James W. Carey of our faculty died in his sleep last night, at his family’s home in Wakefield, Rhode Island. His family was at his side and he was not in any pain.
There is so much to say about Jim that I can’t do anything but scratch the surface now. Suffice it to say that he was a figure of world renown in the field of communications scholarship, the founder of our Ph.D. program, longtime teacher with Steve Isaacs of Critical Issues, and a man with a rare gift for touching practically everybody he met. He was a magical teacher. As is not universal in the upper-academic realm where Jim dwelt professionally, he loved journalists, and believed that universities have something important to teach us. (Jim’s last major accomplishment at the school was writing the syllabus for an ambitious new full-year course, which he never got to teach, called “A History of Journalism for Journalists.”) He is primarily responsible for our being just about the only journalism school where professional scholars and professional journalists live in true harmony, friendship, mutual respect, and collaboration–that’s a rare and precious gift.
Reception follows the mass, c. 11.30am
University of Rhode Island
95 Upper College Rd.
South Kingston, RI
- Erika Angulo, J1996
Professor Carey was a kind boss and a brilliant teacher. I was lucky
to be his research assistant during my time at the J School
(1995-96). I was also lucky to be his student in his religion class.
He himself studied constantly, researching, reading, looking for the
wider historical perspective of each news story. He had such a vast
knowledge of journalism, ethics, history, and countless other fields
that it was sometimes intimidating to have a conversation with him,
yet he showed no ego. The son of immigrants, he once mentioned he
was amazed he had made it that far. He loved his family and his job.
I feel blessed I got to know him.
- From: Alex Puissant, J1999 (writing from Brussels, Belgium)
There was nothing fake about this man.
Nothing was ostentatious
about this teacher
who had so much to share.
He cared. He was an example.
He was a proud American
in the best sense
who saw the conversation of journalism
as truly worthwile, in any society,
so human beings can be true to themselves,
as he was.
Goodbye, Professor Carey.
- Pamela Troutman Palmer, J1998
In Fall 1997, I think, Professor Carey taught a course on the political and
social dynamics influencing media in the 20th century. I’m not exactly sure
of the semester, but what I do remember is that the course was offered in
the evening. I would arrive, along with about 20 other students, tired
from a full day of work. But once Carey’s lecture began, the ensuing lively
discourse reinvigorated us. For Carey would prod, push and cajole us to
turn issues inside out and examine them anew. He punctuated his instruction
with humorous asides, and then seamlessly brought the discussion back to his
original thesis. At the time, I remember initially feeling intimidated by
his accomplishments and stature. But as we became better acquainted, I
realized that Carey really was a man who knew a great deal about some
things, did his best to share them and remain a decent human being in the
process. And that is the essential meaning of “teacher.”
- Todd Gitlin, Columbia Journalism Professor
It comes back to me that the oldest debt I owe to Jim Carey goes back about twenty-five years. I had just published The Whole World Is Watching and through some comedy of errors the book had been picked up off the New York Times Book Review’s shelf by a journeyman hack reviewer with a political grudge who sneered at my use of rarefied terms like “hegemony” and “paradigm” by way of avoiding reckoning with the slightest trace of the book’s arguments. My letter ensued, with the Book Review’s editor halving it before running it. The Chronicle of Higher Education commissioned a piece on the contretemps, and the piece quoted Jim, then dean of the College of Communication at the University of Illinois, saying something to the effect that the field of media studies had been thin on theory for a long time and my book was welcome because it presented and defended theories.
To say I was enormously grateful would be an understatement, for Jim was one of the few visible people in media studies who took ideas seriously. Truth be told, when I finally met him, some 10 years later, I can’t remember talking about my book. I still don’t know whether he thought I was right or not, or what exactly his politics were, or what he was up to in the ’60s and how he lived the period I was writing about. But what interested him, in the Book Review squabble, was none of that, really. He was really defending three propositions: that a book reviewer ought not to be allergic to thinking, that thinking ought not to be alien to a newspaper, and that thinking about big social questions ought not to be alien to the study of journalism and mass communication, either.
As it happens, then, his defense of my book cut to the core of his big project: to muscling intellectual seriousness into a field that, because of its funding and the bureaucratic boundaries of the university and the cop-out that the social sciences were committed to, was adept at taking too many easy ways out.
Against this background, I can well understand how important was the confirmation he gave so many of his students over the years.
- Mike Hoyt, Columbia Journalism colleague:
One of the many things that I liked about Jim Carey was his immunity from the disease of self-importance that sometimes afflicts journalists here on the little island of Manhattan. He valued all striving journalists and all good journalism, whether it served sports fans in Indiana or lawyers in Miami or teachers in Kansas City. Status was not part of his calculations. His wisdom was available to anyone smart enough to ask for it, and that big Irish smile was the bonus.
- Deborah Wassertzug, Columbia Journalism colleague:
I always enjoyed my brief conversations with Professor Carey (may his memory be a blessing). One evening last winter, I saw him on the steps in front of the building, and we spoke about his health. He said that while his doctors wouldn’t give him a clear indication of whether he should retire, they all seemed to have a very good idea of what retirement should mean: They wondered why he wasn’t yearning to lie on beaches, drink rum and Cokes, and read magazines. It was a droll yet incredible insight on the medical profession - and the human condition - distilled into one sentence. Staring out over the plaza he sighed, and said in his charming
accent, “You know, the heart is a dark continent.” I went home and started a poem on this conversation, which I must finish now. May the many, many people who were touched by this extraordinary man find comfort in their memories of him.
