Jim Carty is not a popular figure in the blogosphere but I think this town was better off for having a guy at the News who was willing to say what he felt, despite of the fallout. Judging by my recent poll on the subject, most of you were happy to see Jim out of your morning fishwrap but wished Carty would have chosen law school in Haiti instead of Toledo.
Some folks put him in the category of a Drew Sharp who appears to create controversial opinions for the sake of pissing you off, and thus getting your attention. I’ve met Jim Carty before briefly and he never struck me as that guy. He’s busier than ever in his life, so he was very gracious to sit down and spend an hour with me answering a few (sometimes silly) questions.
Like some other recent interviews I’ll break it down into a few parts. In Part I we touch on his decision to leave the News, on his new blog, the day Lloyd Carr canceled his subscription thanks to a JC column, some recent criticism he launched at his former employer and finally….his no-holds-barred feud with Michigan syndicated radio host Bill ‘Huge’ Simonson.
MVictors: You left a position at the Ann Arbor News where you were rabidly criticized by fans, for law school at Toledo to become a lawyer, a profession that is often condemned as well. Were there no openings at the IRS?
Jim Carty: Well, I’ve joked to people that if I can graduate from law school, practice law, and then become a politician, it’ll be like the trifecta of death: the three most hated professions of all time.
MVictors: I imagine you spoke to a lot people when you were pondering this decision, Dave Shand mentioned he spoke to you about it, what was the best advice you got?
Jim Carty: The advice that probably impacted me the most, was a couple attorneys told me that it wasn’t too early in my career to go into law, that it’s not uncommon for someone in his early 40s to start in law. I talked to a U-M law school professor who’s become a good friend a mine. He offered some great advice how to take the first year, some things to pay attention to, some things not to stress about. Dave Shand offered his best wishes and cheerleaded me up, something he didn’t have to do, it was really nice. There are a lot of people that I talked to that were helpful and encouraging.
MVictors: Did any of your friends in the newspaper business give you any advice, at least with respect to the state of the business?
Jim Carty: I will say that I think Dave [Shand], when you talked to him, overstated a little bit the demise of the newspaper as a motivation for me. It was a very personal thing for me. Being a sports columnist is a tremendous job, I used to tell people that even on my worst day they were paying me to watch basketball or football. As you get older and have children, it is a job that doesn’t mesh well with having a family. Now I have kids that are 8, 5 and 2, and the job took me away 35 nights or so a year, a lot of weekends, sometimes you don’t expect it. Every fall Saturday is out, on travel weekends the whole weekend is wiped out – that’s a lot soccer games, that a lot of kids tee-ball games. After a while you add all this up you realize what you’re missing.
I will say this: it’s a horrible time for newspaper industry right now. It’s an absolutely brutal time. My wife is a newspaper reporter as well. Is it a good time to not have two incomes dependent on the newspaper industry? Absolutely.
MVictors: So you are saying it had nothing to do with their refusal to update your column photo in the News?
Jim Carty: [laughs] I have to say, in all fairness to the News, they asked me to update that column photo multiple times. The only person that should be blamed for that is me. Then when there was a possibility of leaving it seemed like the wrong thing to do. My wife says that’s one of the worst photos ever taken of me but I don’t know, that’s really subjective I guess [laughs].
MVictors: You launched your blog Paper Tiger No More. You’ve hit a variety of topics, sports, politics, media, your family. What’s surprised you most about blogging?
Jim Carty: I think what’s surprised me most about it is how much I need to do it. It’s very strange, but if you count my years as an undergrad I’ve been writing on a daily basis for almost 20 years. I don’t think I realized how much of a part of my life it was, and how much of an itch it is that I need to scratch. I get up between 5:30 and 5:45, have breakfast, and I usually bang something out. I’ve got to scratch that itch. Since I quit the News, the production in the blog has gone up exponentially.
MVictors: Have you been stalked by any of the lovely female blogging groupies yet?
Jim Carty: Haven’t seen that yet.
MVictors: I noticed you’re a bit short on Star Trek and Star Wars references, perhaps that’ll help.
Jim Carty: I’ll have to work that in. I’ll probably have to work more from my basement. A lot of kitchen blogging, not enough basement blogging. I actually had one or two dedicated stalkers at the Ann Arbor News, people that were so semi unbalanced that my boss would collect evidence on them. They have not followed me to the blog, instead they’ve fixated on people at the News and left me behind.
MVictors: On your blog you recently blasted the editorial staff of the News for not having the stones to endorse a presidential candidate. Is your bridge back to the News pretty much smoldering right now?
Jim Carty: That’s a very interesting question. It’s funny, just before I came here I was talking to someone at the News about that. I would say more than a dozen people from the Ann Arbor News have contacted me since I blogged that. Either who are at the paper now or former employees.
Every single one of them have said, ‘Tremendous job’, in some way another. That was surprising to me. When I did it, it was something that I was a bit uneasy about, you don’t want to kick people that were good to you and the News was very good to me. As I said in the blog, it’s a tremendous copout to endorse no one. If you truly believe that John McCain is the best presidential candidate for this county, you need to say that. If you believe Obama is the best choice you need to say that. To endorse no one and then be an editorial page that is constantly trying to hold people accountable….it seems to me you can’t be both. I’d love to know who’s call that ultimately was. Mary Morgan, our editorial page editor, who was a tremendous editorial page editorial, just left to start the Ann Arbor Chronicle. I don’t think she could have lived with that decision. Have I burned bridges? I don’t know, but sometimes you’ve got to call ‘em as you see ‘em.
