Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mining the David Carr interview with Kathy English, Toronto Star

Carr, 56, is also a recovered crack addict. His 2008 memoir The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life is a powerful and harrowing account of his days as an addict and his struggle to go straight. On reading it, it is difficult to square that guy in the book with this prophet of journalism.


In response to Enright’s questioning about this disconnect, Carr admits that his “woundedness” may well make him a better journalist. Certainly, it would seem to make him a better human being.
Recently, he met for coffee with Jayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter who disgraced himself and the Times with extensive fabrication and plagiarism in his work. Some Times folks wondered why Carr would bother with Blair.
“He did some terrible things but who I am to judge. Aren’t I the one who believes in redemption?”
Carr downplays this notion of being some sort of high priest of journalism, telling me that what he’s doing is “a meta activity — I’m writing about people writing about people, writing about people.”
And he stressed: “I don’t want to be seen as the church lady on journalism issues, pointing my finger at others.” (From Kathy English's piece on David Carr, of the New York Times, in Toronto Star, September 21, 2012, below)
It is from the mouth of the most unlikely sources that the most clear and "mineable" waters flow. While speaking of "journalism" to another "journalist," Mr. Carr discloses some very powerful and moving details and reflections well worth pondering.
A recovered crack addict, now a 'guru' in one of the most prominent, and exemplary news outlets in the world, New York Times... 'a better journalist for his woundedness'? Undoubtedly!
It is through the darknesses that real lasting light comes. And only through that darkness! Library shelves are filled with books whose titles celebrate the 'dark night of the soul'...(one even bears that title); there is a dark tunnel in each of our lives waiting to be discovered, if only we will summon the courage to dive into its recesses. Trouble is, most of us will do almost anything to avoid the descent.
Industries, empires... political, corporate, academic and even religious...are built  protecting individuals, families, villages, cities and institutions from that inevitable, yet avoided, shunned and "hellish" descent. And along with that avoidance comes the also inevitable "shame" attached to anyone who has descended, often ruining the public life of that individual forever.
Prisons are filled with people whose lives have turned "dark"...
"Is Ontario more exposed to organized crime than Quebec?" ...
"Did Jesus have a wife?" (And/or a secret sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene?)...
"Teacher innocent but guilty of bad judgement is ruined"...
"Did one brother murder his brother and sister-in-law before suiciding on highway?"...
These are just some of the headlines in today's press clippings, demonstrating our voracious appetite for the 'dark night' stories of OTHERS! We are desperate to be voyeurs into THEIR troubles, so that we can point to those stories and sigh smugly, "I do not live like they do/did/, thank God!"
Teenagers lives, insofar as they constitute a very narrow circle, can and often are 'ruined' by the social media gossip from their frequently (usually, always?) jealous peers. And the question for the 'system' is, "How to help them cope with reality of the malice of others?
Politicians score points of "public acceptance" on the backs of character assassinations of their opponents, and the most virulent attacks are too often the ones that "stick" to those opponents, destroying the public's approval of them.
So it is not that 'dark nights' will not find us; they will!
It is how we, both individually and collectively, frame our universe around our perceptions of those dark nights.
In his unlikely recounting of his meeting with "ruined" journalist, Jayson Blair, Carr makes his most memorable statement. "He did some terrible things but who am I to judge? Aren't I the one who believes in redemption?"
Theoretic postulation: Only those whose dark nights have humbled them truly and fully believe in redemption.
Clearly, the above statement is open to debate. However, one has to wonder just when "redemption" died, was buried and left in an unknown, unvisited grave.
Which of our most celebrated writers, readers, leaders, role models etc. has the courage to announce to the world, both his/her dark nights and the concomitant belief in redemption for others?
And then to proclaim,"I do not want to be seen as the church lady on journalism issues pointing my finger at others!" Carr has just summarized the archetypal history of the Christian church, "a lady pointing fingers at others" as if 'she' has never had a dark night, never had to be humbled and never had to truly and fully believe in 'redemption,' the cornerstone (with forgiveness) of the faith.
And the archetype is picked up in phrase like the one from William Golding's Lord of the Flies, when Piggy, in response to some of the less tasteful antics of his island brothers, utters this famous line, "What would auntie think?"
The church as:
  • "church lady pointing her fingers at others" or
  • as super-ego of Freud's nomenclature, or
  • as in Paul's frequent censure of his 'early christian fanatics' for whatever behaviours he found offensive and ungodly, or
  • as the bible-based bigotry against women, blacks, gays and lesbians,
  • or its converse, the "only true religion" claimed by some christian churches presumably in order to "captivate and control" her adherents or
  • as the only place where Christians can be found
these are just some of the hats worn by the church, voluntarily, naively and triumphally in her wanton and overt betrayal of the faith.
She has fallen into the trap of tilting toward judgement at the expense of both redemption and forgiveness, more gleaming signs of agape than judgement. She has become, too often, the prisoner of the gate-keepers, whose self-righteous hubris and hypocrisy have closed the doors of their minds and hearts to people like Carr, whose church, if there were one, would command my attention and support.
It was that same Jesus who is now "suspected" of having a body and a sexuality and a partner, and who will now be 'scorned' for that dark truth who welcomed sinners, who met with tax collectors and prostitutes, and who challenged the reigning wisdom of his day...
And in writing about people, writing about people, writing about people...Carr has shed much light on what otherwise would not be part of our Saturday morning for which we are grateful.
If only we could celebrate, generate and nourish more David Carr's not only in journalism but in every other field of human endeavour. Might be better than treaties to reduce weapons of mass destruction, or treaties for water protection, or financial contracts with First Nations people for food, housing, health care and housing, or bureaucratic decisions on environmental protection.
David Carr: High Priest of Journalism's existential angst
By Kathy English, Toronto Star, Setpember 21, 2012
David Carr did not set out to be a guru to journalists or a standard bearer for journalism.

