes to whatever port they are in, surveys the landscape and then gets to work. In the instance of the UK, they changed the game and used the leverage of information to keep government at bay and fearful.”

On drug addiction, alcoholism, rehabilitation and sobriety

“I watched the Globes last night, an event that I used to cover, and watched people enjoy some adult beverages. I am very pro-alcohol, but I just tend to end up in handcuffs when I used. I have more fun — way more fun — when I don’t drink or do drugs. In the times I have used, it was never baked into my work life. If I am going to really go there, it ain’t going to be with some flacks for a big magazine company.

That said, I was looking at my best clips lately and you can’t really tell which were written drunk or sober. There is no correlation. The muse comes when it does and it can’t be beckoned by a six-pack or something you stick up your nose.”

On Aaron Swartz

“I did not know Aaron Swartz, but like many others, wonder about the values of a culture that chooses to prosecute him for alleged informational crimes while bankers implicated in massive frauds against the public still frolic. Given that I am doing an AMA on Reddit and rely on RSS every day, I’m struck by the fact that in some respects, it’s Aaron’s world and I’m just typing into it.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).