The Media Remembers David Carr

February 15, 2015

By Greg Marx via CJR

Journalists grieve their own in public. Still, the response to the sudden death last night of David Carr, the media columnist for The New York Times, has been staggering.

Here are some of the notable obituaries, remembrances, and tributes to Carr. (Mother Jones and Poynter captured the explosion on Twitter as the news broke.) We’ll update this post, so let us know what’s missing. And we’d be remiss not to link at the top to some of the most powerful examples of Carr’s work during his stint at the Times—like “Me and My Girls,” a harrowing 2008 Times Magazine story adapted from his memoir, and this 2010 article taking dead aim at the “bankrupt culture” atop the Chicago Tribune.

The tributes:

— “New York Times media reporter and chief ambassador David Carr dead at 58.” The headline on the obituary at Capital New York, written by Joe Pompeo and Jeremy Barr, sums up the role Carr had come to play—as an ambassador for the paper he worked for, and in many ways for newspapers (and newer media forms), and hard-working journalists, everywhere.

— “David Carr, a Journalist at the Center of the Sweet Spot.” A lovely remembrance from Carr’s Times colleague A.O. Scott, which concludes:

David was our champion: the best we had and also the one who would go out into the world every week to make the case for what we do. He understood better than anyone how hard the job can be, how lonely, how confusing, how riddled with the temptations of cynicism and compromise. And yet he could make it look so easy, and like the most fun you could ever hope to have.

The headline is a reference to the “The Sweet Spot,” a weekly online series featuring Carr and Scott that ran for a time on the Times site. Here’s an episode that was being shared on Twitter last night:

— “David Carr, RIP.” Dave Weigel offers this account of being written about by Carr during his own professional low point. Great interviewing skills, a restless reporter’s instincts, impatience for bullshit, a sharp intelligence paired with deep empathy—they’re all here.

— “David Carr, friend of journalism.” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, who was hired by Carr at Washington City Paper, writes of 14-foot-tall campfires, sparring with shady councilmembers and local sleazelords, love and support for younger journalists, and “a fierceness that made us all quake.”

— “Postscript: David Carr (1956-2015).” The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, another young writer hired by Carr at City Paper: “He was allergic to euphemism and a believer that journalism was the art of curating minutiae. He also had one of the most valuable attributes a writer can claim—an ability to withhold personal judgment…. What made him more than simply a humbled former user, however, was the fact that he didn’t confuse his unwillingness to judge with an absence of standards.”

— “Missing David Carr,” by Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer, another member of the City Paper cohort. “Behind the guy who often looked like a derelict was a formidable intellect and an unmatchable gift for language,” she writes. About that derelict look: A Washington Monthly editor once mistook Carr for a homeless person who’d wandered into the office.

— “David Carr (1956-2015).” Many lines to choose from in this piece by Politico’s Jack Shafer, Carr’s predecessor at City Paper. Here’s one: “He loved to exploit other reporters, and was generous about letting them exploit him, which is unusual in the trade.”

— “Beloved by journalists, David Carr was always looking for the next David Carr.” The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi focuses on Carr’s role as a mentor to younger journalists in this reported piece. Says one of them, Foster Kamer: “Being around David didn’t just make you proud to do what you did, it made you aspire to do it so much better, because it only took a few minutes [around Carr] to make you truly believe . . . that great reporters are rooted in humanism.”

— “Lessons learned from our brief time with David Carr.” Boston University students Justine Hofherr and Meghan Turchi write for about what it was like to have Carr as your professor. “At first, we were scared to approach him — his reputation seemed distorted to almost mythical proportions. But we quickly learned that Carr was deeply human, but a human like you’ve never met before.”

— “David Carr, your best friend.” Hamilton Nolan writes at Gawker:

There are hundreds and hundreds of people out there who believe that, secretly, they were David Carr’s favorite. And maybe we all were. He had the rare emotional capacity to make each of us his favorite, one by one by one…. The fact that he was a feared and respected media figure at a fancy newspaper always seemed like a wonderful cosmic prank against the existence of stereotypes.

— “David Carr, 1956-2015.” Ken Kurson at the Observer: “You can’t write about David Carr. You just can’t. Because you know he’s going to read it (he read everything) and you know he would have said it better with funnier phrases and deeper insights.”

— “Remembering David Carr.” A soulful, reflective column by MinnPost’s Brian Lambert, who knew Carr since the 1980s, when Lambert edited Carr’s writing for the Twin Cities Reader. More than an appreciation of Carr as a journalist, but it is that, too:

Carr’s greatest talent was unchecked curiosity. He asked questions. Lots of questions. Constant questions. He truly wanted to know, as he often said, “What’s your story?” As anyone who has ever been courted can tell you, the magic of someone’s focused curiosity in you is a powerful, disarming force. To the point you’re surprised at what you hear yourself saying in response, things personal enough to create a substantial bond.

— “How City Paper remembers David Carr.” The Washington, DC alt-weekly, which Carr ran from 1995-2000, and where he supported the careers of an astonishing roster of young journalists, is posting remembrances from former staff. Well worth a read; check back for updates.

