Why the death of David Carr is a sad day for journalism and tenacity in general


by Rebecca Lumley

David Carr, one of the New York Times’ most successful and respected journalists died yesterday in the Times’ offices, Manhattan. The 58 year old was found shortly before 9pm and was taken to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His cause of death has not yet been disclosed.

Carr’s death, unlike the death of many public figures, is an event that warrants more than fleeting sadness. It is a sad day for The New York Times readers, staff and journalism as a whole. The characteristics that Carr embodied, ferocious tenacity, unfailing intelligence and a paradoxical mix of bluntness and kindness, are rarely seen. Carr’s determined, almost dogged spirit is the traditional hallmark of a great journalist and though there are many great journalists, there are few who warrant as much respect as Carr did. It is perhaps the colourful life he led, rich in depth and experience, that moulded such a distinct personality. And what a fascinating life it was.

David Carr was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota. He majored in journalism and psychology. Carr did not, however, slip easily into the life of success and admiration that he has enjoyed in recent years. Throughout the 1980s he found himself addicted to cocain and alcohol. He lived with a woman who was a drug dealer and would go on to be the father of two twin girls who, he admitted, he was severely ill prepared to care for. After a string of lows, Carr booked himself into a rehab facility, got sober, became the single father of his twin girls, married and had another daughter.

This troubled and dark period of his life is documented in his 2008 memoirs, titled “The Night of The Gun”. Displaying his keen analytical spirit and a grit that few possess, Carr conducted 60 interviews with friends, family and drug addicts as a way to verify his own memories. In his own words, “it would prove to be an enlightening and sickening enterprise- a new frontier in the annals of self-involvement.” Carr refused to gloss over any of what was the most difficult time in his life and mercilessly traced all the shameful and regrettable actions of his youth. As well as being a personal record of all that had happened to him, it was an exercise in combatting the distortions of memory and in finding genuine self-truth. It takes a tough spirit to embark on a project like that.

Carr began his career at the New York Times in 2002 as a business reporter and quickly become one of the most distinctive by-lines of the paper. In more recent times he wrote for Carpetbagger, The Times’ culture blog.

Carr is credited with launching the career of Lena Dunham, star and creator of HBO show “Girls” and author of “Not That Kind of Girl” (also personal hero but that’s pretty irrelevant). In a 1,000 word article on her film “Tiny Furniture”, that ultimately put her on the map, he described her perfectly as “a keen writer, creating quietly weaponized dialogue that her characters use to maim one another”. Not only was Carr good at telling his own story, he could spot talent in writers such as Dunham to do the same.

Carr’s unbelievably blunt, yet always astute way of speaking made him the breakout figure of the 2011 documentary, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” and is perhaps exactly why he was so popular. He was not afraid to say what he thought, do what was right and above all, search doggedly and devotedly for the truth. In short, he was a pretty cool guy and in the words of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr, publisher and chairman of The Times, was an “irreplaceable talent”.

So, in honour of that, here’s a video of him tearing apart some Vice guys who insult the Times in only the way that he could.

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