How the JMS department and alumni united to honor one of their own.
By: Bryan Alcox
Sean Carr was a devoted insurance reporter in Washington, D.C. when he passed away in 2014, at age 43. Throughout his life and career, Carr displayed a passion for reporting and exposing wrongdoing, and that passion was palpable in both his work and his character. “Certain people, reporting is in their blood,” said Tim Sullivan, a friend of Carr’s. “Certain people, it’s the total summation of their character, and that was Sean.”
Carr was a graduate of the Rutgers journalism program, where he met Sullivan as a peer. In their time at Rutgers, the two also forged bonds with their professor, Steven Miller, that lasted long after Carr and Sullivan graduated. Because of the close relationship, both Sullivan and Miller were affected by the loss of their friend.
Receiving the news, Jennifer Baljko, a fellow journalism student and classmate of Carr’s, stated she “felt his loss immediately.” Baljko, considering the difficulty her own family had paying college tuition, reached out to Sullivan and Miller alongside Carr’s wife, and all were in support of memorializing Carr through a scholarship.
As a result of the collaborative efforts from so many of the JMS department members, along with the help of the Rutgers Foundation, The Sean Carr Memorial Scholarship was established. “All this is indicative of how much Sean was loved,” said Miller, “and how much Sean contributed to everybody and everything.”
Carr’s contributions can be traced back to when Sullivan began writing at Rutgers in 1990, at the Cook College newspaper, The Green Print. Carr was a news editor, and became the editor in chief a year later. “He totally took me under his wing,” said Sullivan. The two forged a friendship as Sullivan began to study journalism, and both spent time at Rutgers exploring their journalistic capabilities. Sullivan recalled, for example, a collaborative investigative reporting piece on police harassment, wherein he and Carr sought out to expose RU Police Department officers with complaints against them. “There’s something very special about the people you meet in college, because the years are formative,” said Sullivan, reflecting on the effect Carr’s mentorship had on him. “Not only did he make me a better writer, he made me a bolder person.”
After finishing at Rutgers, Carr remained brave in his reporting. “It was fun listening to him question officials,” said Baljko, who also crossed paths with him professionally at The Home News Tribune in East Brunswick during the 1990s. “What I respected most was that he wouldn’t let people weasel out of answers. He had a way of getting underneath an issue, and getting people to talk to him.”
As an example, Sullivan recalls a story Carr managed to break not long after their time at school together, about a local school board committing ethics violations. Later on, during his time in Washington, Carr studied insurance as it applied to a variety of issues, from healthcare to climate change, and communicated the impact they had on both a small scale and large. Furthermore, Sullivan also recalls work Carr did surrounding problems that eventually led to the 2008 financial crisis, exploring concepts such as bad derivatives and unsecured loans. “He was smart enough to see the problems early,” said Sullivan.
Carr’s work stood out, and his death prompted those close to him to reflect on the now empty gap he had filled in the field of journalism. “Something’s been forgotten,” said Miller, also reflecting on the overall state of the field. “Journalists are supposed to serve the public, and not their pocketbook.” Miller, now the director of undergraduate studies for the JMS department, noted the importance of ethical journalism in a period when journalists face intense financial and social pressure. In order to effectively keep a democracy alive, journalists must seek out and distribute information that can be difficult to obtain. “Sean, to us, exemplified that,” said Miller. “He never stopped going after the story, and if you’re not going to honor that, what else are you going to honor?”
At the end of the summer of 2016, as Miller and Sullivan discussed how they could make appeals for the scholarship fund, Miller wrote the lyrics for a song in Carr’s honor, called, “You’d Be Laughing Now.” Sullivan and Miller were soon in agreement that a song would be the ideal way to crystallize Carr’s memory. “Music is very therapeutic,” said Sullivan, expressing the significance in the choice of medium. “Sean was a really big music fan, and he and I went to a lot of concerts together.”
Sullivan pulled in Donna Dior for the project. She’s the other member of his duo, The Monarchy. Miller played guitar. As a means of extending the goodwill imparted by the song, they created the Sean Carr Memorial Scholarship Fund GoFundMe page. There, anyone who wishes to contribute to the scholarship fund can, in turn, receive a recording of the song.
The GoFundMe page was just one in a series of efforts to contribute to the scholarship fund. After the Rutgers Foundation helped secure the fund’s founding donors, Miller also organized a fundraising concert by The Monarchs at the Cook Campus Center. Miller also took part in the concert that night, playing guitar for “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, as a dedication to a drunken night in college when Carr told Sullivan he wanted the song played at his funeral.
Ultimately, the money raised for the scholarship will promote Carr’s core values. “I would hope that anybody that is a part of Sean’s scholarship finds the same pursuit of the truth that he did,” said Sullivan.
“I also hope the scholarship instills a sense of community and connectedness between Rutgers alum and undergraduates,” said Baljko. “I think this scholarship is a way to give back and help a few students out.”
The scholarship has already made a difference. Two have been distributed to date, a third is being awarded soon, and people are still donating to the fund. “This is a way for Sean, and what Sean did,” said Miller, “to live forever.”
If you would like to make a donation to the Sean Carr Memorial Scholarship fund, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/sean-carr-memorial-scholarship-fund.