I met David Carr just once, for a lunch interview in New York last summer. I cold-called him ahead of my trip and he replied in short order, promising, "I will make it happen."
He was under the weather the week I was there, but he stood by his word. The lunch was one part idle chat and three parts business, and he graciously obliged, frank and open with his answers, touring me around the newsroom after our meal. We talked about convulsions in the news business, and ideas to sustain it. He spoke bluntly about the "incredibly unseemly" ouster of his former boss, fired executive editor Jill Abramson. We mused about the artifact of print news, paging through a copy of The New York Times. Witty and direct, he replied thoughtfully, with one unusual turn of phrase on the heels of another.
Two things struck me.
First, in moments of modesty, he gave generous credit to those who worked around him. He received more than his share of praise, and as his close colleague A. O. Scott wrote on Friday, "He knew his gifts." But he also framed journalism as a team effort. He loved a "good newsman," and felt fortunate to be surrounded by them.
"People pay a lot of attention to what I say because my last name is New York Times. I'm not so sure, if my last name was only Carr, how much attention would be paid," he said at lunch. "You know what I mean? So."
The other strong impression was the delight he took in his craft, his life, and his family – he made constant, fond mention of his three daughters. After suffering through the ravages of addiction, dulling his talents for years, he'd been given a second chance and he relished it. "I'm only doing this because it's the most fun," he said.
"Is it the key to the singularity? Probably not," he later added, but, "like, my engagement is as high as it's ever been." Inside his frail, stooped frame was a hard journalistic core, and working the media beat had only reinforced his conviction that the trade matters.
Our interview was published in mid-December and I sent it to him. I heard nothing back that morning – maybe that's good, I thought. More often, journalists hear from those they interview when something's wrong.
But soon, an e-mail arrived, "conveyed to you from the very recent past by tiny winged creatures," as his e-mail signature explained. He thanked me warmly for "the craft" I had put into the story, and said he'd sent it to his family, "which I never do with press."
He signed it, "thanks james, from one hack to another."
Read James Bradshaw's lunch with David Carr