Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Remembering and paying tribute to David Carr

On Thursday 12 February when CNN breaking news flashed on my phone announcing the death of David Carr, New York Times media columnist and reporter, I sat in disbelief, thinking to myself, Oh My God I cannot believe this…. 

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of New York Times described Carr as “the finest media reporter of his generation, a remarkable and funny man who was one of the leaders of our newsroom.”  He was indeed exactly that.

I am not one of the lucky people who knew Mr Carr in person. Nonetheless, I looked up to him, admired and respected him because he was insightful, because in reporting stories he used a different lens than others and most importantly because he was an extraordinary  story teller. 

The New York Times article announcing the cause of his death, describes him and his writing as “plain-spoken and could be blunt; he often gathered in readers conspiratorially and was sometimes self-referential and conscience-stricken. The effect was both folksy and sophisticated, a voice from a shrewd and well-informed skeptic.”  

He was not afraid of nor shied away from being BLUNT and showing his emotions, passion and convictions. And most importantly he cared about people and what they did. 

Hamilton Nolan in his piece “David Carr, Your Best Friend”, has this to say about Carr:
“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. We would talk about sobriety and fighting and love and who was really sharp and who was an asshole. If you needed advice, he would give you advice, and if he needed advice, he would sit there and listen to you give it, even if you weren't sure it was worth hearing. If you needed to be yelled at for being an idiot, he would oblige, and he would sit politely and be yelled at himself, as well. He always had an idea about what should be done, even if he didn't always do it.”

Telling the truth
Carr stayed true to his profession. He enshrined the value of telling the truth and writing with passion.

Last year in his commencement address to the UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism he said “if you tell the truth, no harm will come”. In addressing the graduate students he said “do what is in front of you, fit in before you stick out” …. “don’t just do what you’re good at, learn how to deal with frustrations”.

He reminded his future colleagues that “journalism is permission to live". "Experience the moment…. take responsibility and ownership of what you do (be it success or failure).”

The underlying message of his commencement address, which was the “fil rouge” of his existence was how telling the truth is a way of living.  His quest for truth was almost obsessive and comes to life in his book The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of his Life--His Own.

Jelani Cobb in his New Yorker piece paying tribute to Mr Carr, says: “he (Carr) didn’t develop a brand; he built a reputation”. And he had a reputation of being a great advocate for the profession of journalism. He loved the New York Times and was perhaps the staunchest defender of the paper. 

“He was our biggest champion and his unending passion for journalism and for truth will be missed by his family at The Times, by his readers around the world and by people who love journalism”, said Dean Baquet, NYTimes executive editor

If you watched “Page One: Inside the New York Times”, no doubt you’ll remember Carr’s visit  to Vice to write the story of their partnership with CNN. And I’m sure you remember the “exchange” between him and Vice editor when the latter challenged the authority and importance of New York Times. 

Carr - who was at this best - in a vintage Carr moment, not only put the record straight about NYTimes coverage of Liberia over time, but put the guy squarely in his place.

Social media savvy
Carr was one of the very few journalists - if not the only one - who was fully conversant with the new media. He fully grasped the power and potential of social media. At the same time, he made it clear to us - social media junkies - that without mainstream media, we would not have any news to share. 

His beloved paper - The New York Times - had this to say about their equally beloved Carr: “He became better known, perhaps, for his reporting and analysis of developments in publishing, television and social media, for which he was an early evangelist.”

As Jelani Cobb said: “He was allergic to euphemism and a believer that journalism was the art of curating minutiae. He also had one of the most valuable attributes a writer can claim—an ability to withhold personal judgment” and in doing so, he did recognize that “traditional journalists” felt a bit overwhelmed and threatened by social media’s fast and furious communication method.

I love his soundbite about Twitter: “Twitter is listening to a wired collective voice. Here the medium is not the message, the message is the medium”  and he continues to say that in reading tweets “you get a sense of today’s news while you are waiting for a coffee at Starbucks”.

When the young Brian Stelter joined New York Times, Carr described him as the robot in the NYTimes basement. Shelter in a recent interview humbly shares how much he learnt from Carr…. “I carry a piece of David with me for the rest of my life…..” “David was like a father for me”. 

Deciphering digital jargon” episode of Sweet Spot series shows how Carr comfortably engaged in a digital conversation and shows how he put to use digital technology in his profession. HE GOT IT and GOT it big time.

You'll be missed.... May you rest in peace
A lot people from different walks of life admired Carr’s integrity, his wit, bluntness, his unwavering desire to tell a story and his quest for the truth.

Hamilton Nolan eloquently summarizes the magnitude of Carr’s persona: “In 58 years, he lived at least 158 years worth of life. Everyone who knew David Carr was lucky too. The only unlucky people today are those who never got a chance to know him, because they would have enjoyed it.”  

I am one of the many unlucky people who did not know David Carr. Yet, I will miss his mischievous smile, his voice, his eternal quest for truth and his bluntness.

Mr Carr, you'll be missed. It will probably take 158 years before the world gets  another David Carr. Thank you for sharing your wit and for giving us so much. May you rest in peace.

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