David Carr: 1956-2015

Photo by internaz

David Carr, the acclaimed journalist, media columnist for The New York Times, and author of the bestselling Night of the Gun, died February 2015 in New York at the age of 58.

Here is a brief reading list of stories by and about Carr, his life and work. It doesn’t even begin to cover it. We will miss him.

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“The Kingdom and the Power of David Carr” (Tom McGeveran, Capital New York, 2011)

This is one version of David Carr, which he endorses: a veteran of the alternative newsweekly scene, and the media-focused Web 1.0 craze; a former crack addict and single father on welfare who has written a memoir all about it without sparing himself, who tweets with abandon, moves comfortably among the paper’s enemies at dinners, parties and media events; a journeyman reporter who is content to have the ear of the executive editor and the cub reporters alike on an informal basis, grateful as he is to have the job he has. It’s not wrong, but it’s not complete.

It doesn’t begin to hint at his influence, and the way in which he projects the power of his institution. I don’t think it’s too much to suggest that to the industry, David Carr is the battle-hardened face of The New York Times, that kind of zealous convert every clerical magisterium (and the top of the Times masthead is a sort of Vatican) wishes for but could never intentionally create. He is its most important champion.

The Fresh Air Interview (Terry Gross, 2011)

I worked at a weekly with a lot of young reporters, and I would hear them pouring on the honey on the phone and being real sweet and nice with the people that they talked to. And then they would turn in these stories that were scabrous and really mean.

And I said: Well, you’re just – you’re setting this up so the phone call’s going to come to me, not you. And you haven’t done these people the privilege of giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

I don’t think people who read your work, who are involved as sources, should be surprised. I often read significant parts of the story to the people that are involved, because I don’t want to sit up in the middle of the night and wonder whether I was fundamentally unfair to the person, that I didn’t communicate to them what is coming and that they – that they’ll be genuinely surprised.

“Me & My Girls” (The New York Times, 2008)

A 2008 excerpt from The Night of the Gun, as featured in the Times:

On the face of it, I am no more qualified to take my own inventory than the addict with the fetid dreads who spare-changes people on the subway while singing “Stand by Me.” Ask him how he ended up sweating people for quarters, and he may have an answer, but he doesn’t really know and probably couldn’t bear it if he did.

To be an addict is to be something of a cognitive acrobat. You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs — you need, actually — to keep them at a remove. Let’s stipulate that I do not have a good memory, having recklessly sautéed my brain in fistfuls of pharmaceutical spices. Beyond impairment, there may be no more unreliable narrator than an addict. Recovered or not, I am someone who used my mouth to constantly create one more opportunity to get high.

Here is what I deserved: hepatitis C, federal prison time, H.I.V., a cold park bench, an early, addled death.

Here is what I got: the smart, pretty wife, the three lovely children, the job that impresses.

Aaron Sorkin Interviews David Carr (Interview, 2011)

SORKIN: What did you major in?

CARR: Um … Frisbee and smoking doobies … But I did double major in journalism and psychology at the University of Minnesota. I began working at a great little weekly that no longer exists called the Twin Cities Reader. My first story was about a friend of my father’s, an older white guy who had been beaten up by some cops when he intervened on the arrest of two black males who seemed fairly subdued. So I said to my dad, “Boy, somebody should do a story about that.” And my dad said, “I thought that’s what you were doing—that you were a journalist.” So that became my first story.

SORKIN: Well, you rose pretty fast, because you eventually became the editor of the Twin Cities Reader.

CARR: There were a few detours along the way, and I ended up sort of washing out of journalism for a while, but I did wind up becoming the editor.

“At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture” (Carr, New York Times 2010)

Carr’s investigation into executives’ behavior inside the Tribune Company:

After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.

“Here was this guy, who was responsible for all these people, getting drunk in front of senior people and saying this to a waitress who many of us knew,” said one of the Tribune executives present, who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer. “I have never seen anything like it.”