Renowned journalism educator, media scholar, institution builder, and cultural historian and critic James W. Carey passed away last night at his family home in Rhode Island. According to the announcement of his death, posted to Romenesko by Columbia University J-School Dean Nicholas Lemann, Carey was with his family and not in any pain. I knew Prof. Carey personally: he was the founder of my PhD program in Communications at Columbia, and I was honored to call him a mentor and an intellectual inspiration. I am also happy to report that he was a truly wonderful and kind man. Brilliant and a wonderful person-- those of us familiar with the world of academia know how rarely those two adjectives are conjoined.
Leonard Witt has a great post detailing Prof. Carey's impact on the public journalism movement, and, by extension, his impact on many of the debates currently swirling with regard to blogging, democracy, and journalism professionalism. Many of the big guns of the blogging world have probably never heard of James W. Carey, but they speak his language, whether they know it or not. For myself, I have been continually surprised to find an old essay of Carey's, usually from the late 70's or so, which anticipates much of my own thinking, often without me knowing it.
Personally, James 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??") and vice-versa to know what a valuable contribution that really is. Prof. Carey also reminds me that media is nothing without democracy: it might exist, but its existence is hollow. In these dark times, that's a lesson worth keeping in mind.