- Arlene Morgan, Columbia Journalism colleague
I met Jim, as so many editors did, during a coaching session at an ASNE committee meeting on the changing news media. He was one of the most engaging, literate and gracious scholars the business has ever produced. And he was most certainly a poet about the role of a journalism in our society. It was an honor to work with him then and even more so when he became my colleague when I joined Columbia six years ago. His kindness and advice to everyone who knew him and his brillance in the classroom will never be replaced. He was one of a kind.
- Julie Englander, J1999
In my first go at grad school, at the University of Chicago, I took classes from luminaries J.M. Coetzee and Joseph Cropsey, and a fellow classmate pointed out to me, with a smirk, that these professors shared initials with someone else whose brilliance could only be explained by having a direct line to God–that is, Jesus Christ. I laughed then at my classmate’s joke, but when I reached Columbia, and found myself floored by Professor Carey’s first Critical Issues lecture, I realized, with a touch of amazement, that I was in the presence of yet another JC. And he lived up to the cockamamie theory of my old classmate: Professor Carey’s insights seemed not merely compassionate, not merely brilliant; they seemed, somehow, essential to how we work and live. He was profoundly humane and wise, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to have
had the chance to learn from him.
- Chay Hofileña, J1998
The mid-career students of 1998 had Jim Carey as our adopted father. The late night classes of his were golden opportunities to just listen to him. We will remember the hospitality of his home that was extended to us (we truly felt privileged) and the celebratory luncheon treat after classes were over. Prof. Carey, thank you for the chance to be your student. You will surely be missed and you will leave a void difficult to fill.
- Marta Bennett, J1998
Like most, I “knew” Professor Carey through Critical Issues. I don’t recall any particularly memorable conversations with him but the sadness I felt when hearing of his passing has lingered with me these past few days. It is rare to come across a person whose intelligence, warmth, decency and caring can touch so many from so far. I am very lucky to have attended the Journalism School during his era. For me he embodies an important truth: very great people don’t advertise.
- Lisa Spinelli, J2004
He was the only teacher at J-school that had nothing but pure good energy about him. There were other nice teachers, but he was on a whole other level. I am very sad even though I didn’t really know him well. He made me smile real big by just being in same the room.
- LynNell Hancock, Columbia Journalism Professor:
How can we even contemplate the loss of Jim Carey? It is impossible to imagine anyone filling the void he has left us. He was a superb scholar and a dedicated teacher. Students would often come into my office just to talk about Jim’s lecture in Critical Issues that morning, and how much it inspired them to scale impossible walls, or to think beyond the predictable. It happened so often, I came to expect the conversation every semester. Jim probably missed his calling as an international diplomat. He could quell any academic storm, with his calm wisdom, and kind attention to all the impassioned arguers. How many times did we have a volatile faculty meeting when one issue or another would threaten to consume us all in anger and confusion? Jim would then stand up and turn quietly around to face us, taking a deep breath, chuckling wryly, and settle the matter with a wise lesson in history, precedent and civility. He was a rare human being and the best kind of friend–kind, supportive, warm, expansive and funny. I will miss him terribly.
- Victor Navasky, Columbia Journalism Professor
Jim once proposed that we think of journalism as “an exercise in poetry”– and that, often, is the way he spoke. His idea was that we discard the notion that the job of the journalist is to bring the facts to a passive audience, and instead he recommended that we say goodbye to this “scientific” conception of journalism. He wrote: “All journalism can do is to preside over and within the conversation of our culture: to stimulate and organize it, to keep it moving, to leave a record of it sop that other conversations — art, science, religion — might have something off of which they can lead.” Talking with Jim was like that.
- From: Chris Anderson, Columbia PhD Candidate
Over the course of my three years at the Columbia, I have been honored
to call Prof. Carey a mentor and an intellectual inspiration. But even
more importantly, he was a truly wonderful and kind man. Brilliant *and*
a kind — those of us who have spent some time world of academia know
how infrequently those two adjectives are conjoined. Prof. Carey taught
me that it is OK to study journalism in an “academic” way; one only need
to have witnessed the biting hostility often expressed by academics with
regard to journalism (”you’re getting a PhD in journalism?? What does
that mean??”) to know what a valuable contribution that really is. Prof.
Carey also reminded me, and still reminds me through his writings– that
the media is nothing without democracy: it might exist, but its
existence is hollow. In the dark times in which we live– times in which
it seems like we have more and more media and less and less democracy–
that’s a lesson worth holding on to.
- From: Karina Alexanyan Fitch, Columbia PhD Candidate
I first met Prof. Carey about 4 years ago when I was considering applying to the Jschool Phd program. I remember being amazed that he would take the time to speak with me, and I remember leaving his office feeling like I had found a home. His background and mine are drastically different - Russian Jewish immigrant and Irish Catholic Midwesterner - and yet I felt that he understood me instantly. He had a breadth and generousity of spirit that could find a common ground with anyone. It took me a few weeks in class to figure out why I had such an instinctively warm response to him - there was something about his voice, his smile, the twinkle in his eye….and then it hit me - he reminded me of Santa! Prof. Careys essays, like his lectures, combine a mastery of language with a depth of scholarly thought with a compassionate understanding of human nature that is truly exceptional. Its why his works are classics - fundamental to the field. And why his lectures were always riveting and mind broadening. And why his presence will be sorely, sorely missed. I feel extremly fortunate to have known him.
