David Carr was the best journalist I never hired.
Carr, the Twin Cities native who became what New York Times editor Dean Baquet rightly called “the finest media reporter of our generation,” died Thursday after collapsing in the Times newsroom. He lived just 58 rich, tumultuous years.
We first met not long after I moved to the Twin Cities in 1989 to take a job as an editor at Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, the weekly newspaper now called the Business Journal. Carr needed a job, and we needed reporters. A colleague had told me Carr’s back story — you can read all about his struggles with chemical dependency and other demons in his remarkable memoir, “The Night of the Gun” — but I wasn’t prepared for the life force who sat down in my office that day. Sweating and nervous, Carr told me he’d recently been in treatment, and he wasn’t sure we could rely on him. It would be a risk, he said, and he wasn’t sure it would work out for him or us. I agreed, although not without regret about the lost opportunity to work with a journalist whose reporting and writing talents were sublime.
As he rebuilt his life and found great success as a writer and editor — first in Minneapolis, then in Washington, D.C., and finally at the Times — I doubt Carr ever gave that interview a second thought. And we never discussed it, although we had several social and professional encounters over the years — all of them memorable, at least for me.
In 2007, one of the darkest years in Star Tribune history, Carr wrote a column on the newspaper’s financial and legal troubles that included a description of a rally held by rank-and-file employees across the street from our building to protest job cuts and what Carr termed “management fecklessness.”
I was the paper’s managing editor at the the time — in other words, one of the feckless — and Carr’s column noted that those attending the rally waved to me as I watched from my office window. I later told Carr he’d been fooled by the blowup doll I kept in the office — a lame joke he was nice enough to laugh at, although he declined my correction request.
We talked again in 2011 for a piece Carr wrote on the Star Tribune’s strong comeback under the leadership of my current boss, Publisher and CEO Michael Klingensmith, who grew up in the Twin Cities but spent most of his career in New York before returning to Minneapolis.
I described Klingensmith as having a rare combination of Midwestern sensibility and East Coast business savvy, or something like that. Carr didn’t use the quote — likely because he had better material — but I still remember how our brief phone call ended. “You’re a mensch, Gillespie,” he said, hanging up before I could return the compliment.
So now I will: You were a mensch, Carr, and journalism will not be the same without you.