Clippings: Carr’s death a loss to journalism
David Carr died last week. He was not well known outside of the journalism community, perhaps only by people who read his media column in The New York Times, but within the field he was revered as a staunch defender of the way journalism used to be practiced.
Carr embodied the tropes of an old-school journalist, right down to the stereotype of the chain-smoking, profane, no-time-for-bullshit newspaperman. That was and is a caricature, but wrapped within it is a dedication to the craft that Carr refused to let go of in the 21st century.
But while a reporter joked that Carr came across as a curmudgeon whose “first tweet was done with a gun to his head,” Carr acknowledged that journalism is and has always been an evolving machine, and he embraced this change.
He taught us that being a good reporter and adapting to a 21st-century audience are not mutually exclusive notions; that sticking to the tenets of the craft was still possible in the world of 140-character posts. In his syllabus for his journalism class at Boston University last semester, he encouraged students to look beyond print to other mediums.
He celebrated journalism while being one of its most critical voices. As a media columnist he famously defended his Times colleagues after Vice magazine executives criticized the paper. He wasn’t afraid to acknowledge where reporters had failed — in November he admonished members of the media, himself included, for failing to investigate rumors of Bill Cosby’s sexual improprieties for decades, because the comedian was so beloved.
But is there room for reporters like David Carr today, who are both unafraid to protect the traditions of journalism and adapt to the changing media landscape?
In many newsrooms across the country, reporters are no longer just that. They’re editors and copy staff and photographers and social media mavens and, tragically, liaisons to advertisers. Each one of those added responsibilities dilutes the quality of reporting. Sometimes I think we exist in a microcosm here at the Addison Independent, where reporters report and editors edit. When did that become the exception?
Newspapers may cease to exist as we know them, but journalism is not dying. I acknowledge that I have a horse in the race here, but I refuse to believe that the craft is on its way out. The reason for that is because no matter the manner in which we ingest news, what remains is the story, the narrative that compels us to read in the first place. No measure of automation or outsourcing can replace that. Readers will always crave, and deserve, a good story.
But I do worry that in newsrooms across the country, we’re losing champions like David Carr. It seems that newspapers are jettisoning their most experienced (read: expensive) reporters as unnecessary ballast. But it’s not just a cherished byline that newspapers lose when they do so, it’s the institutional memory that has fostered trust with readers.
Almost anyone can string 20 sentences together and outline the who/what/where/when/why of a story. But becoming a good reporter takes years of practice. You can’t learn it from a book or even from an academic program — only by writing story after story and learning something new each time. Experienced journalists as mentors are invaluable in that process, and leaving fresh-out-of-j-school reporters to fend for themselves (as is the case at some of the nation’s larger newspapers) is no way to run a newspaper. Thankfully, that isn’t the case at the Independent, and in the 18 months I’ve been here, I’ve gleaned countless bits of knowledge from John, John, Angelo and Andy.
I can’t say that David Carr inspired me to be a journalist, but he certainly confirmed my belief that my entry into this endlessly frustrating, poorly paid, exhausting-if-done-correctly endeavor was the right move. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
I am afforded the luxury of this rosy outlook by the virtue of being a 24-year-old who has never been laid off or faced or otherwise endured failure. I hope that this dedication to the craft and optimism in the future shared by many young journalists not yet drowning in cynicism would have impressed Carr. I don’t think he would have accepted the offer to lecture on journalism at Boston University if he didn’t have some faith in us.
I hope there are other David Carrs among us, and I hope his work continues to encourage college graduates to become reporters. It is, as H.L. Mencken confessed and I’m sure Carr would agree, “the life of kings.”
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