David Carr’s legacy stretches far, but his course, Press Play, if I ever teach again, will be at the heart of what my students will do. David Carr understood journalism and he was ahead of the curve in recognizing the beauty and possibility of teaching with Medium.com.
This thing of ours:
This course, Press Play, aspires to be a place where you make things. Good things. Smart things. Cool things. And then share those things with other people. The idea of Press Play is that after we make things we are happy with, that we push a button and unleash it on the world. Much of it will be text, but if you want to make magic with a camera, your phone, or with a digital recorder, knock yourself out. But it will all be displayed and edited on Medium because there will be a strong emphasis on working with others in this course, and Medium is collaborative.
While writing, shooting, and editing are often solitary activities, great work emerges in the spaces between people. We will be working in groups with peer and teacher edits. There will be a number of smaller assignments, but the goal is that you will leave here with a single piece of work that reflects your capabilities as a maker of media.But remember, evaluations will be based not just on your efforts, but on your ability to bring excellence out of the people around you. Medium has a remarkable “notes” function where the reader/editor can highlight a specific word, phrase or paragraph and comment, suggest a tweak or give an attaboy. This is counter-intuitive, but you will be judged as much by what you put in the margins of others work as you are for your own. (You should sign on to Medium as soon as you can. You can log in with Facebook or Twitter credentials. Pithy instructions on writing and collaborating on Medium: here, here, here, and, yes, here.)To begin with, we will look at the current media ecosystem: how content is conceived, made, made better, distributed, and paid for. We will discuss finding a story, research and reporting, content management systems, voice, multimedia packaging, along with distribution and marketing of work. If that sounds ambitious, keep in mind that in addition to picking this professor and grad assistant, we picked you. We already know you are smart, and we just want you to demonstrate that on the (web) page.
While writing is a solitary endeavor, writers have always gathered throughout history: the Socrates School, the Bloomsbury Group, the Algonquin Table, Stratford-on-Odeon, the Beats, and more. Their synergy sparked greater creativity.
As a grad student, I relished workshopping and sharing writing with peers in class at Bread Loaf; then, discussing it further on porches in picturesque Vermont over craft beers.
As a teacher, I realized that my students, especially in a world of social media, are more interested in the likes and favorites of their peers. When students begin to publish for their peers, the ante rises. Common mistakes are quickly corrected for fear of embarrassment. No more disclaimers emailed to me. Investing greater time, they care more about their peers reading their writing than my tired eyes.
So why not leverage positive peer-pressure by publishing publicly for peers?
That’s what we do here on Medium.com. And David Carr got that.
The week after he passed away this past winter, I had a snow day — no school. With rare free time, I found myself reading everything on David Carr and his passing. I consumed and collected articles, videos, and tweets for a Storify in his memory that I shared with my students.
I found it a little disheartening that they didn’t know him or his work, but I shared it nevertheless, hoping students on the school newspaper may make time later to delve into his writing. Who knows?
If you haven’t had a chance yet, and you are a writer, you must watch this:
Perhaps, what I love most about David Carr — besides his writing and his resilience — is his humility. Dancing with death and battling addiction, David Carr wrote about his life with little filter. As a journalist, he questioned his own life without remorse. To be that open and honest, with himself and readers, he wrote his way from deep darkness to a place of redemption.
As a professor, David Carr understood the world’s changing exponentially. While we think of writing as a timeless craft, the distribution of writing has changed. As an innovative teacher, David Carr saw the potential in Medium.com long before many of us.