Column: A late columnist’s pen will be dearly missed

New York Times columnist David Carr at last year's WebSummit in Dublin. (Credit: Flickr/WebSummit. http://ow.ly/J17Xg)
New York Times columnist David Carr at last year’s WebSummit in Dublin. (Credit: Flickr/WebSummit. http://ow.ly/J17Xg)

The impact a person can have on someone, even someone that person never met, is extraordinary. That was brought home to me late Thursday night as I considered how someone I had never met gave me a greater appreciation and enthusiasm for what I do for a living.

I was in the process of preparing to post a basketball story to The Suffolk Times’ website when I noticed a picture of The New York Times’ media columnist, David Carr, on his newspaper’s website. Being in a hurry to do what I needed to do, I made a mental note to go back later and check out why Mr. Carr’s photo was up there. I assumed it was a video of a panel discussion he had moderated earlier that evening.

I was wrong.

At 11:05 p.m. I received a text message from The Suffolk Times’ executive editor, Grant Parpan, who knew of my deep admiration for Mr. Carr’s work. Grant’s text read simply, “R.I.P. David Carr.”

I immediately raced to The New York Times’ website and was shocked to see a breaking news story reporting Mr. Carr’s death at age 58. According to the story, Mr. Carr, collapsed in the newsroom and was taken to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Like many others, I was greatly saddened and stunned. I don’t know if the death of someone I had never met ever hit me quite like this. There is an explanation; part of it is personal. I will forever be indebted to David Carr. Let me explain.

There was a time in my career when I felt as if I was stagnating. I was in a rut, possibly a bit burned out, an occupational hazard for a journalist.

One of my delights is finding The New York Times at my doorstep in the morning. I can’t remember exactly when I first became aware of Mr. Carr (it was probably while reading one of his stories about the challenges facing the newspaper industry), but I quickly became a Carr fan. He was an exceptionally gifted writer. He wrote well-reported columns about the media, which I had an interest in.

Of course, I wasn’t the only person who recognized Mr. Carr’s talent. He was a revered star at The Times.

Mr. Carr’s column, The Media Equation, became a must-read for me every Monday. I enjoyed it as much for his writing style and insight as for the subject matter. Not only that, but I found myself watching Mr. Carr speak on panels on YouTube. I watched with great interest and amusement as he stole the show in the documentary, “Page One: Inside The New York Times.”

I also admired how Mr. Carr, who was described as both a critic and a champion of media, fiercely defended his paper and spoke up for journalists.

Really, though, Mr. Carr would seem an unlikely hero. He lived what he called a “textured life.” He was a former drug addict, whose history with crack cocaine is detailed in his memoir, “The Night of the Gun.” A cancer survivor, he was an odd-looking fellow, described as having a “storklike posture” and a scratchy voice to go with it. He was intelligent, funny and not above poking fun at himself. He once told an audience during a panel discussion that if they ever see him with a drink in his hand, they should immediately call the police.

He knew how to draw laughs.

Not long after my exposure to Mr. Carr’s work, a funny thing happened: I rediscovered the joy of writing, which I love now more than ever. My enthusiasm for journalism was raised to new heights. I am grateful to Mr. Carr for this gift he gave me.

I had emailed congratulations to Mr. Carr a few times on a column or story he had written that I thought was particularly praiseworthy. However, I never did explain to him what an inspirational affect he had on my professional life. Perhaps that’s why I felt compelled last Thursday night, at the end of a long day, to remain at my keyboard until the wee hours, typing down my thoughts about Mr. Carr and what he meant to me. That’s what writers do — write.

I am indebted to David Carr. He made me a better journalist without knowing it.

His death is a tremendous loss for all of us. Mondays will never be the same.

R031209_Liepa_RBob Liepa is the sports editor of the Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected].

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