Peter St. Onge

From David Carr to Dean Smith, a lesson

There’s a video that journalists passed around Twitter on Thursday night, moments after we learned the great David Carr had died.

It’s a clip from a documentary done on the New York Times, where Carr wrote on media for more than a decade. He’s at a table in an office at the Times, interviewing members of the new-media upstart Vice, who are talking about their video on cannibalism in Liberia.

At one point, a Vice guy takes a shot at the Times coverage.

“Just a second,” Carr says, raising his hand. “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.”

Journalists loved it, of course, because Carr was demanding respect not only for the New York Times, but for what so many of us do. Now he’s gone.

It’s been an awful week for that, a week of giants falling among us. Carr, who was just 58, died after collapsing at work Thursday. One night before, 60 Minutes correspondent and broadcast legend Bob Simon was killed in a car wreck in New York City.

And, of course, there was Dean Smith.

They were three outsized figures, very different in personality, but also very similar.

Each reached great heights but were loved for the consistent greatness they brought to each day.

Each worked for industries that haven’t had good stretches recently. Carr was a newspaper guy at a time when newspapers are fumbling for the right key to the digital future. Simon was a broadcast guy in an industry that’s become too tangled in the news it covers. Smith worked in big-time college athletics, which seem less now about the students who play sports than the dollars they can bring in.

But the celebrations of Smith this week remind us of the impact good coaches – and good men and women anywhere – can have on the lives of young adults.

And for those of us who write, Carr is a reminder of the power of thoughtfulness and good reporting.

You might not know much about him, but he was the country’s most eloquent voice on media. He loved what we do, and because of that could be harsh in his assessment of it, including himself for giving Bill Cosby a pass in an interview a few years back. He was biting and funny and fair, and he almost lost it all to addiction, which he also wrote about with unsparing candor.

Maybe because of that, he worked with the joy of someone who considered it a privilege.

He was, like Dean Smith and Bob Simon, old school but enduring, the way solid things are.

They remind us of one of the oldest, simplest truths – that you command respect not by demanding it, but by respecting what you do.

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