At the time of his death in early 2015, David Carr was a prominent media columnist for The New York Times. He edited the alt-weekly Washington City Paper in the mid-1990s, where he cultivated some of the great journalistic talent of our day. He was both a blunt and colorful writer, with a gift for similes that would make readers snigger with pleasure. “To call something the most popular podcast might seem a little like identifying the tallest leprechaun,” he wrote in one of his Media Equation columns for the Times.
Carr got his start in journalism at the Twin Cities Reader, where he eventually became editor. He then went on to edit the Washington City Paper. Years earlier, he’d struggled with addictions to crack and alcohol, and he eventually turned those rank memories into a bestselling memoir. Along with his duties as a columnist, Carr taught a course on new media at Boston University, where I was his graduate teaching assistant. Amid his kaleidoscope of accomplishments and obligations, Carr still found the time to guide dozens of young people in the arduous process of shaping careers of their own. He did it for me: Carr set me up with the interview that would turn into my first real job in journalism. He died just two weeks before I got my offer letter.
Carr had an unusual gift for recognizing young talent, and an equally unusual willingness to pull that talent up the ladder with him. He hired us for internships and jobs, edited our stories, sent out emails on our behalf, invited us to meetings we were really too junior to be a part of, and introduced us to his most successful and famous friends. But most important of all was this: He told us again and again that we had something special. We were smart, he told us. We were worthy. And we believed him, because he was the best guy we knew.
For The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with over a dozen of the writers, thinkers, artists, and family members who benefited from Carr’s guidance. What follows are their stories about when Carr acted as their champion, and what he taught them about being a mentor.
Read more at The Atlantic.