One of contemporary journalism’s unique characters is gone. David Carr, a good and generous and talented soul, collapsed in the New York Times newsroom last night, and just like that, his days with us were over. His 58 years were an amazing saga, as the Times’ lovely–and loving–obituary makes clear.
The wider outpouring of sadness and respect encompasses most of the media world that Carr covered, and often skewered, with a rare combination of depth and wit. It is heart-felt, and entirely deserved.
But one of the adjectives that some are using to describe him–“fearless”–feels wrong to me. He was better than that. He was brave.
And, as he knew better than anyone, he was lucky.
I didn’t know Carr well. We only met a few times, and our conversations were brief. But we had a few things in common, especially having been columnists who both championed and slammed the industries we followed.
A decade ago I ended a 10-year run as a business and technology columnist for Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News. No one ever compared it to the New York Times, but in its heyday during the late 1990s, when it essentially printed money along with the news and boasted an enormous and talented staff, the Merc carried significant weight in the tech community inside and outside of the valley.
I loved tech and its possibilities, and admired many of the people who were creating these remarkable new tools of computing, communications, and collaboration. But I declined to be a cheerleader–and regularly pointed out the industry’s manifest foibles, or worse. I had editors, publishers and corporate bosses who got regular calls from industry executives complaining about me, but they stood by me when it counted.
At one point a publication, which is no longer in print, called me fearless. It was laughable. I was anything but fearless. I don’t even think I was especially brave. I was lucky, and grateful. The stars aligned to give me a platform from which I could speak my mind, backed by colleagues I miss to this day.
No one with an ounce of humility or genuine self-awareness could call himself or herself fearless, because the only people who truly are without fear are sociopaths. We all battle our insecurities, of which journalists have more than most.
David Carr came back from personal depths that would have destroyed most people, including drug addiction and cancer. With his own willpower and the help of others, he demonstrated enormous bravery.
In 2008, he published a stunning memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” a work of raw honesty. At the end of the book he wrote the lines that everyone is quoting today:
“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.”
Rest in peace.