City Paper remembers alt-weekly hero David Carr

Like a lot of people around the country, and especially media folks, the City Paper staff is deeply saddened by the loss of author and New York Times media critic David Carr. We're especially saddened because Carr, who spent his earliest days in journalism writing for Minneapolis-St. Paul's now-defunct Twin Cities Reader (his 1982 cover story, on corrupt cops, is above) and went on to become editor of Washington City Paper from 1995 to 2000, was one of our own. He cut his teeth in the world of alt-weeklies and the smart, passionate, suspicious-but-hopeful tone that infused his writing until the end is exactly the kind of work that papers like ours strive for.

Carr also had loose connections to City Paper over the years. Many current and past editors and writers have met him, often at Association of Alternative Newsweekly (AAN) conferences, which he continued to attend long after he left WCP for the Times in 2000. He wrote a glowing blurb for "Charmed Life," the compilation of City Paper columns of the same name (available on Amazon for a penny!). And when the Baltimore Sun Media Group bought City Paper last year, he took to Twitter with kind words for the paper and concern for our future: "Am having a sad about Sun buying Balto City paper. Such a good weekly for such a long time.".

I had a couple of brief, pleasant email exchanges with Carr but never met him personally. I read his memoir, "Night of the Gun," which remains one of my favorite books ever. In it, Carr aims to fact-check his life, which included a long stretch as a crack and heroin addict and an alcoholic, sparing no details—like the time he left his twin baby daughters in a car outside a drug dealer's house and proceeded to get high inside and pass out—no matter how awful they made him look. And the scene in "Page One" (the 2011 documentary about the New York Times) where he tells off the editors of Vice magazine, who seem to think they invented foreign-affairs reporting, is a must-see. We hope to carry on Carr's dedication to the truth, his great storytelling, and his take-no-shit attitude.

Washington City Paper has its own remembrances up today, and to them, we'll add those of Lee Gardner, who was the editor of Baltimore City Paper from 2002-2012 and started as a staffer in 1995:

"Carr was a hero to us alt-weekly types because he was dedicated to—and really good at—the boundary-pushing long-form narrative work that we fancied our bread and butter. He was ambitious with his stories and his writers at Washington City Paper, in a way, frankly, that almost seemed out of proportion to the readership that he had, but that was a lesson in itself. He took what they did very seriously, and brooked no half-stepping. It was inspiring.

"But then when he went off to be a daily reporter for The New York Friggin' Times, he was clearly still the same Carr. The same radiating intelligence, the same indelible voice, the same wised-up skepticism, and the same raconteur charm and avuncular twinkle, where applicable. And that was another lesson. He could do what he did—what we did—at the highest level of American journalism. Which is not to deny the extraordinary talent that set him apart, but it was a lesson that we were not some separate species, that what we did was worthy and something that could appeal to readers who would never ordinarily begrime themselves with an alt-weekly.

"And he further endeared himself by schlepping back to alt-weekly conventions to jaw with people and share his wisdom. He was humbled by his shot at the Times, and forthcoming on how he'd had to step up his own reporting game to make the grade at an institution he clearly loved. In this, and other ways, he was still One of Us. And through that, and his generous advice, he continued to inspire us to try to do our best work no matter what.

"I never worked for or with him, so I can't speak to his direct tutelage. There are plenty of bylines you know who can. But he always made you want to be smarter, sharper, while also somehow projecting the aura of a Midwestern schmoe who had just gotten lucky. He was one of the most verbally adroit men I've ever met, but he had a serious core work ethic that waved away any undue pretension. He once quipped that the best cure for writer's block is 'Typing.' I've since repeated that endlessly to reporters and interns and struggling wannabes. I repeat it to myself all the time."

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