I first met David Carr in my senior year journalism ethics class. I had known Carr for years prior to my first time meeting him (after all, his column, The Media Equation, had been running every Monday in the New York Times since my high school days) but sitting in a darkened lecture hall, I got to meet him in person. It was magnificent.
I sat in a hall with 50 or so other journalism students, watching the 2011 documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” a film meant, ostensibly at least, to give our class an idea of what day-to-day life inside a major newsroom was like. It was meant to show us how different personalities have to coalesce every day, how a countless amount of cogs have to perfectly fall into place in order for the Times to make it to print every day, and how even a cultural institution like the Times was struggling to cope with a rapidly changing media environment that devalued traditional print journalism. But instead, the lecture became The David Carr Show.
In it, Carr exemplified the characteristics that made him so unique. Witty, coarse, and searingly honest, the reporter exuded a penchant for both keen introspection and brash extroversion. Early in the movie, Carr introduces his career, while simultaneously referencing his past struggles with drug addiction and crime by saying, “At the tender age 31, I still had a year left of being the violent, drug-snorting thug before I found my way to this guy, the guy with a family and a job at The New York Times.”
He was somehow both bristling and warm, exuding the magnetic qualities every journalist should strive for. Later in the documentary, when told by Vice Media co-founder Shane Smith during an interview that Vice was reporting on cannibalism and poor sewage conditions in Liberia, while The Times was more concerned with reporting on “surfing”in the country, Carr lit into Smith:
“Just a sec, time out,” Carr said, interrupting Smith mid-interview. “Before you ever went there, we’ve had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do. So continue.”
This week, just a day before he collapsed and died in the Times newsroom, Carr wrote about the news of Brian Williams’ probation / Jon Stewart’s retirement, referencing “real news that became too fake, fake news that became too real”, by writing that, “Everyone is in on the joke. It’s all knowing winks and fake attacks on confected news read by people who are somewhat bored by what they do. It just seems less funny now.”
So here’s to David Carr. He was a good journalist.