Video: David Carr On How to Stick Out in a Cluttered Age

If you had a choice, would you rather be working in the alt-weekly business back when the profits were still fat and technology hadn’t yet changed the way we produce and consume news? Or would you rather be working in the business today?

That was the question New York Times columnist (and former Washington City Paper editor) David Carr asked the audience during his session at AAN’s Annual Convention in Toronto this past July. The video, which is now available here and in the resource library, is well worth a watch.

In answer to the question above, Carr said that while journalists are undoubtedly facing a period of great uncertainty, they also have more tools at their disposal than ever before. Researchers can fact check instantly and receive immediate feedback from the audience, leading to a richer, deeper form of journalism. “I’m scared,” he admits, “but I’m really excited.”

Looking at the alt-weekly world specifically, Carr made some key observations:

  • Alt-weeklies have been too fixated on long-form journalism, and haven’t paid enough attention to the “little shit” that is so important on the web. Readers (users?) are particularly fond of little things — he calls them “marginalia” — such as lists, infographics, interactive maps, and vibrant online comment sections. Alt-weeklies that ignore those areas, he warns, will do so at their peril.
  • The web is telling us how people consume information, but alt-weeklies haven’t adapted their print products to reflect this yet. At one point, he rhetorically asks whether or not our designers are still stuck in print templates. He points to the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal as examples of print publications that are successfully embracing the “web aesthetic.”
  • More reassuringly, Carr reminded session attendees that their strongest asset is their ability to report the news. “None of these other nitwits are making phone calls,” he pointed out, and illustrated his point with a slide:
    News is the killer app. Break the news and the world will link and beat a path to your door.

    (Video shot and edited by Graeme David Phillips)