I’m collecting tributes people have written and are writing about the late David Carr. They’re full of details and moments that help explain why so many people are so sad at his passing. Please let me know who I’m missing.
His obituary in The New York Times, by Bruce Weber and Ashley Southall:
A cancer survivor with a throaty croak of a speaking voice and a storklike posture, he was a curmudgeonly personality whose intellectual cockiness and unwillingness to suffer fools found their way into his prose.
From Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:
If you needed a hug, he would give you a hug. If you didn’t feel that you needed a hug, he would still give you a hug. He seemed to know better than you how much you might need a hug. He always hugged, like a man who had come home from war, which in many ways he had.
Erik Wemple, a Washington Post media blogger who worked with Carr at City Paper from 1996 until around 2000, said in an email, “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.
He had a quirky cache of phrases that sounded like they were common expressions, but in fact may only have been used by him: “out here on girl island” meant confidential; “faster is better than better” meant hurry up; “low, sloping foreheads” meant…well, I never did figure that out. More entertaining were the times he used his voice to stand up for his paper and his staff. I’d heard tales before I started: There was the guy who’d been called “asshole” in a story. When he phoned to complain, things got heated. Carr got the last word. “You know, Stu,” he said. “You really are an asshole!” Or the city council guy who was irate that we hadn’t noted the many sacrifices he made for public service. “Then quit!,” Carr thundered. And the community activist who said something along the lines of “you can’t say that.” Carr: “Well, I just did.”
From Jenni Avins at Quartz:
Anyone with a ferocious wave rising beneath them knows they better paddle hard if they don’t want to get pummeled. Five years ago, Carr’s writing motivated me to do just that—and then in person, he gave me a last hard push, and helped me get safely in front of the swell.
From Dave Weigel:
I don’t have Carr’s facility with language, and I didn’t get to know him as well as the people who are going to mourn him right. All I want to say is: Fuck this. Life is short, but it shouldn’t be this short. Least of all for someone who understood so delicately and elementally how people lived.
Alone, each message about Carr’s passing showed just how much he and his writing meant on a personal level to readers, colleagues, and everyone else who strung characters together to describe the pain of his passing.
But together, the outpouring becomes something more — a chorus that pushed the writer’s name to the top Twitter’s “trends” box and amplified just how acutely his voice will be missed.
Thursday night, the wired collective voice of Twitter howled “David Carr.”
From the Daily Free Press at Boston University, by Mina Corpuz:
Mitchell Zuckoff, a journalism professor in COM, said his colleague was incredibly talented and will be missed.
“David was the rarest creature in our craft: a brilliant reporter, a lyrical writer and a gifted teacher. Yet he was incredibly modest,” he said in an email. “We were having coffee recently, and he kept talking about how much more he needed to learn about teaching. At the same time, the students we shared were constantly raving to me about his class.”
From Steve Buttry:
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.
From Jeff Jarvis:
I loved the times when he would brag about his daughters’ accomplishments and his moments with them online. Of course, that’s every father’s joy. But David was proud of the accomplishments of young people around him in much the same way. Last night in Twitter’s howl, I saw many rising talents thank David for the moments of intense attention and encouragement he had given them.
It’s no small thing to claw a path upward from that low point to a star-turn as the face of the New York Times—which was Carr’s role in the acclaimed documentary, “Page One.” The hidden ingredient was stupendous effort. The man did his homework. If a trench needed digging, he grabbed a shovel. In his early years at the Times, David wrote for every page, every section, uncomplainingly. He became the paper’s biggest cheerleader and one of its most original voices. The bosses wanted a blog—he blogged the Oscars. The bosses wanted video—he shambled in front of a hand-held camera. The bosses wanted live events—he slipped on a necktie and made himself an emcee.
He wrote and spoke about the news business with deep knowledge and great heart; it was obvious that he cared about good journalism and its importance as a healthy antidote to corruption, hypocrisy, and other evils in a functioning democracy. He was also exceedingly proud to work for one of the planet’s best, if not the best, journalistic outlets.