- From Andie Tucher, Columbia Journalism Professor and director of the PhD program
I first met Prof. Carey more than 20 years ago, when I was a graduate student groping my way into the virtually non-existent field of journalism history (or at least the virtually non-existent field of *good* journalism history). In a talk at a conference he was so insightful, provocative, witty, and inspiring — seemed to see and map so clearly what journalism history could do and be — that I rushed up to him afterwards to blurt “I’ve been looking for a man like you!” He handled that with his customary grace. And I’ve looked up to him ever since. I feel extraordinarily privileged and grateful to have worked with him at Columbia and to have enjoyed the generous warmth of his friendship and mentorship. The adjectives that spring to mind when I think of him would sound almost quaint applied to anyone else in the world — honorable, cordial, gallant, humane, public-spirited, open-hearted — but he was decidedly a citizen of our world and a sometimes exasperated lover of it as well. Our world will miss him.
- From: Lucas Graves, Columbia PhD Candidate
I was lucky enough to take Jim’s proseminar two years ago. Before that I knew him only by reputation, and from a pair of brilliant essays. But spending a few hours with him each week I was struck by just how offhand his brilliance could be, how easily the most penetrating insights and perfect turns of phrase came to him; and by his uncommon quality of warmth and engagement which seemed to enliven every setting. I wish I’d had the opportunity to know him better, and I can only offer my deepest sympathy and the assurance that all of us in the PhD program are very proud to consider ourselves an enduring part of Jim Carey’s legacy.
- Kim Khan, J1998:
My favorite memory of Prof. Carey was outside the Critical Issues classroom, a class that I enjoyed immensely. I had a brief talk with him at the end of a class one Friday and then happened to run into him at the Columbus Circle subway that nigh. I shouted to him and it took him quite a while to recognize who I was. It was Halloween and I was dressed as Austin Powers. I don’t know if he every saw the movie, but he always remembered the costume when I saw him around the J-School.
- Kurt Gottschalk, J1997
One of my fondest memories from Columbia was running to the bookstore after Lonnie Guinier spoke in his class. I had to get to LaGuardia to catch a flight to Chicago but wanted her book for the trip. I almost missed the plane but ran aboard at the last minute, disheveled and panting, still holding the book I hadn’t bothered to put in my suitcase. And there was Father Carey, sitting in first class, looking at me and looking at the book and smiling broadly. There’s something nice about those moments in life when nothing needs to be said.
- Jennifer Jordan, J1997:
I remember Professor Carey starting one Critical Issues class in the Fall of 1996 by saying that some people believed the words ethics and journalism shouldn’t be in the same sentence. Prof. Carey took a different view. “At it’s heart, journalism is an ethical enterprise,” he told us. Those words have guided me in my work as a reporter, especially when I am dispirited or confused. To me, Prof. Carey wasn’t just a great intellect or communicator or teacher, although he was all those things. He was the heart of the journalism school.
- From Justin Bass, J2005:
What a cool guy Professor Carey was. I could tell, as I’m sure anyone hearing him speak could, that the man spoke from his heart. I loved how he tackled socially uncomfortable issues in class and would seemingly punctuate the delicacy of the subject matter with a pressure releasing chuckle. He was so eloquent, and truly spellbinding to listen to.
- From: Anne Donker, J1997:
So sad to hear the news. Of course, he was a brilliant teacher, but he was also extremely kind, and genuinely interested in each and every one around him. Truly the opposite of self-obsessed. He was one of those rare people you could utter half a word to and he’d instantly “get’”you. What a loss.
- Elva Ramirez, J2005 and MA2006:
I will always remember how genuinely touched Prof. Carey was when he won the class of 2005’s Teacher of the Year award. He made an impact on all of us during Critical Issues, with his wry humor, his geniality, and his astounding historical knowledge. I was looking forward to seeing him again this year for the MA history class. We only had him come by for a couple of classes but even so, that was enough for the MA class gain a sense of his intellect and humanity.
- From: Alicia Ferrari, J2005:
What I remember about Prof. Carey is that every session I would come away with his affirmation that treating others well was always the right thing, even if it came at a personal sacrifice. Not being a naturally competitive person, I found his sense of ethical leadership very comforting and courageous in a field that often values being first above all else.
- From: Jaimal Yogis, J2005:
I will always remember Prof. Carey for insisting that personal stories matter in journalism: the details about the guy who lost his son in Iraq, the mother whose daughter died on 9/11. He seemed to believe that journalism is a way that the country mourns together and that has stayed with me in my writing thus far. I will also remember him for his quick wit and his sharp memory, and the way he could tease Steve Isaacs while always seeming the gentleman. Though I never knew him well on a personal level, I had this feeling that he cared about each and every one of his students. He wanted us to succeed and tell stories of genuine substance. I feel bad for future students who will not get to meet him.
- From Kirsten Sharett, J1999:
When you look back on your life at any given time and think about the people who made a difference to you, impacted you in ways that changed you indelibly, you find people like Professor Carey. He changed me and I feel so forever blessed that he touched my life and that our paths crossed. He added to my life, made me think, question, and wonder about so many things far beyond the hours in his classroom and well after graduation. He was a truly gifted man, generous with his humanity and a wonderful wonderful teacher. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
- From Catherine Shu, J2005:
During our last Critical Issues lecture, Professor Carey spoke at length to my class. Near the end of his talk, he quoted a letter to the editor that John
Gregory Dunne sent to The New York Times after Vincent
To the Editor:
Reporters who tried to find reasons for the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., and to fit those reasons into a Beltway construct, would do better to read the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins on the nature of despair:
“Oh, the mind, mind has mountains,
Cliffs of fall, frightful sheer,
No man fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there.”
