Like all addicts, David Carr had a drug of choice. His was journalism.
He craved the constant rush that the news business provides. The endorphins unleashed in the newsrooms where he worked in Minnesota and Washington and New York made for a better high than “the frantic kind of boring,” that Carr described in his memoir about the years he spent out of newsrooms, shacked up with the harsh mistresses of alcohol and cocaine.
Carr got sober and spent the next 25 years as journalism’s Romeo. He loved reporting the news, and was an ardent lover of people who reported the news.
Unlike many aging baby boomers, Carr had no fear of new technology and no contempt for young people who did not equate the survival of newspapers with the survival of journalism.
But he brooked no insolence from new media whippersnappers who insulted the New York Times, for which Carr had “an immigrant’s love.”
The nut graf of Carr’s life is preserved forever in the 2011 documentary film “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” Carr is seen interviewing Vice founder Shane Smith about Vice’s coverage of Liberia. Smith babbles that mainstream media “never tells the whole story.”
Carr explodes, “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 the right to insult what we do.”
But Carr’s love was not blind. Day after day, year after year Carr documented the “industry suicide’ of old media while writing road maps for the people who will invent journalism’s future.
Some of those people are studying at Boston University, where Carr, the first holder of the Andrew R. Lack Professorship, created a “contemporary and entrepreneurial journalism” course called PressPlay: Making and distributing content in the present future.
Former Miami Herald Editor and Dean of the Boston University College of Communications says it was “…almost as the result of wishful thinking” how Carr came to the Professorship.
“Several of us were at a lunch that Mr. Lack hosted tossing about the names of people who might fit the vision of the Lack Professorship, that is, a person with a unique ability to understand and explain the changes, good and bad, that were occurring in the communication fields as a result of emerging communication technologies. Someone — probably Andy Lack — remarked that the person we were searching for would have to be on David Carr’s speed dial; it would have to be a person whom David would call when he was seeking insight into some development. Not in our wildest dreams did we think at that moment that David himself would be interested in this position and would find a way to join Boston University.”
Fiedler should not have been surprised. Carr spent every minute of his professional life teaching people inside and outside of the newsroom what journalism is, and why it matters.
On the last night of his life, Carr conducted yet another master class in finding stuff out and sharing it with the world, moderating a Times Talk about the film “Citizenfour” with its principal subject, Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists to whom Snowdon leaked a trove of classified documents.
Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at email@example.com