5 Things David Carr taught me about writing


In the few days after David Carr passed away, I found myself reading multiple remembrances, old columns and synopses of his life. It reminded me of how much I have loved reading his column over the years. His interest in the growth of digital journalism, paired with his role as a writer for the vanguard of traditional journalism, the New York Times, gave him a unique perspective on the shift in the way that stories are told and shared today.

In deference to him and because I’ve been diving back into his work quite a lot lately, I want to share a few things that stand out to me. I could list dozens, but I’ll stick with five and spare your time.

1. Good writers have a distinctive voice

Part of the reason David Carr had such distinguished career was because he injected his voice so strongly into his work. It was funny, rough, sometimes harsh, but always honest, and used to support the fact-based reporting that strengthened his credibility as a journalist. It made his work fun to read and memorable, the way that a good teacher can make any subject interesting.

2. Be fascinated by the stories around you

Carr excelled at getting to the heart of his subjects and bringing their stories to life. What I learned from him is that everyone has a story, and apart from having your own distinctive voice, it takes equal skill to bring out the voices of others. I think about this often when I represent the values and stories of the brands I write for, as a reminder that connecting with an audience means using my writing skill but also my listening skills, to get the fullest, richest experience to deliver to a wider audience.

3. Embrace new mediums

I am inspired by Carr’s engagement with the constantly developing world of online publishing. I like the thoughtful ways he assesses the pros and cons of online blogging tools, and it’s always fun to read the columns in which new platforms deliver beyond his expectations. His column on Medium, expressed unrestrained joy in the elegant, simple design that make it easy for a writer to connect with an audience. New mediums push the boundaries of traditional journalism and I’m glad he was there to show me the way.

4. Media needs to balance traffic with quality of content

This article offers a fascinating overview from the writer’s perspective of the intense competition in online publishing and the pursuit of page views above all else. As a writer, it’s easy to feel pressure to write whatever will generates clicks. As a reader, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content vying for my attention. Carr argues that the way to stay above the warring factions is simply to write high-quality work. It’s a good reminder to stay focused on writing well about interesting things, and people will respond accordingly.

5. Think critically about your own role as a writer

To be clear, I don’t mean to be simply critical. Carr examined the role of journalists often, and didn’t shy away from seeing the bad side of a profession that is pressured to deliver “news” at any cost. But he also championed the efforts of writers seeking to share knowledge and unearth information in the interest of the public. I may not be a journalist, but it’s a reminder to me to think about my job as a writer, to reassess the larger objective: to share information with people in a way that’s meaningful and has a positive impact.

Photos from therecoveryauthority.com/journalist-and-former-addict-david-carr-dies/

About the Author

Katherine Robinson is a copywriter for Schoening Digital and loyal Pacific Northwesterner who is often found enjoying sunrises while rowing, running or sitting still with a piping hot cup of coffee. Good books, crossword puzzles and fierce Scrabble games fuel her obsession with words.

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