Last night’s death of David Carr leaves a bigger hole in the media than the suspension of Brian Williams from NBC News or the planned departure of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show.
By coincidence, Carr’s last Media Decoder column/post for the New York Times was about the simultaneous career changes of Williams and Stewart (as was my most recent blog post). I really don’t care much who fills the NBC anchor chair while Williams is gone for six months or longer, and I’m only mildly interested in the jockeying for Stewart’s chair. But I worry about who will decode media for the Times, and I doubt anyone can approach Carr’s mastery of this field that I cover and teach and where for decades I worked (unless this blog and occasional consulting entitle me to still use the present tense).
I didn’t make this about me so quickly (and it won’t be for long) to compare myself to Carr. I would lose such a comparison quickly, as you can tell if you read the Williams/Stewart links above.
And I certainly don’t claim any special connection (we never met). My only Decoder mention that Google can find or that I can recall was a derisive dismissal of my paywall criticism (which I defended in a comment on Carr’s post). We never exchanged emails (not because I never sent him one), but I think we had a Twitter exchange or two. But the first tweet I found from Carr directed at me was also derisive:
— david carr (@carr2n) April 8, 2012
That criticism I defended as well, but here’s the point: Carr’s opinion and analysis mattered. When he disagreed with you, you stopped a moment to ponder his point, and, even if he didn’t win you over, he made you think. His reporting was thorough, his analysis incisive, his criticism fair.
And, in a stable of thoroughly predictable Times commentators, he was fiercely and refreshingly independent and unpredictable. When most media commentators either yearn too longingly for glory days whose glory they exaggerate or rush headlong into a future they don’t yet understand, Carr appreciated the importance of maintaining standards of quality and ethics while boldly exploring new paths to business success. I follow media commentary and reporting closely, and no one’s reporting and commentary made me stop and read more immediately than a link to an @carr2n post. He was the best.
Our shared former colleague, Daniel Victor, paid this wonderful tribute last night as the tragic news spread:
I’m not going to pretend to do justice here to Carr or to his place in media criticism and reporting or journalism in general. That would take more time and this is an instant analysis written in the middle of the night (my chemotherapy schedule right now includes a steroid that disrupts my sleep). So here’s what I’m going to do:
- Link to my past references to Carr, which I hope will show the respect I felt for him and the varied ways his work prompted and shaped the work of lesser media commentators (leaving out a few passing mentions and those two defenses linked already above).
- Link to others who provided better quick commentary on his death.
- Embed a powerful series of tweets late last night from Carr’s friend and former colleague David Brauer, recalling Carr’s struggle with (and eventual triumph over) crack cocaine addiction, while also honoring his contribution to journalism. I’m saving the best for last, because it’s a powerful ending to this post. If you don’t want to wade through my Carr references, I encourage jumping ahead to the Brauer tweets, then coming back and clicking on the other coverage of Carr’s death.
My David Carr references
When I took the Times to task last November for weak and inconsistent linking, I cited Carr as a Times writer who gets linking, specifically mentioning his post that day about Bill Cosby’s media enablers:
The piece is loaded with nearly 20 links, mostly to various media pieces about Cosby. The linked stories provide incredible depth and context to Carr’s column, if you want to know more about the media’s fawning over Cosby and the recent implosion of his image. They give the piece credibility, since you know you can click on those links to check whether Carr has quoted or cited them accurately.
When I faulted Fareed Zakaria’s employers for not taking seriously allegations of plagiarism by the pseudonymous bloggers of Our Bad Media, my lead invoked Carr:
If David Carr of the New York Times had documented more than a dozen incidents of apparent plagiarism by Fareed Zakaria, Zakaria probably would have lost his jobs with prominent media outlets.
I didn’t always praise Carr. When I wrote about Omaha World-Herald columnist Matthew Hansen’s work debunking a viral photo, I ended with this criticism for Carr’s column about Hansen (which was mostly excellent):
Even good journalists (and Carr is one) sometimes miss the mark. Here’s how he ends his column: “All of which serves as a reminder to reporters — and those who read their work — that if journalists take their eyes off the screen, leave their cubicle and actually go out and talk with people, they might discover something that is interesting as heck.” Nearly all the reporters and columnists I know (and I suspect those Carr knows as well) regularly take their eyes off the screen, leave their cubicles and go out and talk with people. That gratuitous shot at his colleagues (and dismissal of the value of digital research, which also played a part in Matt’s success on this story) had no place in the story Carr was telling. Matt’s success with this story wasn’t just that he got off his ass and talked to people. It was that he pursued the story from multiple angles (online and in person) until he got the right story. And that he told the story even better than the New York Times did.
