February 12, 2015

Media critic David Carr died Thursday at the offices of The New York Times at age 58, according to a report in The New York Times. The cause of death was not immediately apparent.

In a statement to the newsroom, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said Carr “died suddenly” after “collapsing in the newsroom.”

The New York Times published the following statement from chairman and publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.:

David Carr was one of the most gifted journalists who has ever worked at The New York Times.

He combined formidable talent as a reporter with acute judgement to become an indispensable guide to modern media. But his friends at The Times and beyond will remember him as a unique human being – full of life and energy, funny, loyal and lovable. An irreplaceable talent, he will be missed by everyone who works for The Times and everyone who reads it.

Carr, whose weekly column “The Media Equation” has been a must-read for journalists for several years, came to The New York Times after stints at Inside.com, The Twin Cities Reader and Washington City Paper.

On Thursday, Carr moderated a discussion between “Citizenfour” director Laura Poitras, Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald and NSA leaker Edward Snowden at The New School. Here is the video of that discussion:

In 2013, Boston University announced Carr would join the faculty as its first Andrew R. Lack Professor. He developed a course on media criticism and another called “Press Play,” wherein he encouraged students to produce different kinds of media. In his characteristically insouciant tone, he reminded students to stay off their phones (“I will ignore you as you ignore me”) and forego raising their hands (“This isn’t Montessori”).

His memoir, “Night of the Gun,” was published in 2008 and recounts his inspiring rise from a talented journalist mired in drug addiction to his ascension to a coveted job at the national newspaper of record. In the memoir, Carr reported the events of his own past, detailing how he managed to raise his daughters amid turbulent personal relationships and the pressure of incessant deadlines. In one passage, he recalled coming to grips with his new life post-drug addiction in a “sober house”:

There was no plan. That whole one-day-at-a-time thing extended to all of my endeavors. When I first got out, I was busy just trying to do the next right thing. I never articulated to myself or anyone else that I would rebuild my life and eventually gain custody of the twins. Anybody who knew me, drunk or sober, would have found the notion preposterous. We kept it simple. Leave for the grocery store, actually buy some food, and then come back to cook and eat it. Go to recovery meetings and be of service. Empty ashtrays, stack chairs, make coffee.

His memoir also recounts how he came to work at The New York Times — reluctantly at first:

But working at home on and off for two different magazines, I missed the metabolism and urgency of a newsroom, the feeling of being a part of something. I got a call from Dave, the media editor at The New York Times, who had read some of my work at Inside, and he asked if I was interested in talking about a job. I thought it was the most preposterous thing I had ever heard. My dad, on hearing about the discussion, said, “Well, you’ve always wanted to work at The New York Times.” Which is a damn lie. I had never said that in my life.

Carr was prominently featured in the 2011 documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which follows the reporters of The New York Times media desk as they struggle to make sense of the transforming news industry. The movie chronicled the development of several of Carr’s incisive pieces for the paper, including an exposé that revealed corporate misconduct in the Tribune Company under Sam Zell, a thinkpiece on the utility of Twitter and an early look at Vice as it grew its media empire.

“Page One” shows Carr discussing stories honestly and gruffly with his sources, including one moment when he interrupts Shane Smith, the CEO of Vice Media, to defend The New York Times’ journalism:

As Smith talks about the disparity between the kind of everyman reporting Vice offers and the trivial accounts he reads in The New York Times, Carr cuts him off:

“Just a sec, time out. 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 a right to insult what we do. So continue, continue.”

Carr came to journalism early. In a video for Mediabistro, he recounted his first big scoop written while he was still at the University of Minnesota, about police brutality:

Carr is survived by his wife and three daughters.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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