David Carr's faith; a duet with Terry Gross

During one of my college newspaper internships, the reporter who sat next to me told me nearly every day to flee journalism to find a more stable profession. He shares plenty of angst with others in the field, many of whom were watching their colleagues drop like flies in newsroom after layoffs and buyouts. Anyone with a journalism background seems to have an opinion about the future of publishing, one that tends to be overly positive or terribly negative. In a new interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, New York Times media columnist David Carr seems to strike a nice balance between someone who sees the incredible possibilities for reporting but also see the economic realities in newsrooms. Here are some quotes from the transcript:

We are entering a golden age of journalism. I do think there has been horrible frictional costs, but I think when we look back at what has happened, I look at my backpack that is sitting here, and it contains more journalistic firepower than the entire newsroom that I walked into 30 to 40 years ago. It's connected to the cloud, I can make digital recordings of everything that I do, I can check in real time if someone is telling me the truth, I have a still camera that takes video that I can upload quickly and seamlessly.

...I think that the ability to sit at your desk and check everything against history and narrative, it's part of how newspapers ended up becoming ... daily magazines. All the analytics are baked in because the reporters are able to check stuff as they go. ... Now the business model has not kept up with that.

Those interested in the future of media might chuckle at his line about panels being the future of journalism. "The future of journalism is wearing badges and talking on panels, as far as I can tell," he says.

Carr has been pretty open about his former drug and alcohol addictions, revealing a conversation he had with former executive editor Bill Keller about his memoir. "You know what, we don't hire nuns. We have no problem with your book," Keller told him. Gross finds a way to ask him about his faith, though she prefaces it by saying "This question will probably get too personal." At about minute 28, she asks, "For a lot of people who are giving up an addiction, they're encouraged to find a higher power ... where it's a religion or something else that will function in that way. Was there such a thing for you?" Carr says he's in the middle of a struggle with religion.

I'm a churchgoing Catholic, and I do that as a matter of, it's good to stand with my family. It's good that I didn't have to come up with my own creation myth for my children. It's a wonderful ... community. It's not really where I find God. The accommodation I've reached is a very jury-rigged one, which is: All along the way, in [substance abuse] recovery, I've been helped without getting into specifics of names, by all of these strangers who get in a room and do a form of group-talk therapy and live by certain rules in their life — and one of the rules is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. Not only is that not a general human impulse, but it's not an impulse of mine. And yet, I found myself doing that over and over again. Am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? That's sort of as far as I've gotten with the higher power thing. I'm kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I've done terrible things, and yet I'm for the most part able to be a decent person. ... I think something else is working on me.

How are you thinking about it, Gross asks. Are you reading things you haven't read before? How do you figure that out?

One of the things I'm doing is praying, which seems like an uncomfortable, unnatural activity for me. It's to whom, to what, about what? I have a prayer in my wallet that I'm saying. (chuckling) I feel like a complete fraud while I'm doing it, but it's the act of acknowledging that there may be something else out there. I haven't really thought it through, but I think the behavior and the activity will lead to something good. Anything that gets me into a place of something less than self-obsession and gets me into a place of some humility, not even acknowledging a higher power but that other people exist and they're not here as an extension of my world. Part of the reason I got into journalism is I love the stories of other people.

Gross gently nudges him to get specific, asking him to pull out the prayer he has in his pocket.

Sure, let me look at it. It's really full of like thees and thous. I think it's the prayer of St. Francis. What it would be known programmatically, again, no names mentioned, is kind of a third-step prayer. I'm not comfortable reading the whole thing but what it talks about is to offer yourself to God to build with you as God would see fit. The important part to me is to relieve me of the bondage of self, so that I may better do thy will. It goes on to say, take away my difficulties; of course everyone prays for that, we all do. And that victory over them will bear witness to a power greater than yourselves. And it says may I do thy will always. I don't really know who I'm talking about when I say those words, but it sort of feels good when I do.

Gross: I can understand that.

Carr: Yeah, I think it's okay to have a superstitious belief of God and not really have thought it through. I think there's freedom in allowing for the possibility of it. I don't have a presence, I don't have some idea in my mind a woman or a man figure or anything like that, but I find the spaces between people whether I'm making a newspaper with them or in recovery or living with them as family or friends I find something really godly in that. I don't have trouble acknowledging that.

Gross: You found something godly but there isn't a theology that you're following.

Carr: Yeah, I've been watching this debate over Mormonism ... people making fun of their theology. I think, I'm a practicing Catholic. We suggest in churches all over the world that there's a metamorphoses of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ which we proceed eat and drink, which when you take a step back is sort of creepy, but that's who I'm running with. Whether it's the underwear people wear, the hats they wear on their head or turbins, again I make no judgment. I find comfort in those traditions.

After listening to the interview, it was amusing to see parallel comments on NPR's website:

Adrianne Wadewitz (wadewitz) wrote: I turned this off once the focus turned to religion. Carr's views on this topic are of no particular interest and I was unsure why the interview went in this direction. It was disappointing, as there was substantial time left that Gross could have used to talk about the changing face of media in the US and Britain.

Mark Nowak (marknowak) wrote: Excellent interview, Terry. And I enjoyed the church stuff!

If you're only looking information, for Carr to predict the future of media over his crystal ball, the part about his faith might seem a bit off topic. But if you're looking to understand more about Carr as a human being, how he processes his faith and beliefs is fascinating, and Gross does a nice job of pulling that out of him.

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