David Carr died last night in The New York Times newsroom. If you didn’t know him, you should go find his stories and read them — along with the outpouring of obituaries and eulogies flowing from all corners of the media/information industries. He was the newspaper’s columnist on the media itself, but to journalists he was very much more than that: he was a human beacon for what they are and someone who kept them in check when they weren’t being their best.
Members of the public relations world – some of us former journalists ourselves – can learn three important lessons from Mr. Carr. It feels trite to type that thought out and to pluck three lessons for flacks from a journalist’s journalist. But we hope his ghost can abide it, because it comes from a place of deep and genuine respect.
Authenticity is the first lesson.
Perhaps David Carr’s most salient feature was the ease with which he spoke his mind and the clarity with which he did so.
Reading his words in The New York Times, or in his Twitter missives, you felt the baloney was missing and readers got an unclouded picture unspoiled by ego, agenda, or careerism.
Empathy is the second lesson — something we’ve talked about in past blog posts.
Some people speak their minds and we dislike them for it because they’re not thinking of others when they do it. David Carr seemed to be grateful for his audience, respected them, and even showed a sense of humanity when taking to task someone who was trying to spin him or the public. You sought out his authentic account of events and the world in which they occurred because of his deep empathy for you, the reader.
Loyalty is the third lesson.
Carr was always frank about knowing where he worked and the foibles of the place. He was joyous in his defense of the profession he loved and the institution that allowed him to practice it. Journalists felt that he was their advocate, that he understood them best, and that he supported them…warts and all.
We can do more of that in our own profession in the process of helping our clients tell their stories. It’s harder for us because there surely is an agenda for our clients; news is a means, not an end.
But the act of remembering what made David Carr so great can make us a little better at our own jobs. When we, as PR professionals, pick up the phone or send an email to a journalist, we hope that the reporter on the other end embodies these same characteristics of authenticity, empathy and loyalty.
While we won’t ever be journalists because of the agenda that we work from as PR professionals, we can learn from David’s example and strive to exhibit these characteristics in each interaction we have with our clients and the media.