Remembering David Carr

David Carr was on my mind yesterday. In the morning, I thought: gee, maybe I’ll ask David if he’s got a lead on a programming internship at the Times. Then I thought about seeing David and his wife, who he often referred to as “my Jill,” again at SXSW.

Later in the day, David came up again when the Twiangulate team happened to be analyzing which Twitter accounts are most followed by the NYT’s (currently) 774 reporters, editors, photographers and producers on Twitter (a list compiled by @nytimes.)

Right below @nytimes itself on the list was @carr2n, aka David Carr, being followed by 520 Times journalists.

Good for you, David, I thought. This amazing man — the boy from Hopkins, Minnesota, brilliant writer, father of three, recovering crack addict, recovering alcoholic, cancer survivor — is followed by more Times journalists than, among many many others: the WSJ (300 NYT followers), President Obama (244), Bill Clinton (181), Stephen Colbert (256), Lena Dunham (182), Jon Stewart( 175), Rupert Murdoch (204), Mike Bloomberg (172), and David Axelrod (159.)

(Here’s the link to Twiangulate’s tabulation of the top 300 Twitter accounts followed by NYT journalists.)

David also has far more NYT journalists following him than more famous colleagues like @nickkristof (1,563,804 followers, 378 from NYT staff) or @NYTimeskrugman (1,309,170 followers, 263 NYT staff.) And David soars above NYT editors past and present: Bill Keller (423), Jill Abramson (399), and Dean Baquet (388).

Last night I watched David via the Internet (with “my Sophie”) as he interviewed Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald. With his astute questions wrapped in awe-shucks shrugs and his nasal twang, David kept the conversation lively and fun. (If you want a quick Carr-shtick refresher, watch this video.)

At one point amid the grim talk of constricting liberties, encryption and our metastasizing national security complex, David drawled, “I just gotta channel all the moms in the audience for a sec. So you’re in Russia, now you’re able to stay for 3 years, right? So are you getting enough to eat? Is the food good? You look good!”

Typical shtick. Love you David.

And I thought of David again at 10.36pm, when my phone beeped. I picked up the phone from the side table and flipped it over and saw the tail end of a headline.

“Dead at 58.” Which then rolled off the screen.

David Carr was older than that, I thought. Then I thought: that’s weird, why am I thinking of David? Certainly David was older than 58.

I hit the Times app and there was the news flash at the top of the page. David Carr, New York Times Media Columnist, Dead at 58.

I first got to know David in 2010 when I invited him to join a panel at SXSW called “Media Armageddon: What Happens When The New York Times Dies.” Scenes from David’s trip to Austin and our raucous panel ended up in the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times.

After that I’d sometimes stop by the Times building on eighth avenue to see David. We’d have lunch in the company cafeteria. David always insisted on paying. We’d sit at one of the big round tables and talk about the coming Newsopalypse. Gossip about web moguls. Our kids’ exploits. Book publishing. While we were talking, people lined up to ask David questions, tell him things, share stories. It was like sitting in a diner with the mayor of some small Midwestern town.

Other times I’d just just say hello to David while he stood smoking on the sidewalk on 40th street outside the NYT, talking with other smokers or to colleagues as they came and went. I remember one day it was Neil Young’s biographer, then a young journalist visiting from Finland, then rising NYT star (today of CNN) Brian Stelter.

Why was this guy @carr2n the NYT staff’s favorite person on Twitter?

One answer is that David was one of Twitter’s most skillful wordsmiths. I believe he had to restrain himself to keep from gilding or turning every phrase that flowed though his keyboard. It’s also obvious that, as the man who wrote about the people who write and the people who pay them to write, David was a beacon for NYT editorial staff and other journalists.

But David’s skill with words on Twitter was a subset of a much larger and more important trait: David loved to talk with people and Twitter is just another way of doing that. He loved the little stuff, the repartee, the stories, the gossip, and most of all, the people he met. He was happy to see people, happy to hear about their lives, happy to share the journey, happy to share a story. Beyond the beautiful writing, the amazing life story, David summed up easily: he cared.

When David interviewed people in front of an audience and it came time for the hard questions — bankruptcy or layoffs or insider trading or whatever — David had a signature move. I’m sure he would have done this with Ed Snowden if they’d been sitting side by side in the same room, rather than connected across thousands of miles via fiber cables.

David would scooch his chair closer to the interviewee and pause. “Now. I have a hard question to ask. I have to ask it. We can hold hands if you like while I ask it.”

It was pure shtick, always drawing a laugh. And, in framing the question with that theatrical flourish, the moment became a celebration of compassion and collaboration: look, some of life is awesome, some of life sucks; all the other bullshit aside, we’re just humans together; we’re going to get through this together.

Rest in peace David. Now that you’re gone, we’re going to have to learn to hold each other’s hands and listen to each other’s stories without you.

— Henry Copeland

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