Some writers, regrettably including a few on your newspaper, held Vincent Foster’s mountains cheap.
“I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.”
Father Hopkins also wrote that line, as bleak as any I have ever read, but one, like the lines above, that helped me through my brother’s suicide. Nearly 14
years later, I hold his mountains dear, as I wish Vincent Foster’s mountains would also be held dear.
- John Gregory Dunne, New York, Aug. 24, 1993
I was touched that Professor Carey had saved this decade-old letter and was sharing it not as a warning about the pitfalls reporters can fall into, but because he had faith that we would make the right decisions no matter what kind of pressures we faced as working journalists. Though I only heard Professor Carey speak a handful of times and never talked to him except in passing, I always thought of him as the moral compass of the journalism school, and I know I was not alone in feeling this. I respected and admired Professor Carey tremendously, and feel very fortunate that my 10 months at the j-school overlapped with his long tenure there.
- Robert Tuttle, J2005:
What sad news. I will remember Prof. Carey for his wisdom and humor. He had a passion for journalism that was contagious. I truly looked forward to that critical issues course even though, in the beginning, I did not think I was going to like it. I will never forget the time Prof. Carey, in the middle of class, forgot something in his office and went to get it. But he forgot to take off his mic. Suddenly, in the middle of some discussion, we all heard this loud voice saying “oh shoot” over the speaker. He wasn’t there but we sure heard him. I think I will keep hearing some of the lessons he taught us even though he is now gone.
- From: Traci Kampel, J1995:
Professor Carey was my thesis advisor–and support system!–at Columbia. I probably wouldn’t have survived without his insight, sense of humor and constant stream of reassuring words. He couldn’t have been a better teacher or friend. He will be missed dearly.
- Josh Mills, former Columbia Journalism Professor:
I was privileged to teach alongside Jim during my years at Columbia, and his graciousness and intellect taught me a great deal. Jim was at his inspirational best when he welcomed new students in September 1995 with a talk called “The Struggle Against Forgetting” (when I oversaw the 2001 revision of the GSJ bulletin, I reprinted it on the inside back cover). What he said that day resounds within me still: “Journalism converts valued experience into memory and record so it will not perish…The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. To make experience memorable so it won’t be lost and forgotten is the task of journalism. To be able to do this and to do it well is all that one can ask for in a career.” What better way to remember Jim?
- Brian McShane, J2002:
Professor Carey was one of the most genuine teachers I ever encountered. When he spoke with wit and preciseness in the Critical Issues course, he took me to places and introduced me to perspectives that energized my intellect. He engaged me so much that often after lectures I would schedule meetings with him in his office. I enjoyed his company and felt privileged to sit down and to talk with him about the big picture of journalism. He was an inspiration to me. I
wish that I had been able to take more of his classes.
- Czerina Patel, J1999 (on visit to South Africa):
Journalism and the J school have lost a treasure, a “critical” man, a man whose imprint will last in many of us forever. I hope we will all remember to merge our humanity with our practice as he so beautifully taught us to.
- Alexander Lane, J1999
Farewell to a great thinker and an inspiring teacher.
I consult my “Critical Issues” notes regularly for reminders like these:
- Journalists are imprisoned in the immediaces of the moment. Irrigate your imagination with ideas beyond the news of the day.
- Primary in the mind of a source is the question: What does this person want to hear?
- All our institutions, including the press, are in the business of creating citizens.
- Image makers always inflate their own success, taking credit for the judgments of the American people.
- Boris Kachka, J1998:
I can count on one hand the teachers who have had a real and lasting ifluence on my life and work, without using my thumb. Professor Carey was one of them. Beyond the Critical Issues lecture hall, he taught a course with Joan Konner, called Covering Ideas, that blew wide open what too often felt like a constricted field. And whether he was lecturing with a mic to 300 students or teaching a seminar, his lessons always felt personal and riveting in a way that diminished the distractions of deadlines and competition to white noise. Only the most genuine, compassionate, and dedicated people can really do that–can do in a few hours what most people we meet couldn’t do in a lifetime. Though I haven’t even talked to him in eight years, I feel his absence.
- Patrick White, J2006:
Though I never knew or even met professor Carey, these words from his
essay “The Struggle Against Forgetting” were the clincher in my
decision to attend Columbia: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. To make experience memorable so it won’t be lost and forgotten is the task of journalism. To be able to do this and to
do it well is all that one can ask for in a career.” It is one of the most graceful explanations of the journalist’s responsibility I’ve ever read and might help illuminate his character a little for those of us who never had the pleasure of attending one of his lectures.
- Jane Dixon, J2004
I was a part-time student and did not have Prof. Carey for Critical Issues. I was the recipient of his wise counsel, however, before attending Columbia J-School and he inspired me to apply for the program. He will be missed and his passing is a loss to future students.
- From: Ana Claudia Paixao, J2001 (writing from Brazil):
I don’t claim for any originality to say that he touched my perception of what I should be as a journalist. I’m sure he had the same impact on all of his students. I’m proud to have met him, and I’m proud that his teachings can be spread around the world through foreign journalists who were as lucky as I was to be at his classes. We’ll carry on the inspiration he brought to our lives and careers. Wherever we are. Thank you Prof. Carey, we all will miss you.
