Editor's note: David Carr, the celebrated New York Times journalist who overcame addiction and went on to become one of the most original voices in media, died on Thursday night at age 58 after collapsing in the New York Times newsroom. Carr was born in Hopkins, Minnesota in 1956. He came from an Irish Catholic family. As Carr's Times colleague A.O. Scott described him yesterday, he posessed "A streak of Minnesota nice and Irish sentimentality." And as Carr said of himself in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), "I am Irish and frantically loyal to "my people", whoever that ends up being." Here, Irish journalist Aaron Vallely reflects on Carr's work and legacy.
In the hours after the attacks of September 11, David Carr was at the corner of Church and Chambers. Building 7 was swamped by the curling plumage of flame and smoke. A tsunami of wreckage and smog came tearing up the street, and crashing into a car, was a different sort of Carr, a David Carr.
He once said, "I found myself looking into the eyes of a pigeon there and having an interspecies moment. 'Are we OK?' Is the world ending? Are we, um, birds of a feather? When the moment and wall of crud past and I collected myself, I noticed a copy of Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style', the ur-text of our profession, under the car. It was marked in ink as a Port Authority copy, and I knew it had blown out of their offices at the World Trade Center. I observe none of its edicts - I am a turgid, digressive writer - but love its aspiration and clarity. I put it under glass still containing the dust of that day along with a copy of something I wrote for New York Magazine that was the only decent thing I wrote out of all that confusion and mayhem. I treasure its presence in my home and as I leave its advice under glass."
I once previously wrote in an article on Joan Didion, that should one examine any tragedy, it is notable that one always seems to recall how normal that day was in which the tragic event occurred. I woke up around four this morning. I could not sleep. I checked Twitter. I was sideways knocked over by a simple and mighty fact, that David Carr had collapsed in a newsroom on the job and then he died. Aged 58. As recently as November I had seen him here in Dublin, where I live. Amongst other things, Carr interviewed Bono at the Web Summit, down in the Dublin docklands. Of U2, he unfetteringly remarked, "U2 is on a dead run to remain relevant and avoid turning into a nostalgia act that makes buckets of money on tour but produces records people no longer care about."
Yesterday’s news was something which Carr did not want to be, he was constantly and consistently on the edge of new media and evolving - devolving? - journalism. Carr understood media with an appreciation not developed by many journalists in the margin of his own time, and the margin of time in which my own overlaps with his. A documentary, 'Page One', about life at the New York Times, his paper of residence, expanded his audience with due welcome. In the film, an irascible Carr put a Vice media staffer so far in his place even NASA would fail to offer coordinates locating the unfortunate gentlemen whom merely said but the wrong thing to the right person. Carr reminded him that the daring and international journalism that the Times performs is not a one-trick beast. A couple of younger guys with an excited approach to hard news were told to pull their pants up and drink their spinach. Carr was not going to be told about the future of news by some young journalists who traveled to Liberia, and "put on a fucking safari helmet and looked at some poop." Carr had authority. He also had humility. He also had fearlessness.
Carr's daughter now works at Vice. Just hours before his sudden death, Carr hosted a Times Talk with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and via satellite, the thoroughly admirable whistle-blower Edward Snowden, about their documentary, 'Citizenfour'. Greenwald, on hearing of his death, said Carr introduced him to his daughter after the event, whom he was always praising, was always boasting of her successes, and how he was her biggest fan. She replied, "And I'm his". Carr wrote in "Me and My Girls", an honest account of both the struggle of addiction - and the possibility of recovery in the aftermath: "Everything good and true about my life started on the day the twins became mine". The piece was an excerpt from his memoir,' The Night of the Gun'.
Carr learned to look clearly and critically at himself; having the courage to state himself with sincerity to his readers, and the hard earned discipline of doing it with splendiferous eloquence and savage accuracy.
David Carr on his course syllabus for his first class at Boston University's College of Communication, where he was the inaugural Andrew R. Lack professor, wrote something of himself for incoming students:
"Your professor is a terrible singer and decent dancer. He is a movie crier but stone-faced in real life. He never laughs even when he is actually amused. He hates suck-ups, people who treat waitresses and cab drivers poorly, and anybody who thinks diversity is just an academic conceit. He is a big sucker for the hard worker and rarely is dazzled by brilliance. He has little patience for people who pretend to ask questions when all they really want to do is make a speech.
Your professor is fair, fundamentally friendly, a little odd, but not very mysterious."
A quirky list of observations of oneself; clearly perceived and accurately stated. Carr was humane yet unsentimental, wise yet unpretentious. You could trust him.
As one moves on, I think Emerson is to be aptly quoted as here I close: "Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation to-day, next year die, and their experience dies with them."
* Aaron Vallely is an Irish writer, freelance journalist, and essayist. Has a particular interest in Human Rights, Civil Liberties, and Literature.