An open letter to David Carr

8 November 2007

Dear David:

People reading this will assume it’s directed to the debonair NFL quarterback, so let me make it clear that I mean you—the craggy columnist who covers print, digital, film, radio, and television for the New York Times and formerly contributed to the Atlantic Monthly. I probably have a thing about the archaic appendage “Monthly” and may be predisposed to give any publication whose title bears it unwarranted credibility, which tells you I’m getting up in years.

You, David, are ultimately responsible for the existence of this blog. Your cleverly optimistic March ‘07 article “All the world’s a story” enticed me to experiment with the new-new-new-make-up-the-rules-as-you-go citizen journalism. Thinking I was ruthless enough for it, I signed on, got a story to write, and quickly learned I was expected to blog in tandem with reporting. Dutifully, I jumped in and dog-paddled against the current, posting regularly until an editor decided hints at his shortcomings weren’t what he meant by transparency. Shucks. I quickly submitted my story for the killfile, ended my stint as a volunteer member of the press, and moved my blog from my editor’s domain to my own, looking back long enough to see what my newfound network of disgruntled but endearing colleagues did to wrap up their stories.

I see you’ve been reading your own columns, because suddenly you’ve leapt from the page and landed in front of a video camera to cover the writers’ strike in the streets of New York. I was pleased to see a real journalist before the camera and would have complimented you via email, but the New York Times posted the link to your address in such small text that I couldn’t see it.

Last spring, in a speech presented to a Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, you reportedly said, “There are flowers blooming all around but it’s the oak trees that people look to.” If this video gig doesn’t pan out, maybe you can try your hand at haiku.

Wisdom, and experience in the field, should count for something (like a dollar a word), but—yowza!—some of these youngsters are bright and hungry. The redeployment of writers, as old media shifts to digital, is energizing, at least for those who aren’t wandering off in a daze. It’s good to keep in mind that the migration is occurring in slow motion from the perspective of consumers, who’ve been standing by for a decade.

Many writers don’t see change as inevitable, and some aren’t as dauntless as you, David. I was delighted by your video coverage of the screenwriters and employees of television and radio news outlets who, as members of the Writers Guild of America East, are currently on strike, though it might have betrayed a subtle lack of objectivity when you noted, “The chants are a little wittier than the average union protest, because after all these guys are writers.” The outcome of the strike will affect the entire writing profession by example.

Journalism is invigorated by pros like you who are willing to bypass the makeup chair and hit the streets, where stories are waiting to be told. The only way to be a gonzo writer is to live recklessly.

I’m having a great time schlepping around the blogosphere, where for a few more minutes everyone’s still learning and we’re all reduced to treading water. It won’t stay that way for long.

Behind us are ashes that once were oaks, David, but just over the next hill…

uh, is that shadowy figure in BDUs stumbling through the rubble, camouflaged by the distant smoke of the strikers’ bonfires… William Langewiesche?

And is that an intern holding his glass of champagne for him?!

With fond regards,


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