- From Peter Morello, J1999:
Professor Carey was my mentor while I was a mid-career candidate in 1999. I took four of Professor Carey’s classes and he critiqued my Master’s Project. During my studies at Columbia, Professor Carey made a deep and lasting impression on me. He was a brilliant scholar, a wonderful teacher and a wise mentor. I vividly remember my last conversation with him at the Association for Educators of Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC) Convention in Toronto. He had high hopes for the J-School’s new direction and was optimistic about the future of journalism. For me, Professor James Carey was the face of The School of Journalism.
- From: Deena Yellin, J1996:
Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to share our thoughts about our much beloved teacher. I feel blessed to have crossed paths with a giant in journalism who had an impish grin, insightful mind and heart of gold. As teacher of a course in Critical Issues, he provoked us to think and question but, with all the weighty talk, didn’t miss an opportunity to make us laugh. In private meetings with him in his cramped office, Carey had the gift of making students feel he really cared and understood, even when there were only a few moments to spare. At the end of the year, I was part of a group of Orthodox students who held our own graduation ceremony because we were unable to attend graduation at the church. Out of all the professors in the faculty, we chose Carey to address us and offer a parting message before sending us off into the world as journalists. As always, he rose to the occasion and left us, as well as our families and guests, impressed and inspired. Like many, I entered the J-School aiming to be a tough reporter who would intimidate sources, top the competition and nab front page stories. Carey helped to put it all into perspective, reminding us to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To me, James Carey was more than a role model for becoming a great journalist. He was also a role model for becoming a better human being.
- Barry Lank, J1997:
I took Prof. Carey’s class in autumn, 1996 - “The Impact of Media on Society” - where he taught us, among other things, the connection between modern communications and old railroad tracks. (It has to do with telegraph lines.) He was brilliant and fun, and made the academic study of communications seem brilliant and fun as well. I always wanted to get a beer with him.
- Pete McDonald, J1998
I took his “Covering Ideas” class (which he taught with Joan Konner) in the Spring of 1998. It turned out to be one of those classes that inspired, frustrated, and energized at the same time–and one that made you realize why you paid the tuition to be there. Professor Carey was everything you’d hope for in a professor when deciding to enroll at Columbia.
- Kathryn Beaumont, J1997 The Critical Issues class was one of the most important classes I have ever taken, and Professor Carey’s personal approach to teaching made a lasting impression on me. I am currently a first-year law student, and our “ethics” class pales in comparison to the one taught by Professors Carey and Issacs — I have told my fellow law classmates often over the course of this year what an incredible class that was. I tell them how I feel confident in my approach to the important issues in journalism and how I know that anyone who was in that class with me will be a thoughtful, ethical journalist — if not a thoughtful, ethical person in general. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from Professor Carey and for the lessons I have taken from him into my life.
- Alicia Gonzalez, Columbia Journalism colleague:
James Carey was one of a kind. No matter who you were he’d take time to listen and share his humorous nature with all staff. He continued to be that fellow till the end of his time. Adios, James - a friend.
- Alice Sparberg Alexious, J1998:
When Professor Carey told my class at the beginning of Critical Issues: “We journalists tell stories,” I sat straight up and thought, yes! I get it! And he said these words with such generosity of spirit, and they have stayed with me ever since.
- From: Gregg Wirth, J2000
Prof. Carey was my Masters’ Project mentor. I remember often sitting in his office, going over the finer points and problems of my project; then we’d let our conversations veer off on to a great variety of subjects. I was working at the time at an Internet publication, and he seemed fascinated with the possibilities of that (then-still relatively fresh) medium. My other great memory of him is the lecture he gave, annually it seemed, to one of his classes (”Impact of Media on Society”) in which he describes the advent of television as a great flood, filling and altering all aspects of life at the time. It was a powerful and apt analogy, and though I figured he must have given that lecture dozens of times, he presented it with such quiet forcefulness that it was truly mesmerizing. He will be missed by all whom he taught so well.
- Urania Mylonas, J1997:
I took the ethics class with Professor Carey, which he taught with Professor Isaacs. The two of them together, Carey, small in stature, but an amazing mind and so compassionate, and Isaacs, a towering, intimidating fellow, with a huge heart, nonetheless, were quite a team. I will miss Professor Carey’s wit, intelligence, compassion, and passion for the story.
- Tim Townsend, J1999:
When I first got to J-school I discovered Professor Carey’s connections to Chicago, the city I’d just moved from days before. Maybe feeling a little homesick (especially with the Cubs playing relatively well at the end of the ‘98 season) - I went to Professor Carey’s office to talk National League pennant race. I told him about my Ernie Banks-autographed baseball and about my old apartment under the “el” tracks in the shadow of Wrigley Field. He looked at me warmly but with some pity and said, as if telling me a sad secret, “Tim, you know the last time the Cubs won the whole thing Tolstoy was still alive.” He laughed hard at his own joke, then promised we’d get a beer at the West End to watch a Cubs game. And we did.
- From: Leonard Post, J2002:
Jim was a giant who took up little space and even less air to make room for the rest of us to find our places in our profession. On the other hand, he made sure we understood that being a journalist was a privilege, that we had no right to occupy that space, that we had to earn it piece-by-piece. I can’t remember him ever lecturing us about ethics or his ideas; he just told stories, parables and paradoxes.
