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Public editor: David Carr on the Internet, news and Twitter

David Carr, media columist for the New York Times

Michael Falco/The Globe and Mail

It was a seminar that sold out in hours. David Carr, the New York Times media columnist -- and frankly the star of Page One the documentary on the Times -- was in Toronto speaking at a Canadian Journalism Foundation seminar titled Yes Genius, The Sky is Falling. So Now What.

Mr. Carr tweeted after the talk that "Well-mannered Canadians turned it into a Twittermagedeon."

Here are some of his insights on the Internet and news: On one hand he argued that people are enamoured with their own facts and willing to look for their own "truths". As an example he said you can go online to back up any nutter view, such as U.S. President Barack Obama is a Kenyan.

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At the same time, he argued the Internet is like a self-cleaning oven. If a mistake is made, people will point it out and the truth and the important facts will rise to the top. As Report on Business digital editor Sonali Verma said last night, every great truth has two sides.

So we need to think about how to understand the micro-power of the detail for the facts-obsessed in whatever area (and most of those detail folks are clever and not "nutters"), while understanding the macro-power of the mass audience which will hold us to account for truths and which we need to watch and follow.

Asked about citizen journalism, while he clearly favours professional journalists, he noted that there are places such as Syria today where it is not safe for professional journalists to be working. He noted that  The New York Times earlier this year lost one of their finest journalists when Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent and Pulitzer winner who covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, while on a reporting assignment in Syria. So Mr. Carr said you have to rely on Syrian citizens who are blogging and videotaping and you have to assess who is most trustworthy because that's the best you can do.

One hot button issue was when he referred to a recent NYT story about the new practice in U.S. politics of quote-vetting. He said we have to draw clearer lines .

He spoke of the value of journalism and said our main mission is to hold up a "rigorous and true mirror" to institutions, events and the world. He is worried about the loss of regional newspapers in the United States and notes that without that rigour of journalism, you will have institutions reporting their own news.

"What I'm worried about is who is going to tell you about the school system is the school system and it will be all the good news."

He was also asked about his weekly video chats with A.O. Scott on movies -- is that really journalism? He said no, not really but not everything is. He praised The Globe and Mail calling it a great newspaper, but he said it is not all serious journalism either and sometimes you need a bit of fun.

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Mr. Carr is a great multimedia journalist and he said one thing we have to learn is how to push it out while you take it in. Still he despaired the fact that we are losing time to think about things. Michael Enright, the evening's host, pushed him on the need for Twitter and other venues, but David said we can't just write for each other. "I'm really interested in refreshing  the demographic."

If you want to read more on this, please read Simon Houpt's great Q and A with Mr. Carr. Or watch the livestream of the event.

Please comment below or send me an email at publiceditor@globeandmail.com to share your view on this or any other subject.

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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