David Carr Pulled No Punches on Native Ads, Journalism and Media

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David Carr.
David Carr. Credit: Chester Higgins, Jr./The New York Times

David Carr, the well-known media columnist for The New York Times, died at work on Thursday, the paper reported last night. He was 58.

Although he often used his Media Equation column to spotlight people doing things right, it also cut to the heart of the players, tactics and forces so vigorously reshaping advertising and publishing.

He recently wrote, for example, about Facebook's recent idea to perhaps generously host publishers' content entirely on Facebook, which would reduce the lag time between readers taking an interest and actually getting to consume the content -- but also eliminate the need to click through to publishers' sites:

The Facebook dog is loose, and he's acting more friendly than hungry. But everyone knows that if the dog is big enough, he can lick you to death as well.

Here he is on print's survival strategy of asking readers to pay more:

And with ads declining at a steep rate, newspapers (and magazines) are trying to turn toward readers for digital revenue at the same time that they have denuded their products of much of their value. It's a little like trashing a house by burning all the furniture to stay warm and then inviting people in to see if they want to buy the joint.

And on Forbes' use of unpaid bloggers and advertisers to make much of its content:

In a sense, Forbes has come up with an oven that makes its own food — something of a grail for publishers — with abundant content for readers and all manner of marketing opportunities for advertisers. But for a brand built on getting rich and living well, the messages in this new world are very mixed: on Friday, there were the expected Apple, Dell and Google articles, but there were others about gaming, films and listicles. And once you start clicking, it's hard to know what motives lie between the lines of what you are reading.

On SugarString, the topical tech "news" site run by Verizon:

Of the many attempts at new approaches to publishing -- native advertising, custom content, sponsored content -- SugarString sets a new low. It was a bad idea with a pratfall of a rollout, a transparent attempt to project brand might into a very controversial conversation. The fact that the name of the corporation bringing you the information is at the bottom of every story, not the top, is an attempt to hide the fundamental intent.

On Comcast's accusation of "extortion" by opponents of its plan to merge with Time Warner Cable:

The word extortion is usually applied to guys with names like Nicky who wear bad suits and crack their knuckles a lot. If this is how the company acts in the wooing stage, imagine how charming it will be once it actually gets what it wants.

He wrote, too, on the latest buyouts at the Times, then still approaching, but which would ultimately be accepted by veterans including ad columnist Stuart Elliott and TV reporter Bill Carter:

The deadline for putting up their hand is Monday, and it seems clear that we will be losing people with many decades of professional experience, journalists with deep sources and remarkable levels of productivity.

It's hard to put a price on what those hard-won skills are worth. The Times will always be bigger than any one individual and will no doubt find people inside and outside the building who will do their own version of amazing things, but it's still scary to think about making our way without some of the people who plan to leave. We need to adapt quickly to new protocols, but we can't lose the core, the journalism that makes The Times The Times.

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