- From: Molly Raskin, J2002:
I was fortunate enough to have Professor Carey as my Critical Issues teacher in 2001. I distinctly remember sitting in the large lecture class listening to him and thinking “This is why I came to journalism school.” He inspired me, made me think deeply about the craft of journalism, and made me laugh. Although I didn’t get to know him on a personal level, I always hoped I’d have the chance to. He will be missed.
- From: Thomas Coyle, J1998:
James Carey was an inordinately decent man. He was fun to chat with, and anything but intimidating. We had a few disagreements, always aired in perfect good temper; and always, I see now, with him in the right. He had a habit when seeing me of commenting on my heritage by exclaiming, “Ah: Nova Scotia, the land of music” — a characterization of such inaccuracy it still makes me smile.
- From Jennifer Maloney, J2005:
This is what she submitted in the April 2005 when she nominated Prof. Carey for the SPJ Teacher of the Year Award - a prize he won.
Professor Carey’s lectures are funny, moving and truly thought-provoking. His last Critical Issues lecture brought me to tears. He cared so much about the class that he came despite his illness. With his published work and his commentary on journalism today, he challenges and inspires journalists across the country. I feel honored to have been in his class.
- From Manuel Rivera-Ortiz, J1998:
This is terrible news. I was never in one of Prof. Carey’s class, but had heard nothing but glowing remarks about his teaching philosophy, approach and basic human understanding and caring for his students. How I wish I would have
taken a class by him.
- Partha Banerjee, J2000
In the midst of an intellectual and ideological desert, Prof. Carey was an oasis. I will miss him very much.
- Kimberly Winston, J1994:
It is with great sadness that I learned the news of Prof. Jim Carey’s death this week. The impact he had on my career cannot be understated . I believe I would not be a journalist were it not for him.
I came to Columbia in the fall of 1993 with no background in journalism and was absolutely overwhelmed by what I needed to learn to get through the year. By October, I was ready to give up and go back to waiting tables. On one particularly bad day (crying in the third floor ladies room was one of my favorite activities) I went to talk to Prof. Carey about a paper he and Steve Isaacs assigned to our Critical Issues class - an assignment I was completely at a loss as to how to begin. It wasn’t long before I was in tears - again. Prof. Carey took the time to listen to all my fears about not being able to live up to the expectations of the school. Then with great gentleness and immense kindness, he dismantled my fears one by one. He had faith in me, and that gave me faith in myself. I left his office, but did not leave the school.
Today, being a journalist fulfills and sustains me, and I have Prof. Jim Carey’s thoughtfulness and nurturing to thank for that.
- Robert MacDonald, Columbia Journalism colleague:
His laugh, started as an enthusiastic grunt then an expanse of air to a gravelly sound while his body bounced and boyish smile spread across his stubble-bearded face, this is how I will remember my friend, mentor and colleague, Professor James Carey.
The last time I saw Jim he was walking home on 116th Street and I was walking my dog in front of my apartment building. When he saw me, he crossed the street to say hello. It was a cold early evening, given his frail state I was surprised he made his way across the street. He asked me about the M.A. program, the students and how things were going at the school. I answered his questions in some detail, “busy but very good.” Jim seemed very pleased about the success of the M.A. program, the ‘06 students and relayed his disappointment at not being able to teach. He deflected a question about his health and in typical form, made a joke about it. We parted as my dog began to pull me away. I said, “Good to see you. Take care.” Jim said, “Be good,”
and I watched him as he walked into the bright light of the street lamp in front of my apartment and slowly crossed the street to his apartment building.
The world of academia is filled with self-important characters with huge egos and in my 30 years in higher education, I have met a few. Professor Carey was the antithesis of such a cliché. He was
encyclopedic smart, kind, funny, and compassionate. He saw the J-school as a community of learners. He loved the mystery of the educational process. Besides his kind and friendly nature, and that wonderful laugh, what I most treasured from Jim was his noble character. He was the most ethical professional I have ever met. The academic, ethical and educational mission of the school came first. The greater good supplanted the ego. Some of the ideas or values I borrowed from Jim over the 12 short years I knew him were: students first; always work hard; have high standards for myself; create a vision; honor ideas; and leave room for play.
One Friday in the fall of 1995, I stood at the back of the “Critical Issues” classroom and heard Professor Carey lecture on the “daybook of history.” I stayed the entire class and came back the next week and missed the course only if I was out of town recruiting. For 10 years I
continued to try to attend “Critical Issues” each fall. As many of you know it was the “Mutt and Jeff” show with Professor Isaacs at 6′4″ and Professor Carey at 5′6″ - their height difference also
indicative of their teaching styles, but it worked. Over the years, I, along with approximately 2,200 J-students were challenged and educated about communication, community, ethics, journalism and “the daybook of history.”
Professor Carey would be interested about our remembrances of him; his impact on our lives. “Remembering” had a significant place in his heart. I think he had the gift of “the personal touch.” Jim made you feel a personal connection to the activities he was a part of: teaching, conversations, meetings, discussions and even arguments.
He invaded my heart and challenged my mind and both are better off.
- From: Kia Penso, J1998:
I took Critical Issues and Covering Ideas. I realized at the time that the Covering Ideas class was a sort of experiment, I think he was figuring out ways to convert his intellectual insight into something practical for journalism students. I’m not sure he found it comfortable at first, but he had to go into this terrain and I thought it was very brave of him, to strike out new territory at a place as tradition-bound as the J-school.
