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"Keep typing until it turns into writing": David Carr's invaluable advice for journalists

David Carr
David Carr
Michael Kovac/Getty Images

David Carr, who died on Thursday at the age of 58, was so much more then just the New York Times' media columnist. He was a guiding light for journalists during some very difficult years for the industry. That was something he did through writing and, often, through mentoring. Carr was famous for the care and attention he gave to mentoring young journalists, a number of whom — such at The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates — have become giants in their own right.

Carr went public with some of his advice for young journalists in a 2013 "ask me anything" question and answer session with Reddit users. The advice, like so much of his writing, was blunt, insightful, and absolutely invaluable. It's also, by the way, entirely correct.

Here are some of his strongest bits of advice, particularly this first paragraph, which should be chiseled onto the lobby floor of the Columbia University Journalism School as far as I'm concerned:

You have to make stuff. The tools of journalism are in your hands and no one is going to give a damn about what is on your resume, they want to see what you have made with your own little fingies. Can you use Final Cut Pro? Have you created an Instagram that is about something besides a picture of your cat every time she rolls over? Is HTML 5 a foreign language to you? Is your social media presence dominated by a picture of your beer bong, or is it an RSS of interesting stuff that you add insight to? People who are doing hires will have great visibility into what you can actually do, what you care about and how you can express on any number of platforms.

On what the changes in journalism mean for people entering the industry now:

Right now, being a reporter is a golden age. There may be a lack of business models to back it up, but having AKTOCA on -- All Known Thought One Click Away -- on my desktop, tablet or phone makes it an immensely deeper, richer exercise than it used to be.

And the velocity of change is only increasing. Right now, I can talk to my phone and tablets and it knows what I am saying. What happens when it knows what my sources are saying and renders real-time transcripts? We are getting very close. And what happens when speech becomes text on the Web. One of the barriers to entry has been that you have to type what you are thinking to blog about that. What happens when that barrier goes away? Content is going to further explode, and I can't figure out if that is good or bad for those of us who are in the Signal vs. Noise business.

When asked for his "favorite cure for writer's block":


On whether it was difficult for Carr, a recovering addict, to cover boozy subject like the Golden Globes while remaining sober:

I watched the Globes last night, an event that I used to cover, and watched people enjoy some adult beverages. I am very pro-alcohol, but I just tend to end up in handcuffs when I used. I have more fun -- way more fun -- when I don't drink or do drugs. In the times I have used, it was never baked into my work life. If I am going to really go there, it ain't going to be with some flacks for a big magazine company. That said, I was looking at my best clips lately and you can't really tell which were written drunk or sober. There is no correlation. The muse comes when it does and it can't be beckoned by a six-pack or something you stick up your nose.

When asked, "What is the best piece of writing/journalistic advice you've ever received?"

Keep typing until it turns into writing.

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