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New York Times columnist David Carr was a familiar face on TV, often commenting on the media issues he covered for the paper, but in a few videos, his comments go beyond the issues in the news to offer larger insights into the practice of journalism and the challenges of digital and social media.
He also appeared on the big screen as one of the stars of the 2011 New York Times documentary, Page One, along with his friend and then-colleague Brian Stelter, whose digital proficiency irked Carr.
As the media and Hollywood mourn Carr, who died suddenly Thursday night, The Hollywood Reporter has compiled some of his best on-camera wisdom.
His 2014 Commencement Speech at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism: Just last May, Carr addressed journalism students at Berkeley as they prepared to enter the real world. He began by making some jokes about how he was worried about falling onstage, saying at a past commencement at NYU, where he was the speaker, he leapt onto the riser, in an effort to show his vitality, only to catch his toe and hit his face.
“It’s embarrassing, and its hard to talk when your face hurts that much,” Carr said. He also wondered what he was doing there, saying the graduates shouldn’t expect any pearls of wisdom from him (but they end up getting plenty).
“I wonder about the vote that put me here, but I think its too late for a recount and I imagine Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, was busy.”
He encouraged the graduates to try to change the world, something he pointed out could now be done by just a few people, like those who broke and reported on the Edward Snowden story. (Carr’s last interview ended up being with Snowden and those who documented his story for Citizenfour, whom he referred to in his Berkeley speech.)
Addressing the graduates, Carr said, “If you’re the kind of person who finds the most interesting thing in the world to you is something you don’t know, you’re probably in the right place. If you’re the kind of person who reads and watches amazing work, primarily by your colleagues, you’ll probably do that work too. If you’re the kind of person who can be both scared and courageous at the same time, you might end up doing big things.”
He also shared how he still loves being a journalist, and his fellow writers should feel the same way.
“I never feel bad talking to journalism students because it’s a grand, grand caper,” Carr said. “You get to leave, go talk to strangers, ask them anything, come back, type up their stories, edit the tape…It beats working. Otherwise, you’d have to get a job. A real one, one that…think of the people that go to work everyday sweating hatred for what they do. We skip to work. I still do.”
He closed by dispensing a few pieces of graduation advice including that those who are underestimated will be the ones who change the world, focus on doing your job well without worrying about your “plot to take over the world,” don’t do anything you wouldn’t explain to your mom, be present and “if you stay in your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.”
His “First Big Break”: Carr detailed to MediaBistro how he landed his first big story. After his father told him about an instance of police brutality in Minneapolis, Carr said, “That’s outrageous. Somebody should do a story about that.” To which, Carr says his father responded, “I kind of thought that’s what your business was.” So the younger Carr, an aspiring journalist still at the University of Minnesota, found his way to the Minneapolis police department, where, he said, he had no idea how to operate in a police records environment.
“I was on my own, without credentials and bumbled my way along,” Carr said. He then explained that once he told the officer working in the records department what he was looking for and the hunch he had, he received a flood of documents. His story ultimately ended up on the front page of the Twin Cities Reader, something that delighted Carr, a longtime reader of the paper, and he began his career as an investigative reporter. Among the lessons learned, Carr shared, “These people who are gatekeepers, like secretaries or clerks or people in records room, they are very important people to a journalist.”
His Insights Into Stelter, Social Media and Diversity: In a 2011 interview with PBS’ Need to Know about Page One, Carr and Stelter offer an indication of their dynamic and Carr shares some interesting insights about digital and social media and issues of gender and racial diversity. Carr shares what frustrates him about Stelter, after a clip in which he’s shown joking, “I still can’t get over the feeling that Brian Stelter was a robot, assembled in the basement of the New York Times, to come and destroy me.” Stelter, Carr says, is part of a continuous cycle where he’s tweeting, reading tweets, blogging, writing stories and just constantly producing content. While Carr says he’s a “strong digital adopter…it’s not baked into [him] in the way it’s baked into Brian.”
“I do find it intimidating and I’ve had some fantasies of taking a pillow and smothering him in his sleep,” Carr jokes.
How He Avoids Getting in Trouble on Twitter: Carr spoke to then-Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz (whom Stelter would go on to replace) in Feb. 2012 about the dangers of Twitter, in the wake of public figures getting in trouble for things they’ve tweeted. Carr was a prolific tweeter, with 30,000 tweets attributed to his account as of his untimely death. He also had 469,000 followers. But he joked about both with Kurtz. After the host pointed out that, at that point, Carr had sent out 17,000 tweets, Carr said he wasn’t proud of that and many are retweets. As for his Twitter popularity, Carr dead-panned, “I’ve had a problem getting followers. I only have 350,000.” And with respect to the dangers of Twitter, Carr pointed out, “What seems like a friction-free easy push of the button, if you have a significant following or following of significant folks, you can end up in a big, bad jam in a hurry.” He also revealed his approach to tweeting (and listening) on Twitter, sharing that he tries to read his tweets with his bosses’ eyes and not break news on Twitter but annotating events he’s part of, he says, accrues value to him and the New York Times.
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