But it would be hypocritical of them to be mad at me, wouldn’t it? After they sort of unleashed me on the community for seven years, to be mad at me for having an opinion? [laughing]
MVictors: Writers are opinionated people, you get paid to write your opinions or at least offer your perspective. Do the office politics get tense inside a newsroom?
Jim Carty: I think there’s some of that. For instance, when Jim Cnockaert covered Michigan football for the News, I think we had very different perspectives on things and I think my act grew thin on him sometimes. I think my act has grown thin on Antoine Pitts at times especially I’m not a hockey guy. I think my presence or lack of presence has resulted in some flack from him.
When you are very opinionated I think you can wear on people and at times it probably did. If you are going to write a column it helps to be self aware and yeah, you’re going to piss people off. If you’re not, you are probably not being opinionated enough. There were times when I wished I didn’t have to have an opinion, just because you get tired of the hate mail.
Ohio State week, the week Bo died I wrote about Lloyd coming out of an interview with an ABC crew really pissed off, swearing at his sports information guy. Lloyd got super annoyed and Laurie Carr got super annoyed. Laurie called up and canceled their subscription. I think their daughter-in-law called up and canceled, too. Someone on the business side was just like, ‘You get him, Jim!’.
I didn’t feel that way at all, I felt really bad. I didn’t want anyone to cancel their subscription let alone Lloyd. That was example of a disconnect. There was times when I know people on the business side who wondered if the semi-critical bent I took was worth it. Let’s face it, there are papers in college towns that are total homer jobs. It’s interesting to see the dynamic. There were times there were people on the business side that were cheering me for pissing people off, and other times wondering if it was the right thing. You just try to be you.
You want to hear something fascinating about the business side? There were minimal cancellations after the academics and athletics series. The first couple days were like three. It was very surprising.
MVictors: Was there ever a case where the editors squashed one of your opinions or said, ‘Jim, let’s dial it down a bit here’?
Jim Carty: Sure. You don’t have good editors if they don’t reel you in occasionally. I have a lot of friends in talk radio. Almost everyone one of them has said to me at one point, I wish someone would have reeled me in. It’s much harder on the radio because you’re going, you’re going, you’re going. As a newspaper columnist you have the benefit of having someone step in a say, ‘Maybe that’s not how we want to say this.’
MVictors: Any examples?
Jim Carty: There were a couple times during the Ed Martin affair that Jim Knight, our sports editor at the time, would sand the edges off. Make it less of an attacking-type column. As far as flat out killing columns? I will say this. When the whole Tommy Amaker thing was said and done, there was a consensus among management that I had beat a dead horse. That I was ultimately right but I pounded the issue too much, to the point where perhaps my points had been lost and I was just seen as someone beating a dead horse. You look back, at the time I totally disagreed with them, maybe they were right, I don’t know. I do appreciate that I worked with people that were trying to look for that.
The only thing they ever killed was, at the sort of height of my feud with Bill Simonson, I had a column that was just going to kill him. I had dredged up some factual badness from his past [laughing]..and it was a very complicating situation for the paper because he works for MLive and the Grand Rapids Press. And they asked me not to do it, but in a way they made it clear that if I said ‘yes, I’m going to do it’, they would have told me not to do it [laughing].
MVictors: Huge went after you hard on the radio. You noted on your blog that he recently sent you a nice note and smoked the virtual peace pipe. Is it water under the bridge now with Huge?
Jim Carty: I’m sort of left wondering what really went on with me and Bill Simonson. I know enough about radio and about radio guys that a good feud really drives ratings. I have no doubt that the first two days we fought which I think was August of 2007, I decided I wasn’t going on the show anymore. I never listened to the show on a daily basis before it came to Ann Arbor. When I could hear it, it just wasn’t my thing. It was a little too bombastic. Occasionally misogynistic, heavy on the Bud Light or the Coors Light or whatever [um, it's Miller Lite], a lot of drinking references. I just felt it wasn’t something I wanted to be associated with. Would I feel good if my daughter listened to this show?
I decided I didn’t want to go on anymore. The next time I called I tried to just say I’m a little busy, I’m not going to come on this year. They pressed me a little bit and finally I told them the truth. In retrospect it was a tactical mistake. His producer Bret Muller was surprised but cool about it, but Bill went nuts about it. He went nuts on the air.
MVictors: But a lot of that’s just shtick.
Jim Carty: The first two days I don’t think it was shtick. Now after that email I think that last couple years was a ratings thing. In retrospect all I’ll say is this–it was a very gracious thing he did to send me the email, I’m very appreciative of it and….god bless him. Life’s too short to hold grudges. He obviously knows how to create a good radio show. It’s not the way I would do it but it works for him.
Update: Coming up in Part II, we talk about dealing with criticism and some specific critics, on the rumors that Lloyd Carr froze him out of the program, on the allegations that certain players were misled during the athademics series and whether Carty regrets calling Bill Martin “Barnacle Bill”.