Drugs to digital

David Carr (Carlos Gonzalez/Submitted)
David Carr (Carlos Gonzalez/Submitted)

This year’s Dalton Camp lecturer knows about cutting through the noise. New York Times columnist David Carr worked through a decade-long cocaine addiction, an affliction that endlessly screams “more,” in the same way he tunes out the endless drone of social media despite being immersed in it – with hard work.

“I’ve always been a hard worker, high or sober. Nobody would accuse me of excessive brilliance, but I’m a worker. I’m an earner. It’s eight o’clock at night, I left work, I’m going home to do more work and when I get up I’ll work,” Carr said.

He visits St. Thomas on Thursday to present his lecture on the future of news in the Internet age, which will be aired by CBC-Radio’s Ideas. One development he’ll discuss is new synergies for quality journalism coming from Silicon Valley, in San Francisco Bay area.

In October, eBay founder Pierre M. Omidyar invested $250 million in an online news endeavour featuring spy gate news-breaker Glenn Greenwald. Two months earlier, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos spent the same to purchase the Washington Post.

These aren’t the only big investments coming from tech leaders, who Carr believes could have new ideas to help quality reporting reach a bigger audience.

“We’re going to live in a blended age where old forms of media will be acting like new media, and new media will be adapting some of the views of old media,” Carr said. “I think there’s a lot of new possibilities, new ways of story-telling. I wouldn’t mind getting started right now, I can tell you that.”

Carr got his start in his home state of Minnesota, graduating from the University of Minnesota with majors in psychology and journalism. From there he began writing for the now-defunct Twin Cities Reader.

Not long into his tenure at the alternative weekly, his desire for drugs and alcohol got the best of him.

“I ended up sort of washing out of journalism for a while,” he told Aaron Sorkin of Interview Magazine.

He did more than just dabble with cocaine. In his 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun, he describes being paranoid and alone in a Minneapolis home, running on a frantic 15-minute cycle of anxious, energetic boredom. The loop reset every time by taking a hit and peaking through the blinds for police officers he thought would come take him away.

“I’d like to think I’m a better writer than I was back when I was young and drug addled, but I don’t think that’s always true. I think I did important work at the time. I tend to not blow deadlines as much as I used to and I don’t spend $300 for drugs while writing a story that I get paid $100 for. So, it’s a better business model now, I would say,” Carr said.

Carr got clean in 1991 at the request of his editor at Corporate Report, and by 1993 he was the editor of the sister publication, Twin Cities Reader. He held the job until 1995.

Carr began working at the Times in 2002 covering media, business and everything in between, including a stint as The Carpetbagger, the film awards season blog. He has also written for major news magazines including the Atlantic Monthly and New York Magazine, as well as serving as editor at the alternative weekly Washington City Paper and as media reporter for Insider.com.

The future of journalism, particularly the kind that makes money, is still unforeseeable. Recent funding from technology leaders isn’t a buyout of journalism in general, he said.

Carr sees a good future for writers and publishers who can weather the storm, though he shields away from giving a vision of what the news of the future might look like.

“If you were to ask me six months ago if the Washington Post could be sold, I would say, ‘Yeah, that might-could happen.’ [If you were to ask me] ‘Do you think Jeff Bezos would buy it?’ I’d say, ‘No way. Are you crazy?’ … So, there’s still a lot up in the air.”

The business, media and culture writer offered a piece of advice to writers:

“You can’t stand pat. You have to learn all sorts of new tricks. And I’m old – I’m older than dirt. So, it isn’t like the times changed in that way. Journalism has always been brutal to get into it. The whole story about ‘oh you should have been here 15 years ago, everything was gravy,’ well that’s bullshit.”

David Carr will give the Dalton Camp Lecture “The Next Big Thing Has Finally Arrived” at the Kinsella Auditorium Thursday at 8 p.m.

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