In the tiny, navel-gazing world of media coverage about media, David Carr is a rock star: As the media columnist and culture writer for The New York Times, he was unlikely on-screen catnip for viewers of the 2011 documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times . He now has more than than 380,000 followers on Twitter. When the Canadian Journalism Foundation announced that Carr would appear in Toronto on Thursday evening for a discussion with the CBC’s Michael Enright, the event sold out within minutes. He recently spoke with The Globe and Mail. This is a longer version of the Q&A published in the Globe’s Thursday print edition.
Is now a good time to talk?
Sure. Could you fix my iTunes while we’re at it? I have a magazine story due, and suddenly my iTunes and my lawn – everything needs attention except what I have to do.
When is that due?
It’s due on Friday, it’s 3,500 words, there’s two books involved, a record – and a big long interview and – yeah, I’m a little intimidated, to be honest. I did an Arts & Leisure story this week, so at least I’m into stepping up to it – I get so habituated to Twitter and the column, that thinking a long thought is just very daunting to me. I mean it. Anyways. What are we doing today?
Talking about you.
You know, historically, when I came to the Times, which is 10 years ago, the thing was to blend in, not stick out. I worked really hard on that. Then, probably because I cover the media, I started to stick out, and that’s well and good, but it’s really important to remember that – whatever minor Web famousity that I have, it’s because of this Venn diagram intersect between me and a large institution, and that’s where the power comes from. If my name was David Schmeckler and not David “New York Times,” I don’t think people would care all that much what I had to say.
That depends on whether David Schmeckler would have the same access and do the same work. But you’re suggesting it’s the platform and not the content that’s made you who you are …?
I think when you work for the Times, you should never get confused about why an event sells out, or why people race to pick up your phone calls. Certain people have left that gravitational pull – like Frank Rich is Frank Rich, no matter where he is. But in general – we may have our own lustre, but we get the actual voltage from being attached to The New York Times.
Okay, we’ll get to that, but first a non-media question. You tweeted recently about the Canadian singer Kathleen Edwards. When did you become a fan?
Um, I think it leaked into my life through hockey. I don’t play hockey, but I covered hockey, I worked for the Minnesota North Stars. I worked for Norm Greene. I did the game program for the Minnesota North Stars and worked for Bob Gainey and Bobby Clarke. I’m absolutely terrified of Bobby Clarke. One time when I screwed something up in the game program, I went in to see him, and he hadn’t put his teeth in – it was like – Oh my God, I don’t know if I’m leaving this office alive, or not.
I don’t think you included that story in your book (Night of the Gun).
Yeah, that was when I was getting back into journalism, that was a really important gig for me, I didn’t really know or understand hockey, I thought it was sort of boring. And the guy who hired me took me to the press box, where you’re sort of up really high, and explained to me how goals take a long time to score and how if you can notice the rink tilting, much as you do in soccer, that the underlying narrative of the game becomes apparent. I was a skier, not a skater when I grew up, so I didn’t know a lot about the game of hockey. But I enjoyed very much my time in hockey, and I was a newly single parent at the time, so work was just super-important to me. I put out their game program, and it was mostly standing elements that I would refresh with new elements for each home game.
And Kathleen Edwards came in – how?
Um – Maybe because he’s a fan of Marty McSorley and so am I? There was a song that name-checked Marty McSorley. Upon listening I thought, Who the heck is this? She is amaaaazing. And she is.
So we have to talk about journalism. It occurred to me that when I interviewed you back in ’08, you scoffed about Twitter – and so did I. But you’ve really come around. What changed?