I'm still learning.
Yeah, the NYT must have been where I have read him, but I'm outta there after the paywall.
I checked re ny'er, and I'd don't find a piece written by him there.
FEBRUARY 13, 2015
Postscript: David Carr (1956-2015)
BY JELANI COBB
Carr in New York in July, 2008.
CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY CHESTER HIGGINS, JR. /THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX
In the spring of 1996, I walked into the offices of the Washington City Paper for what turned out to be the most bizarre job interview of my life. It took place in a darkened office—shades drawn, lights off, just a bit of illumination filtering in from the hallway. I reached for the light switch when I walked in, but a man sitting behind a desk said, “No, leave it off. I used to spend a lot of time in dark crack houses and now I can’t deal with overhead light.” I remember looking around and thinking I’d been roped into a practical joke, but without missing a beat he told me he’d read my clips and thought I had potential. I was twenty-six years old, and that was my first conversation with David Carr, who had become editor-in-chief of the weekly paper the year before. A few weeks later, I started as part of the first class of interns he brought on during his tenure.
When Carr arrived at the City Paper, in 1996, it was widely regarded as a smug outlet that issued condescension and ridicule at the foibles of Marion Barry-era Washington. The fact that few black people worked at the paper furthered the perception that it was a Bantustan of white entitlement braying at the surrounding black majority. This wasn’t a unique state of affairs—none of the Washington, D.C., publications, including the Post, had levels of diversity commensurate with the city’s. Carr went about changing this, not as a part of a liberal uplift mission but out of a sincere commitment to finding writers who could help him tell a full spectrum of Washington stories. During his first year, he hired me, Neil Drumming, who is now a television critic at Salon, Holly Bass, a performance artist and playwright, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and gave us a space to write, learn, and make mistakes. He was never self-congratulatory about this. There was never the sense that he saw us as his prize Negro finds, but he clearly understood the implications of what he’d done, because he saw how few other people were doing it.
Carr, who died last night at the age of fifty-eight, was a journalist from the ink-and-paper era who found a foothold in the digital environment. As a media reporter for the Times and a central figure in a 2011 documentary about the paper, “Page One,” he became a figure of note, a fittingly meta development for the age. Yet he never stopped being a newsman in the old mold: he didn’t develop a brand; he built a reputation. At the City Paper, he was the editor every young writer should hope to encounter: as harsh as he was forgiving, accessible, with an outlook that could be described as jaded idealism. He was allergic to euphemism and a believer that journalism was the art of curating minutiae. He also had one of the most valuable attributes a writer can claim—an ability to withhold personal judgment.
Maybe that openness was always part of his disposition, but if you read “The Night of the Gun,” his memoir about his harrowing years as a crack addict in Minnesota, you got the impression that his reluctance to judge others was a product of a hard-won understanding of human fallibility, beginning with his own. That world-weary outward expression was not an affect—if he hadn’t seen it all, he’d at least witnessed enough to issue some preliminary findings, and, from that vantage point, had accumulated a good deal of sympathy for others.
What made him more than simply a humbled former user, however, was the fact that he didn’t confuse his unwillingness to judge with an absence of standards. During one early editorial meeting at the City Paper, Carr walked in, sat down, and matter of factly explained that we’d embarrassed ourselves with the previous issue. He pointed to our exact failings and demanded explanations—very specific explanations—for how we planned to avoid embarrassing ourselves in the future. I started at the paper very much afflicted with the insufferable omniscience of many twenty-something writers. I came out of one of Carr’s legendarily scalding critiques, of a story in which I’d gotten facts wrong, wanting to pack my byline into a lead-lined case and slip out the back door. But a few days later he was offering helpful suggestions for my next story. With him, this truth was implicit: writing is a craft, none of us is beyond making mistakes, and certainly none of us is above being called on it.
He stood out for other reasons. Unlike the Washington journalists, who all but wore cufflinks inscribed with their I.Q.s, Carr never needed people to think that he was the smartest guy in the room. He could be self-deprecatingly funny. He was substantially bigger then than he was in later years, and he occasionally left the office on his bicycle, calling himself “the fat guy on the bike.”
The recognition he achieved at the Times didn’t diminish his capacity for clear-eyed critique of himself or others. When more than a dozen new allegations of sexual assault were launched at Bill Cosby, Carr took himself to task in print for not having paid more attention to the earlier claims in a profile he’d written. Much has been made of the unyielding honesty of his memoir, but few recall that he published that journalistic investigation of his own life at a point when autobiography was increasingly indistinguishable from fiction. His pursuit of veracity not only spoke to his own character but implicitly damned the work that had fallen far short of that standard. I only once saw him refer in print to his success at bringing more diversity to the City Paper masthead, and that was in an article in which he cautioned the industry against doing away with internship programs. He wrote:
Unfortunately, creating meaningful internships and funding them seems like a low priority for an industry that is in a knife fight to survive. But if magazines are going to be anything other than gossamer artifacts of declining interest, the people who run them might want to rethink how they employ their interns. Bringing on young people from all kinds of backgrounds is less a moral nicety than a business imperative.
This is classic Carr—the uncommon phrasing “gossamer artifacts of declining interest” used to relay an unsentimental truth. Just a few days ago, he broke with the hosannas that accompanied the news of Jon Stewart’s departure from The Daily Show to offer his opinion that the show had been fraying around the edges for years. Many shared this thought, but it took Carr to write it, with none of the hostility or recrimination that so often accompanies unpleasant truths.
After leaving the City Paper, I didn’t maintain close contact with Carr, but when I’d written myself into a corner or found myself intimidated by an assignment, I frequently fell back upon what I’d learned from him. In one of his more notable generosities back in Washington, he purchased copies of Joseph Mitchell’s “Up in the Old Hotel” for the entire staff. He signed mine, “To Jelani, This will show you the way.” Not quite. That was a distinction that belonged largely to him.