By Michael Massing
Since joining The New York Times in 2002, David Carr has become America’s most visible and influential writer on the media. His weekly “Media Equation” column is closely followed by people in the industry. Last year, he was featured in Interview magazine (interviewed by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, no less), and he was the star of the 2011 documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times, in which he comes across as a gruff and indefatigable truth-teller.
That documentary showed Carr in the act of reporting his stellar article on the disastrous decline of the Tribune Company under Sam Zell. For the piece, Carr interviewed more than 20 current and former employees of the company. He then described how, under the direction of Randy Michaels, a former radio executive and shock jock chosen by Zell to run the company, the Tribune Tower in Chicago came to resemble a frat house, full of sexual innuendo, profane invective, and poisonous workplace banter. Carr showed how Michaels and other executives received tens of millions of dollars in bonuses while laying off hundreds at the Chicago Tribune and other papers. It was a devastating account of the hubristic destruction of one of America’s top media companies.
This is the hard-hitting David Carr—a relentless interviewer, incisive analyst, and gifted writer all rolled into one—and the piece on Zell and company showed the powerful effect he can have when he applies those qualities to an important subject.
But there’s another David Carr, one who is breezy, knowing, star-struck, and insidery, and it’s this David Carr who, alas, more often than not shows up in his weekly column.