The legacy and literature of David Carr
“I’m not what you would call the classic Timesman,” New York Times media journalist David Carr was once quoted as saying, to which Anthony Bourdain adds, ”No. Just the BEST one." NYT alerts often make us gasp aloud, but never more loudly than did yesterday's alert that Carr had collapsed suddenly in the NYT newsroom at just 58. A single obituary, even one published by the Times, could hardly contain all of his accomplishments, as we can't think of a journalist whose work we read more frequently, or more often with the dawning of agreement. "Worst week for media since the recession as David Carr of the @nytimes leaves Earth for journalism Valhalla," accurately summarizes Tom Risen with U.S. News & World Report. Or as put even more succinctly by Mediaite's Evan McMurry: "Heaven just got a f***load weirder."
His legacy stretches on forever. He exposed the bankrupt culture of the Tribune Company. He confessed his worst sins to us while recounting how he rose from the ashes of his errors. He was a journalist at the center of the Sweet Spot. He "sanctified the idea that it was OK to think of journalism this way, as a calling, not a career." He produced some of journalism's most memorable stories. He was endlessly quotable. "Keep typing until it turns into writing," he urged us.
Nothing changes that Carr was taken from us "[f]ar too young. A distinct voice in media, needed by all. God damn," reacts Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw. CNN's Anderson Cooper was one the last to interview him and Carr hosted TimeTalks with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald with Edward Snowden on Livestream just hours before his death. "Wow, was just talking about him, but weren't we always?" realizes Amy Kuperinsky with the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Compounding this loss, "Journalism and Twitter have gotten a little dumber," laments freelance tech journalist Rob Pegoraro.
MediaTwitter appeared to rapidly go through each of the seven steps of grief before our eyes. There was anger. "How unfair that such a valiant, complicated and wonderful emblem of our industry should be taken from us," remarks colleague Michael Barbaro. Denial. "Oh, no. I was taking this as untrue. I wish I'd been right," wistfully tweets the New Yorker's Kathryn Schulz. Bargaining. "I wish I had the power to undo this," admits The Marshall Project's Corey G. Johnson. Also, more anger. "HATE THIS!" USA Today's Carolyn Cerbin speaks for everyone in tweeting.
NY Times journalists seemed as stunned as the rest of us. "We lost one of the best reporters, colleagues, and -- most importantly -- people at NYT tonight," tweets finance reporter Michael de la Merced. Retail reporter Hiroko Tabuchi confesses she's "In shock. Just saw him earlier this week." "David Carr was a man and journalist of such grace and tenacious integrity," shares deputy editor Jessica Lustig.
Many of us leaned on Carr's mind when the media industry seemed at its nadir. Re/code's Edmund Lee reflects, "I loved @carr2n. He gave me his heart and his brain and his shoulder whenever I needed..."
He was the champion of plenty. "The single-biggest advocate for @TexasTribune, and for our journalism experiment, from day one. I am heartbroken," reveals the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw. "I owe him far more than 140. I owe him my career," NYT's Sam Sifton declares.
Just what was it about his writing? In part, as Anders Gyllenhaal with McClatchy Newspapers points out, Carr was "a writer so good you can't help but feel you know him." He possessed an ability to somehow persuade an industry that was the most skeptical of audiences. "Journalists are too jaded to have heroes. Unless they are the journalists we aspire to be, like David Carr," Sean Means explains at the Salt Lake Tribune.
In the end, Carr remains an inspiration not merely because of his words, but also because of his life. ESPN's Mike Wise observes, "Better than anything David Carr wrote, his greatest feat was building his life back up from rock bottom. Godspeed."