He liked literature, he had an appetite for it. And that made me feel a sort of kinship with him right away. I was pleased that he liked the same writers I did (we once raved together about the Irish writer John McGahern, who died just this year). I saw Prof. Carey as trying to establish a higher level of intellectual seriousness at the J-school, with all that that would — and should — imply: more informed reflection about the meaning of choices that we would make as journalists, more conscience, more awareness of the context in which journalism operates, an active critical mind instead of just a bunch of war stories and old saws. He took on a daunting task, to bring more richness of thought into the practice of journalism. It needs it.
I find it hard to believe he is gone. There was still so much for him to do.
I also remember his kindness; he was one of those people in whom it is the first impulse to be kind. I experienced this personally at a time when I was dealing with my own private troubles at the J-school, and after that, gratitude was added to my admiration. He was modest, he didn’t have the reflexive preoccupation with his personal status and how much of a big shot he was, even though he was quite a major figure in his field. He was truly a good man, he taught by the example of his goodness and his intellectual curiosity and his integrity as much as anything else. Not to mention the generosity with which he shared his knowledge and insight with students. It is only given to a very few to teach that way — but they are the real thing. I say that from my own experience of teaching, and from the good fortune of having had more great teachers than one has a right to expect in a single lifetime. And he was that. I feel lucky that I knew him, and I feel his loss for journalism.
- From: Elizabeth Yuan, J1998:
I took Professor Carey and Professor Isaacs’ class, Critical Issues, and I loved it. They were the perfect complement to each other — reminded me a bit of Laurel and Hardy, Carey being the straight man to Isaacs’ more confrontational and colorful approach. Carey had his moments, however, such as when his glasses got entangled with his mic, and he quipped, “That’s why they call me “Jim Carrey.”
I loved that class, because it considered so many of the kinds of ethical dilemmas a journalist can face in the course of a career, during times of war and peace. Professor Carey also introduced to me the concept of civic journalism, or public journalism, which Isaacs was not, at least at the time, a proponent of. Many critics were uncomfortable with the idea of journalism having a role or “mission” in community-building. We were lucky to receive differing views of the same coin during this class; they both offered invaluable wisdom.
At a time when there was a lot of navel-gazing about the profession, particularly in the wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and coverage, I considered Carey’s class with Isaacs to be a “lifesaver,” in terms of getting me excited and inspired to be a journalist and in valuing the journalist’s role. I needed that class. Many times during his class, I would either be scribbling hard to record word for word a nugget of Carey’s thoughtful observations or, pen in air or on desk, pause to consider what he had just said. He was a journalism scholar and a teacher in every sense.
In the description for his class with Prof. Konner, “Covering Ideas,” this “new beat” of ideas was to be considered akin to covering “secular religion.” And Prof. Carey and Konner emphasized the importance of conveying why people think the way they do and what “role these beliefs play in the direction of events.”
I still have a folder from that class right here — I must have packed it when I moved.
I was surprised to learn in subsequent years that Prof. Carey had embarked on the ambitious project of developing the school’s Ph.D. program. The man never seemed to slow down. His incredible energy in educating students about the journalism craft benefited so many.
- From: Steve Ross, former Columbia Journalism Professor:
Anyone who worked with Jim collected roughly an anecdote a day. Here’s my favorite, among 20 years’ worth:
When the J-school expanded beyond the ability of the International House auditorium to house our graduation ceremonies, We moved the event to the Cathedral of St. John the Devine. We forgot that observant, orthodox jews are barred by Jewish custom from entering cathedrals. Some of the students asked for a separate graduation ceremony. From among a faculty with many, many Jewish members, including several who write specifically on religion, the Orthodox Jewish students chose Professor Carey to speak to them and their parents. To the best of my recollection, here’s how he started: “At the Jerusalem Post’s newsroom last year, I was saying to….”
Journalists and journalism professors have approached me in Lima, Sao Paulo, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Hong Kong, Chennai and countless other places asking after him. Easily the most common question professional journalists ask me about the school and its faculty is “How is Prof. Carey? When we met last year, he said….”
There must have been three of him…. and now one is gone. But certainly not forgotten.
- Michael Gordon Brown, student, graduate assistant, University of
My last conversation with Jim was about a year ago, in January 2006. It
was by phone as it was many times in the past 35 years. We talked about
my work, his work and his health and he was direct and matter-of-fact
about it. His voice had a higher-pitched timbre. I felt uneasy.
It was as an undergrad at Illinois in 1969 that I first experienced Jim.
I was in my 20s with two previous and boring majors, some time in the
military and a couple years of consulting work. My cousin suggested the
J school as a way to get through. I was interested in McLuhan and Bill
Alfeld, the assistant dean, recommended Carey’s course.
I was mesmerized for the first few weeks in that class, fascinated and
enthralled with something I had not experienced before. After a few
weeks I started to corner him after his lecture and I must have really
pestered him for the rest of term walking with him to his office across
campus, dropping in at odd times and so on. The next year I entered the
graduate college and he gave me a assistantship at the Institute and I
sometimes think it was simply to find a way to structure my incessant
questions about community. At the end of the 1960s Illinois was a place
of turmoil and I was cautiously involved in student politics. During
that time, Jim and Bette came to our house and my wife and I went to
theirs and I learned from his sense and perspective during these times.
I occasionally wonder, if I hadn’t taken that course, would I ever have
set foot in a university again.
