As if the announced departure of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show and the death of veteran CBS correspondent Bob Simon in a New York car crash weren’t enough this week, we in the biz are now having to mourn the sudden passing of David Carr. It’s a big, big loss. When news broke last night that Carr had been struck down in the newsroom (where else?) of the New York Times, there was a collective outpouring of grief on social media from journalists, most of whom had probably never met the man. But we felt as if we had. A friend of mine went to bed, then got up and returned to Twitter “in hope that I’ve imagined events this evening”. Later, she tweeted me: “I am just so sad, I cannot go to bed.” I knew how she felt. David Carr was special.
In addition to all his talent, passion and ability to express himself with such remarkable clarity, he was someone who gave us hope in these dark days of declining real media impact, particularly in the newspaper world.
Despite his embrace of and fascination with social media (470,000 followers on Twitter!), David Carr remained, at heart, a newspaper guy. Whenever his home-delivered New York Times didn’t make it to the doorstep, Carr felt out of sorts for the rest of the day. He read two or three newspapers every morning, before heading in to work. For this 58-year old veteran of the trade, the Internet was an adjunct, not a replacement for newspapers. I loved what he told the Globe and Mail’s media reporter James Bradshaw last year, about surfing the ‘Net during a rare day at home: “All I did was lily-pad from one thing to another. And just vast reaches of my day disappeared. Did I work? I guess I did. At the end of the day, I felt a little bit like I had been looking at porn all day.”
Amid all the yellers, instant analysts and short attention span merchants, who are increasingly dominating this new age of information, he reminded us of the value of dogged, daily reporting and good, clear stories,
David Carr was old-school. He handled his unexpected fame with aplomb, enjoying the attention that came his way from his prominent role in the fine Page One documentary on the Times, but not letting it get in the way of doing what he loved, reporting and writing. He continued to come into work every day, ask smart people questions and satisfy that great friend of a good reporter, curiosity, by getting to the bottom of story after story. There was much more to Carr, but that pretty much formed the foundation for everything else.
As the NYT’s longtime media reporter and columnist, he dominated a field that seemed to change with every phase of the moon. While the first to proclaim that no one, including himself, could predict the future media landscape with any certainty, his insights were always valuable. One of the newspaper industry’s vanishing breed of beat reporters, he brought smart, common-sense perspective to events in the strange media world of today that one could rely on. He was a must read. That’s what happens when you are left to cover something for a long period of time. You get to know what’s going on, rather than just marshaling facts for a next-day story, becoming an instant expert, and then moving on to the next assignment. Those stories are necessary, but that’s not what David Carr did, although I’m sure he excelled when he had to do that, too.
In addition to everything else, he loved movies, and wrote for many years about the Oscars. Take a look at his recent superb opinion piece on the Academy Awards’ snub of Selma. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/business/media/why-the-oscars-omission-of-selma-matters.html
In fact, look up any of David Carr’s columns, and you will be struck by just how good they are. Search his byline on the NYT website, as I did Thursday night, and prepare to be both wowed and moved. A bunch are here. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/david_carr/index.html
The best for last. Yes, Carr was a fearless reporter, never backing away from asking the tough questions and taking on those who needed it, even, on occasion, his own newspaper. But that was nothing, compared to the courage he showed in his personal life, coming back from a terrible addiction to crack cocaine that took a toll on everyone around him. At pit bottom, he was visiting crack houses, his young twin daughters left outside, alone. That experience and subsequent day-at-a-time recovery, vividly recounted by Carr in his book The Night of the Gun, surely contributed to the candour with which he accepted life for what it was, determined to make the best of his reprieve from the depths.
In The Night of the Gun’s concluding paragraph, he wrote: “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve, but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end anytime soon.” Alas for us all, it did. We are unlikely to see his like again.