I gave Carr passing mention in a 2012 post about the Journal Register Company’s second bankruptcy, linking to an earlier excellent piece he had written on media bankruptcies. I didn’t comment on this blog about a 2011 profile Carr wrote of the JRC and Digital First Media CEO (and my boss at the time) John Paton. I discussed the piece, though, in a long email thread with Paton and some other DFM confidantes before and after Carr wrote the profile.
While I won’t share the exact comments (unless John gives me permission), I will break the confidence of that private exchange enough to say that Paton and others had some concerns in advance of publication, based on a pretty tough interview with Carr, but we all agreed the final result was fair.
This aside from Paton is also worth mentioning: “One funny exchange: he told me the times wouldn’t let him say copyboy. I had to be a copy aide.”
A 2012 post about the Times-Picayune’s cutback in newspaper print publication gave passing mention to Carr for breaking the story. In a later private email exchange with Paton and other DFM leaders, I said we should use that as a cautionary tale if we cut back print frequency at DFM newspapers (we did at a couple small dailies, but not at any metros):
“The Times-Pic (PR) disaster started w/ Carr breaking the story, so they lost control early & never even played catch-up well. When we make a decision, we need to move quickly & be briefing the media instead of figuring out whether & how to play catch-up.”
In a 2010 post mocking the Times’ declaration that “tweet” had not yet achieved “standard English” status and shouldn’t be used routinely in Times copy, I cited Carr as one of the Times staffers already excelling on Twitter.
Other coverage of Carr’s death and journalism
The New York Times appreciation by A.O. Scott and story on Carr’s death by Bruce Weber and Ashley Southall, ending this way:
‘I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve,’ Mr. Carr wrote at the conclusion of ‘The Night of the Gun,’ ‘but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.’
Long Reads’ compilation of stories by and about Carr.
Capital New York’s obituary by Joe Pompeo and Jeremy Barr, quoting my old TBD colleague Erik Wemple, a former colleague of Carr’s at Washington City Paper:
I don’t know that a guy could ever have had a better friend than he was to me. For all the successes that he racked up in his own life—a glorious family, fame and influence—he always seemed most pleased when talking about the successes of others.
Though I knew that he lived in a constant state of near-exhaustion with his work life and all the time he gave to family and friends and his students, I guess I just assumed he could go on like that forever.
I look forward to reading Erik’s full tribute to his friend. Update: Erik delivered. It’s a good read.
I may update this list of coverage and commentary on Carr’s death as more comes in today. The late-night news will probably generate more today.
As expected, I’m updating with links to several other excellent tributes:
- Nick Bilton’s remembrance of Carr advice that changed his life. Bilton, by the way, was the target of @carr2n’s final tweet yesterday afternoon (not counting two later retweets:
— david carr (@carr2n) February 12, 2015
- David Carr’s death has silenced a unique and powerful voice, by Mathew Ingram. I also liked this tweet about the difficulty of writing a Carr tribute:
- Tributes, from all over, for the incomparable David Carr, by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. Our lists overlap slightly already, but I’ll just refer you to hers, rather than duplicating further.
- David Carr is dead by Alexis Madrigal.
- For a young journalist, there was no better champion than David Carr, by Jenni Avins.
Some of the tributes, of course, came on Twitter:
If I had 1/1000th the talent of David Carr, I would know exactly the right thing to say right now. Just numb.
— Aron Pilhofer (@pilhofer) February 13, 2015
Hard to say what’s more impressive about David Carr – the work or how much he meant to so many people. A real, living social network.
— Nick Wingfield (@nickwingfield) February 13, 2015
David Carr would have been tickled that his “Times” obit ran above the fold. To friends, he’d also have said, “It’s a little much, right?” — tad friend (@tadfriend) February 13, 2015
David Brauer remembers
I know David Brauer a little, having followed each other for years on Twitter and having met for lunch once when he was a media reporter in the Twin Cities, and warranted a few mentions in his MinnPost media blog. He knew Carr far better than I did, working together at the Twin Cities Reader in the 1980s.
Brauer’s Twitter remembrance of Carr last night was riveting, capturing the depths and heights he reached in an amazing life: