James Carey, a founding member of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and a member of our steering committee, passed away this week at age 71. Though you may not know his name, Jim’s ideas about communication as culture, journalism as conversation, his reading of journalism history, and many other insights in his writings and speeches have inspired and influenced some of the most important ideas in the media culture today. He anticipated the rise of citizen media, inspired public journalism, and changed modern press criticism. He was a powerful influence on our work at the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Project for Excellence in Journalism. In our minds, Jim Carey may be the most influential thinker about journalism since Walter Lippmann. Everyone who produces news and or consumes it can feel the force of Jim’s ideas. The following offers a brief look at some of his ideas, a sampling of what was written about Jim on his death and a bibliography of some of his writings.

Who Was James Carey

A unique blend of philosophy, history, and anthropology, James Carey’s writings are difficult to categorize. A generalist in the best sense of the term, he long resisted trendy academic schools of thought and wrote from a non-ideological perspective. Carey’s intellectual heroes were not Marx or Freud but two American pragmatists—William James and John Dewey.

A continuous theme that runs throughout Carey’s thinking is that one studies communication in order to better understand community, culture, and country. To succeed in a democratic society, we must understand why we communicate the way we do with one another. In perhaps his most celebrated work, Communication As Culture (1989), Carey argues there is a higher purpose for communication scholarship:

“Because we have looked at each new advance in communications technology as an opportunity for politics and economics, we have devoted to it, almost exclusively, to matters of government and trade. We have rarely seen these advances as opportunities to expand people’s powers to learn and exchange ideas and experience…The object, then, of recasting our studies of communication … is not only to more firmly grasp the essence of this ‘wonderful’ process but to give us a way in which to rebuild a model of and for communication of some restorative value in reshaping our common culture.” (pp. 34-35)

It is important to note that Carey was an educator as well, shaping thousands of young minds over the years at the University of Illinois and Columbia University. His survey course at Columbia was a sociological look at the role of journalism, something unique at the school that anticipated the changes the program is working on now. Jim’s last contribution to the school was his design of a year-long course on the history of journalism, which he never got to teach. During an interview conducted in 1985, Carey spoke of how education enhances the lives of both teacher and student:

“I think all education, all scholarship is ultimately an aspect of citizenship. That may sound, these days, rather wimpy. Education is always about how to live in the world…We end up making a living with our education, but the end of education is to prepare one for life in society, for public life in the widest sense, for life among our fellow men and women.” (James Carey: A Critical Reader, p. 114).

Press Coverage

“James W. Carey, Teacher of Journalists, Dies at 71,” Douglas Martin, New York Times, May 26, 2006

“James Carey: A Model for Journalists and Scholars Alike,” Roy Peter Clark, Poynter, May 24, 2006

“Audio: An Interview with James Carey,” Poynter, May 24, 2006

“Journalism scholar and teacher James Carey dies,” Associated Press, May 24, 2006

“Memo from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism dean Nicholas Lemann,” May 23, 2006

“Jay Rosen on James Carey: An Appreciation,” Jay Rosen, Poynter, May 23, 2006

“James W. Carey, journalism scholar, teacher, dies at 71,” Providence Journal, May 23, 2006

A Brief Bibliography

James Carey was the author of three books and over 100 articles and essays on mass communications and the media. Below is a listing of books and articles by or about Professor Carey and his thinking on the media: Books and longer articles in print:

“Variations in Negro/White Television Preferences.” Journalism of Broadcasting 10 (Summer 1966).

“Harold Adams Innis and Marshall McLuhan.” Antioch Review 27 (Spring 1967): 5-39.

“The Communications Revolution and the Professional Communicator.” Sociological Review Monograph, no. 13 (January 1969): 23-38.

“The Problem of Journalism History.” Journalism History 1 (Spring 1974): 3-5, 27.

“But Who Will Criticize the Critics?” Journalism Studies Review 1 (Summer 1976): 7-11.

“The Computer as Change Agent: an Essay.” Journalism Quarterly 57 (Winter 1980): 678-80.

“The Paradox of the Book,” Library Trends 33, (Spring 1985): 103-13.

Carey, James W. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society.
New York: Routledge, 1989.

“Mass Media and Democracy between the Modern and the Postmodern.” Journal of International Affairs 47 (Summer 1993): 1-21.

Carey, James W. “The Press, Public Opinion and Public Discourse.” In the book: Public Opinion and the Communication of Consent. Theodore L. Glasser and Charles T. Salmon, editors New York: Guilford Publications, 1995, pp. 373-402.

“James Carey: A Critical Reader.” Eve Stryker and Munson and Catherine A. Warren, editors Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.