Boston University has landed star New York Times media columnist David Carr to fill a new endowed chair dedicated to exploring creative business models to support journalism in the digital era.
Carr, who starts in January, will keep writing for the Times but will spend two days a week at BU, where he will teach one class each semester in the College of Communication and participate in public events.
The new post appears to be among the first professorships dedicated to evaluating how media organizations can sustain themselves financially as readers and advertisers migrate to the Web, a crisis that has doomed some news organizations and threatens the viability of many others. Carr has closely covered the ferment and sees exciting potential in the new wave of innovation.
“I have been walking about 6 inches above the floor” in excitement that Carr is joining BU, said Tom Fiedler, College of Communication dean.
The new professorship was created with a $1.66 million gift from Andy Lack, 1968 BU graduate, member of the BU board of trustees, and chairman of Bloomberg Media Group, said BU. The family of fellow trustee Alan Leventhal made a matching gift of more than $830,000.
Lack, Fiedler, and several others were having lunch at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square, Fiedler recalled, when Lack said the ideal candidate for the professorship would be “the person that David Carr would know to call when he was doing a story about where’s the direction of journalism going to be, somebody who would be on David Carr’s speed dial.”
But then Lack had lunch with Carr and found the columnist himself to be receptive. Carr — known for a colorful and frank persona, having written a book about his drug addiction — said he was motivated in part to help put his 17-year-old daughter through college and was also interested in turning his 30 to 40 speaking and teaching engagements each year into a more coherent whole.
Then, he said, he found he shared a rapport with the people he met at BU.
“I kind of see myself in the mold of a guerrilla fighting from the hills,” Carr said. “I do think the institutional aggression and the amount of ambition that they have there is a fit with how I run my show.”
Carr said he had some ideas about how he might help young journalists, encouraging them to use all types of media to show who they are and what they can do, instead of waiting for the imprimatur of established media organizations.
“I think a lot of journalism education that is going on is broadly not preparing kids for the world that they are stepping into,” he said. “It’s a great time to be involved in journalism, but people have to be warmed up in the right way.”
Like Mayor Thomas M. Menino, also about to join the BU faculty, Carr will not have tenure, but will work on a contract in the journalism program as a professor of the practice.
He will spend the spring semester preparing his courses. Then, next academic year he plans to teach a media criticism class and a hands-on class in which students will produce media and distribute it through social media and other platforms. Fiedler said the classes will be aimed at graduate students, but will also be open to undergraduate seniors.
Carr said he is cutting back on other outside commitments in order to make time for BU and his work at the Times, where he writes the weekly Media Equation business column and covers popular culture.
Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who taught at Yale for five years, said Carr will learn a lot from his students about how young people consume media. “He knows so much about media organizations and the history of the press,” she said. “I think he’ll just be mesmerizing.”
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