I could never sit still when I talked to him. I’d end up pacing, trying to focus my entire mind on keeping up with what he was saying. It was always wise. He never hung me out to dry, even though he always was able to get me talking. Who could say no to David Carr? That crazy voice, the intimacy he generated with his rambling, obscenity-laced stories, the way he made you feel like, yes, you are part of an elite club, and on the door of the club, it is written, REPORTERS ONLY.
He had a beautiful way with words and he had a way of sucking you into his world.
From Mathew Ingram for Gigaom:
David was one of the first at the Times to really adopt Twitter, and often talked about it removed the barriers between journalists and the people they served, and how that made journalism better. He loved experimenting with things like video and blogs, which he did for the inaugural Carpetbagger Oscars blog, and he was fascinated by almost every new-media thing that came along, even if he didn’t really understand it. That insatiable curiosity and passion for his work is one of the things I remember most about him.
From Nick Bilton on Medium:
He then motioned for me to sit down in a poolside chair, where he declared that he was going to offer me two important pieces of advice.
He began with the first, serving up a long soliloquy about life, marriage, journalism, why we’re here, why we die, why things begin, why they end. As someone who had also been through a divorce himself, making a few unscheduled stops in hell before coming back, he was impassioned. He explained that everything — every relationship, every person, every job — has its time in life, and then, as he noted, all of a sudden it doesn’t. He told me I could feel sorry for myself that something was ending, or be excited and appreciative that it had ever even existed. He talked about his wife and daughters as an example of the good things life throws at you.
He wanted us to learn and to be good reporters. When the scandal regarding Bill Cosby and the alleged rapes emerged, David wrote a piece denouncing himself as one of the many enablers in the media that had kept it a secret for so long. He showed us how to be brave, how to speak our minds and keep our integrity as journalists.
David was our champion: the best we had and also the one who would go out into the world every week to make the case for what we do. He understood better than anyone how hard the job can be, how lonely, how confusing, how riddled with the temptations of cynicism and compromise. And yet he could make it look so easy, and like the most fun you could ever hope to have.
Carr sat me down in his office and handed me a marked-up copy of the draft. I could barely see my typewritten prose. The margins were filled with questions, suggestions, clarifications, and corrected spelling. I was mortified. He wasn’t gentle about it—he didn’t give me a pass for being a kid—but he was humane and tough and encouraging.
In one class, Carr asked his students to describe the most interesting thing about them. When her turn came, Emily Overholt disclosed something deeply personal in front of everyone. But after other students weren’t as frank in their revelations, Overholt said she felt a bit shaken.
“The next morning I woke up to an e-mail from Carr with the subject line ‘Yesterday,’” Overholt said. “He wrote, ‘I thought what you did was brave and smart yesterday, but then, I would, wouldn’t I? Good for you.’”
From Mandy Jenkins:
I didn’t know him. I always hoped someday I would. Lots of journalists have shared great stories about how he touched their lives in meaningful ways. I didn’t ever meet him in person, but he certainly touched mine, too, merely by being the best example of what is possible for misfits.
Alt-weeklies report on crime and sleaze, with the inevitable result that some feature subjects want a more physical type of revenge. Upon receipt of one such threat, David ushered me to a door outside Washington City Paper’s reception area and explained to me what was going to happen if this fellow actually stormed our offices. “You’re going to go in at his knees and I’m gonna plow into him high,” he said. Though I was thinking that a 911 call might fetch better results, I saluted. We never had to implement his plan.
In a business over-populated with characters, Carr projected an original persona that was one part shambling hipster, one part Tom Waits, a pinch of Jimmy Breslin, and a dollop of the Mad Hatter. A master interrogator, he used his guise the way an anglerfish uses the wriggling growth on its head to attract and then devour other fish. Interview subjects who paid attention to Carr’s jittery gestures and boho-lingo, thinking him a harmless eccentric, found afterwards that he’d picked their pockets for information.
I haven’t used this space to collect all the tweeted tributes, but this one felt worth including.
Standing-room only at newsroom gathering for the great David Carr. What a loss. pic.twitter.com/IZhMZAh0eT
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) February 13, 2015