But in reporting and reflecting since 2005 on the digital transformation of the media business, the New York Times columnist has transformed himself into a high priest of journalism’s existential angst.
Carr is the journalist other journalists must follow. Writing in his weekly Media Equation column, on the Times’ Media Decoder blog and in his numerous daily tweets to his more than 350,000 followers, he is the philospher-journalist who offers up wise words to guide us through the dark tunnel of uncertainty about journalism’s future in this time of revolutionary change in the media business.
Carr came to Toronto last week to speak to a sold-out Canadian Journalism Foundation J-Talks forum, entitled “Yes genius, the sky is falling. So now what?” (Full disclosure: I am co-chair of the CJF committee that arranged for his Toronto talk.)
A natural storyteller with a gift of the gab and a colourful turn of phrase, Carr is a character with clout. He was the star — indeed, the moral centre — of last year’s documentary, Page One: Inside The New York Times, a compelling account of the Times’ struggle to reinvent itself in the Internet age.
He contends that the “existential threat” to journalism today is that “people don’t really care where the news comes from.
“We live in an age where information will find you,” Carr told the Toronto forum, in conversation with Michael Enright, host of CBC Radio One’s The Sunday Edition.
Still, for Carr, it is not all doom. He believes we’re in the midst of a “golden age” for journalism.
“It is too bad that the Internet that destroyed our business model gives us the ability to do better journalism,” Carr told me in a telephone interview before his Toronto appearance. “All known thought is just a click away so journalism now has so much more information baked into it.
“Journalists can fact-check in real time and the people we cover have to be consistent in what they say because they now leave a long trail of bread crumbs along the way.”
Speaking in Toronto, Carr compared digital journalism and social media to a “self-cleaning oven” in which we “move toward correctness” and truth eventually emerges. This new radical transparency means journalists, too, are held to higher account. Writing recently about increasing incidents of journalists caught out for plagiarism and fabrication, Carr described the Internet as a “crowd-sourced scrutiny machine” that will root out journalists who turn to cheating as their means of meeting the need to feed “the web’s ferocious appetite for content.”
Carr understands that this media revolution has put greater pressure on journalists. Those who still have jobs are doing more and more on an endless deadline.
“The new question is: Can he or she do it. Can they crank it out on various platforms?” he said.
And as for that golden age he spoke of, Carr well understands that “it does seem kind of golden to me — right until I don’t have a job.”
Carr, who turned 56 earlier this month, has embraced all things digital. He writes, blogs, connects to multitudes through social media and does weekly video segments for the Times. But, he told the Toronto forum, “I’m really tired.
“I’ve done a good job of keeping up with a variety of skills needed but I’m not a digital native. I don’t consume and produce media at the same time.”
Carr, 56, is also a recovered crack addict. His 2008 memoir The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life is a powerful and harrowing account of his days as an addict and his struggle to go straight. On reading it, it is difficult to square that guy in the book with this prophet of journalism.
In response to Enright’s questioning about this disconnect, Carr admits that his “woundedness” may well make him a better journalist. Certainly, it would seem to make him a better human being.
Recently, he met for coffee with Jayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter who disgraced himself and the Times with extensive fabrication and plagiarism in his work. Some Times folks wondered why Carr would bother with Blair.
“He did some terrible things but who I am to judge. Aren’t I the one who believes in redemption?”
Carr downplays this notion of being some sort of high priest of journalism, telling me that what he’s doing is “a meta activity — I’m writing about people writing about people, writing about people.”
And he stressed: “I don’t want to be seen as the church lady on journalism issues, pointing my finger at others.”
Carr aims his focus at the business of media, not the future of journalism. As he wrote in a recent column, “I’ve come to understand that it doesn’t matter what I think is right and wrong, or what I think constitutes appropriate aggregation or great journalism. The market is as the market does.”
The media business is indeed Carr’s beat. But clearly, journalism is his vocation.

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