Farewell to David Carr - the journalists' journalist

Carr, who died last week, brought his private life to bear on his journalism

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The Independent Online

When the The New York Times’s media columnist died last week – too young at 58 – his passing was reported by news organisations all over the world. That’s because David Carr was a journalists’ journalist, a hero to an industry that doesn’t really go in for hero worship.

He first came to wider attention when he appeared in the 2011 documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times. The film captures many examples of Carr’s curmudgeonly wit and wisdom but there is one scene in particular for which he is remembered. It takes place in a meeting room at the newspaper’s offices, where Carr is interviewing the founders of youth media brand Vice. One of them, Shane Smith, is using his recent trip to Liberia to illustrate why Vice’s guerrilla approach to news-gathering is superior.

Carr interrupts him mid-flow, with that impressive rasp: “Just a sec, time out. Before you ever went there, we’ve had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a f***ing safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do. So continue.” It was glorious. It was a standing ovation moment for everyone sick of watching journalism’s traditional values get trampled on by the Nathan Barleys of new media. Except it wasn’t.

It wasn’t, because while Carr had an irascible style, he was no stick-in-the-mud. He embraced social media and encouraged his journalist mentees (of whom there were many) to do likewise. His views on Vice also softened, as he wrote in a later column: “Being the crusty old-media scold felt good at the time, but recent events suggest that Vice is deadly serious about doing real news.”

Carr used the word “tribal” to describe his loyalty to his employer, but he stood for something much more valuable than an unthinking allegiance to the old ways. He knew how to change with the times, yet still keep hold of his integrity. That’s an enviable skill in any industry, but in the media, which is as much home to hollow poseurs as it is to high principle, it’s the mark of a virtuoso.

Read Carr’s brilliant memoir The Night of the Gun (seriously, do read it) and it becomes obvious that at least some of what he knew he learned from the textured life he’d led outside journalism. By the time Carr arrived at The New York Times in 2002, he’d already survived cancer, a prison sentence and a long-term addition to crack cocaine. He overcame all this to gain custody of his twin daughters and continue doing the work he thought was important.

That’s why it’s not the Vice smackdown, but a scene later in Page One which contains Carr’s most valuable insight. Another journalist asks him if he fears for the survival of quality journalism. Carr leans back in his chair: “I’ve been a single parent on welfare – this is nothing.”

It’s all gone West on the f’row

North West wouldn’t be the first to throw a tantrum at New York Fashion Week, but for some reason this toddler’s teary moment on the f’row was deemed more embarrassing than the usual diva strop.

Maybe it’s to do with the company she keeps. North was sitting on the lap of her mother, Kim Kardashian West, and was flanked on the left by US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and on the right by pop goddess Beyoncé. Jay Z was in the next seat over and Rihanna a few seats along. Justin Bieber lurked somewhere nearer the back, as befits his lesser status. All were gathered to admire a catwalk collection designed by North’s father, the musician – and talented tantrum-thrower in his own right – Kanye West.

What should have been a happy occasion turned sour, however, when North began to cry. Even the celebrity press had to admit that this is unremarkable behaviour in a one-year-old, but the reaction of Wintour, who turned her back slightly and looked away, did warrant extensive coverage. Mail Online interpreted this body language as “distinctly unimpressed”, while US Weekly deemed it “hilarious”.

In this, however, as in all things, Nuclear Wintour’s stylish instincts should lead the way. Most people would feel sympathy for the mother in Kardashian West’s situation, if not also the child – fashion shows definitely make me want to cry. The problem is that a wordless glance of sympathy can easily be misconstrued as judgemental by a self-conscious parent.

So if your goal is avoid adding stress to an already stressful situation, surely pretending it isn’t happening, à la Wintour, really is the most considerate thing to do?

The sad effect of selfie sticks

On a trip to Barcelona last week, one common sight was easier to spot than either the Gaudi architecture or the souvenir flamenco fans: selfie sticks. These are devices designed to allow a person to photograph themselves at an angle beyond the human arm’s natural reach – and they’re everywhere, used openly and entirely without embarrassment. 

Surely the selfie stick was a novelty gift item, intended be used once (with heavy irony) before being discarded at the back of the cupboard? Apparently not. It’s now a legitimate amateur photographer’s accessory, like an extra memory card or a waterproof case.

The user of the selfie stick feels no shame. The only shame, then, is that tourists are no longer obliged to hand over their camera to a stranger if they want a snap of themselves set against the local scenery. And so one more opportunity for spontaneous face-to-face interaction between humans is lost to history. Thanks for that, selfie sticks.

Fifty excuses needed

A smutty movie is a smutty movie is a smutty movie, but this week thousands of cinema-goers will convince themselves otherwise, in order to enjoy the dubious pleasure of sitting elbow-to-elbow in a darkened room with a bunch of mildly aroused strangers.

Still want to see Fifty Shades of Grey? Here are some versatile excuses to spare your blushes: 1. I’m only going for the soundtrack. Jessie Ware is on it. 2. As a committed member of the BDSM community, I’m offended by Hollywood’s trivialisation of my lifestyle, and wish to gather material for an angry petition. 3. I admired Jamie Dornan’s early theatre work and am eager to see his evolution as an actor. And also his penis.