Remembering David Carr, because David Carr was the best
David Carr, The New York Times reporter, media columnist and colossus who died yesterday at the age of 58, was one of my mentors. It seems impossible to believe that I knew him, that such a larger-than-life personality and talent had time to be kind and generous and useful and important to so many people in such a short time, but David did just that.
I met him at my first job in New York, a media and business website called Inside.com that was bustling with outrageously smart and serious reporters and editors doing outrageously serious and smart work. Or at least it seemed that way to me. I was too old for my assistant job and too inexperienced. I’d started late, I didn’t have the right pedigree. I’d spent my early 20s dropping in and out of college, in bad places, in a bad marriage. I was an outsider, but I wanted in. Luckily for me, I was just the type David took under his wing.
David Carr was unlike anyone you will ever meet at your first job, or any job. Though he was the most tireless reporter and writer I’ve ever worked near, he somehow made time to lift up everyone around him. He wanted to help you, he wanted you to be great. He loved misfits and outliers and any kind of bootstrap story and he took in strays and helped them find their way. He’d lived a full, complicated, and original life; he’d made tremendous mistakes and he’d come out the other side and was exceedingly generous with the wisdom that came from this. He made me feel like I was interesting and smart and unique and could make it when I believed none of those things. He made journalism seem like the most wonderful, exciting, sexy thing in the world and he made you feel lucky to be a part of it. When I was too scared to start writing, when I felt inadequate and unworthy, David told me “You tell good stories, that will translate, pal.” When I stalled, bouncing from one fact-checking job to another, he took me to coffee, and said, “If you’re going to do this thing, you just have to do it.” It was all simple and perfect and no-bullshit. He set me up for jobs I didn’t even know I wanted. He was warm and brilliant and funny and honest and I loved him intensely.
If you don’t know David’s work, you should read it today. You should read his gorgeous essays, his thoughtful and cutting profiles and criticism, his insightful words about journalism. Most of all, you should read his memoir “The Night of the Gun,” about his years as a crack addict and a thug and his resurrection into a life he couldn’t imagine he’d get: “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve, but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.”
Today I am thinking of David, and his beautiful family, I am thinking of how much he gave to me and so many others. I am trying to imagine a world where he doesn’t exist. And I am hoping he knew what he meant to people’s lives.
Call your mentors today and thank them. Tell them what they mean to you. When the time is right, go out and be a mentor yourself.
And if you’re lucky enough to be a journalist, be grateful for what you do. David sure was:
“If you’re gonna get a job that’s a little bit of a caper, that isn’t really a job, that under ideal circumstances you get to at least leave the building and leave your desktop, go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it – that should be hard to get into. That should be hard to do. No wonder everybody’s lined up, trying to get into it. It beats working.”