Lessons Learned From Our Brief Time With David Carr

We were the the first journalism class to have David Carr as a professor at Boston University. One semester is a short period of time, but we’re grateful for what he taught us.

David Carr died on Thursday, February 12 at age 58.
David Carr died on Thursday, February 12 at age 58. –ERIC SILVA/ BOSTON.COM

We were the first journalism class to have David Carr as a professor at Boston University. One semester is a short period of time, but we’re grateful for what he taught us.

Carr walked into class each day, slightly hunched, shuffling along with a red iPad in hand and the faint smell of cigarette smoke lingering in his wake.

At the beginning of the semester, if there were no chairs available at the head of the table, the class scrambled to find one.

Carr was deeply concerned with being a good teacher. We all knew him as a famous New York Times reporter who had interviewed countless celebrities, tech leaders, entrepreneurs, and consistently found his way onto the front page. At first, we were scared to approach him — his reputation seemed distorted to almost mythical proportions. But we quickly learned that Carr was deeply human, but a human like you’ve never met before.

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Carr introduced us to so many people — CNN’s Brian Stelter, The New York Times Jenna Wortham, The Wirecutter’s Brian Lam, and his daughter and documentary filmmaker, Erin Carr. Every time he brought in a guest, he assured us that not only were they talented in their respective fields, but that they were also genuinely good humans.

It always seemed obvious that these people felt equal love and respect for Carr, who described himself as a doggedly loyal friend.

Carr took the time to meticulously edit our work, whether he did it from a plane, train, or his bed in New Jersey, which he described as surrounded by stacks of old New Yorkers and books authored by friends he meant to get around to reading. He just loved TV so much, he said. Carr always seemed honest to a fault.

It’s scary to be a young journalist. Many people tell you it’s a terrible field to get into. Carr always touted its importance and gave us hope, holding us to high standards and championing hard work. Carr’s professionalism in the field, eagerness to learn, and love for the Times were all reasons for us to do better.

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Though Carr was always professional when it came to journalism, he had no compunctions about making fun of himself, showing us some of his more “gritty’’ man-on-the-street interviews and homemade videos. His vulnerability and willingness to talk about his past made us feel comfortable sharing our own failings.

Carr also practiced small acts of kindness. When he learned that Harvard’s Jill Abramson brought snacks in for her journalism class, he said he was horrified, and began bringing in bags of Fritos he’d pour onto the middle of the table. (He usually ate half the bag.) One day, he brought Insomnia cookies.

We did not know David Carr very well, but he was one of those people you don’t have to know for long to understand you’ve met someone special. Few people seem to be the truest version of themselves all the time. But, then again — David Carr was not your average person.

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