We connected in person a few times after 1970 in various university
settings. But we spoke by phone a number of times over the years and
several times in 2004 when he was exhausted from balancing his Columbia
and Kennedy School duties.
Jim had countless intellectual and expressive gifts, which he packaged
beautifully and gave to many. It seemed the more he gave the more there
was. Iowa’s Sandy Boyd knew it and was sorry they couldn’t keep him at
Iowa. His Irishness and kindness were both gentle and public. The former
exasperated George Gerbner a little when Jim went to Trinity for
sabbatical: “He could have gone to Oxford.” I especially recall his
kindness at a talk given by Hugh Duncan when one of those odd campus
cranks that long remain around universities was about to badger Duncan
during the question session. Jim responded to him in such a way that
made him feel like he had made a legitimate point and he sat down. Jim
was very caring about Duncan too and later told me it was apparent
Duncan was not well by seeing how Hugh’s wife attended to him.
In that conversation last January he mentioned Thinking with James
Carey. The transportation-communication-community issue was something I
had explored during my assistantship years earlier and what I had
recently been working on. Grossberg’s interview was a delight to read. I
laughed out loud a few times. I had taken courses from several Jim
mentioned and knew exactly what he was talking about.
This remarkably gifted man influenced and was loved by many. My career
path has been very different from the ones followed by so many who knew
him. I still keep my Carey articles, books and notes of conversations
with him. They help. Thanks, Jim.
- From: Erin Joyce, J1998
I wanted to take some time to reflect on Prof. Carey’s influence on me at
Columbia away from the hustle and bustle of my daily existence managing a
daily publication and a passel of editors struggling to get their work done
and done well amid the time pressures, the grind, the frustrations…
But as I sit here writing to you, and after stopping to think about it, I
realize I didn’t have to think too much about Prof. Carey’s influence. It
wended through my day.
As I was pushing editors to THINK about their approach to their stories, to
appreciate that the story of that day could either be a toss-away re-write,
or a chance to illuminate the subject for the readers, and to remind them
that this is a noble undertaking, I realized that I am living proof of Prof.
Carey’s legacy. I just hadn’t stopped to think about it until the news that
he had passed.
Like many other J-School alum, my exposure to Prof. Carey was in the
Critical Issues class. I remember joking that he expanded my brain cells
with all this talk about the Moral Imagination and philosophy and the
culture of journalism.
But I also remember vividly how accessible his eloquence became for me and
those other hungry souls listening to him in that class. He helped elevate
us to a noble undertaking, and taught us how to think about our raw
material: the power of those words, those images, those sounds.
I’m saddened to hear that he passed, but I know he must have been at peace
knowing how many minds he helped open, expand, and continues to touch,
through his teaching.
- Michael Scully, J1997 (and that year’s class president)
When I heard of Professor James Carey’s death, I felt an immediate need to write something. I suppose we all have some special moment we shared with Professor Carey. I mean, he really did engage every class with this wonderful spirit and energy. During my year at Columbia, I had what I assumed were some exceptional moments with him, but he was such a generous guy, I’m sure I was not the only student that felt a sense of shared friendship with Professor Carey. Clearly, this man will be missed.
Now, forgive me, but I’d like to share a story I’ve been sitting on for 10 years.
In December 1996, I got into a little trouble with my peers in the Class of 1997 because I and several other students presented Professor Carey with a Christmas present: the latest editions of Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey. At the time, many of my fellow students accused my decision to present this gift as an abuse of my powers as the President of the campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. My hope now is that you will find the following explanation satisfying.
Here’s the back story: As many of my classmates may recall, 1996-1997 was a turbulent year in the dean’s office. Dean Joan Konner was leaving and Columbia administrators were carefully considering her replacement. Their short list of two people included Professor James Carey. When the decision finally came down from the President’s office, Professor Carey was passed over. The reaction from the faculty was immediate. Because Professor Carey was so respected and revered, many members of the faculty were upset that he was not made the Dean of the school.
There was also this very real fear that Professor Carey – feeling rejected – would retire at the end of the academic year and depart Columbia. Believing his departure would be a devastating loss for the school, a small caucus of faculty members approached me and asked me to encourage some sort of gesture from the student body that would illustrate our love for Professor Carey. I didn’t hesitate to accept the suggestion. Their advice amounted to this: Simply tell him what the students think of him.
This is how it unfolded. In the final days of the first semester, about two dozen members of the Class of 1997 basically barged into his office. I remember he was sitting there behind his desk staring at his computer; behind him, through the window, the last bit of December daylight was fading. He looked up, pleased but surprised by the number of students flowing into his office. The room was brimming with students from all parts of the class.
One of us handed him the gift as we offered this explanation: We told him that we knew he had recently received some bad news and that we wanted him to know that we knew he was upset and disappointed. But we also told him that we were glad – on some level – that he was going to continue teaching. We told him that we understood his life’s work in journalism and appreciated the value and power of his wisdom. Finally, we told him that we believed, on some level, that he belonged to us – his students – and that we (and our peers to follow) would lose something very special if he left the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
Looking back, the event was very humbling. It’s not often that you see such a great person – such a brilliant and generous thinker – shudder and blush with such sweet humility.
Finally, I’d like to believe that this gesture, and the collective work and charisma of the Class of 1997 as a whole, played some part in his decision to stay at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism for the next decade. That’s ten years and over 2,000 students that got to drink in and discover the wealth of his work and wisdom in the field of journalism.
Closing, I guess I’m saying that James Carey will certainly be missed.