— “David Carr is dead,” by Alexis Madrigal at Fusion. This passage captures a sentiment that shows up in many of the tributes:

The David Carr Reality Distortion Field was a powerful thing — and for reasons I can’t entirely fathom, he used his magic for good, drawing the best from people with his magic. He could have made me feel anythingand he chose to make me feel good.

— “A Few Words for David Carr, and His Cheeseburger.” Click through for the “cheeseburger” line from Esquire’s Scott Raab, but here’s his kicker: “When the New York Fucking Times gave David Carr a voice, he roared. I owe him more than words can say.”

— “Noticing the Net.” Sarah C. Rich, writing at Medium:

His relationship to the industry was one of deep love with healthy boundaries, and his writing was as meaningful and relatable to media insiders as to outsiders looking for a lucid take on the news. Whatever was happening, we could trust that Carr would know what to say and how to say it. Anyone would give him the last word.

— “A Reporter Leaves His Beat.” The New Republic’s Sam Eifling and Bijan Stephen collect remembrances from people close to Carr, including Tom Arnold and Ta-Nehisi Coates, in this reported piece. There’s also this quote from Howell Raines, who hired Carr at the Times: “My biggest surprise with David was, he was such an iconoclast when I interviewed him, and I was amazed at how quickly he settled into the role as an establishment Times person… After he’d been there only a few months, he was very much a believer in the Times’s glorious account of its own existence.”

— “The Two Best Pieces of Advice David Carr Ever Gave Me,” by Times colleague Nick Bilton, writing at Medium. One is about what matters in life. The other is about socks.

— “The kingdom and the power of David Carr.” This 2011 profile of Carr by Capital New York’s Tom McGeveran is being widely shared among journalists. The piece offers an account of one of Carr’s great reporting feats at the Times, that 2010 article on the frat-house culture at the top of the Chicago Tribune, and it includes his memorable assessment of Michael Wolff: a “necessary person.”

— “David Carr, breastfeeding, and me: The power of a kind act.” Regan Morris writes for BBC News about the time she met Carr just before a studio live hit, and opened the door to greet him while nursing her infant son. His response: “a string of compliments, which included words like ‘amazing,’ ‘strong,’ and ‘powerful’”—and maybe “badass.”

— “David Carr was one of my dearest friends.” Andrew Rossi, director of Page One, a documentary about the Times in transition in which Carr was the leading presence, writes for CNNMoney:

Yes, he wanted to protect the boots-on-the-ground reporting, which heretofore relied on print advertising, but he celebrated the “self-cleaning oven” ethos of the web, and he believed in the destiny of the Times as a multimedia content creator, not a stack of paper which he readily predicted would become like vinyl records in the not-so-distant future.

That gets at a point Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton made on Twitter last night:

… and it also surfaces also in a brief post by Alex Belk at The Awl, who writes that even more important than Carr’s legendary generosity was “his ability to face the future with complete curiosity and a fearlessness that allowed him to be skeptical (but not dismissive) when necessary but enthusiastic and optimistic about things that few other people of his position or experience were able to contend with.”

—   “David Carr’s death has silenced a unique and powerful voice.” Writes Mathew Ingram at GigaOm: “He had no sentimental attachment to print, per se, but he definitely had an attachment to journalism, and the need to dig for the truth and not be distracted by the noise and lights.”

—   “David Carr.” Jeff Jarvis, writing at BuzzMachine:

I was lucky to snag David once to judge my students’ entrepreneurial ventures. As the other assembled experts debated this and that, David waited for his moment and then — and you must hear this in that voice of his, that of a badly tuned diesel engine struggling up a mountain against the wind — he said: “The journalist must go to the ocean.” The room was silent, heads cocked like confused German shepherds as if to say, “What the fuck does that mean, David?” He was used to that: the price of speaking in brilliant, unexpected flourishes. So he explained: He saw that now the journalist had to do it all, had to make all media, had to distribute, had to support her work as a business. David voted for a few of those businesses and then, indeed, quietly helped those students find their ways to the ocean.

— Not a tribute, but Jack Shafer flags this video of Carr’s appearance on a public-affairs cable-access TV show in the Twin Cities in 1984, while he was writing for the Reader. It’s set to auto-play, so we won’t embed it, but you can view the video here.

— One of the other journalists on that panel was David Brauer, now a columnist for Southwest Journal in Minneapolis. Joey White created this Storify of Brauer’s Twitter timeline last night. You should click through.

— Finally, “Why David Carr is irreplaceable,” by my colleague Kira Goldenberg, who writes:

And he was consistently there, a voice of reason and informed optimism in an industry whose balcony Muppets veer from doomsday pronouncements to Silicon Valley magical thinking. Carr didn’t roll his eyes at digital experiments, but he also gave an older guard of media titans—Rupert Murdoch, The Washington Post, and even Brian Williams (whom Carr wrote last week shouldn’t be fired for his fabricated heroics)—the benefit of the doubt. He wrote from the view that nobody is beyond redemption.

Photo: Internaz