‘Watershed’: For Media, an Emotional Week of Loss

By Mark Joyella 

US-MEDIA-CARR-OBITSome news sends us running to our TV sets. We want to see the pictures, hear from officials, from witnesses. Show us the pictures. Carry the newser. Other stories send us to Twitter, where we gather in shock with people like us, and share our surprise, our sorrow, and our stories.

That’s what it was like Thursday night, when word of David Carr’s sudden death transformed Twitter into a wake. Reporters shared their favorite Carr quotes, talked about meeting him, or wishing they had, talked about how he, better than most of us, stood up to bullshit and called it what it was. It was a night of raw emotion on top of numbness—an awful loss in a week that was full of them. As Charlie Rose said on “CBS This Morning,” it’s been a sad week for anyone who loves journalism.

As journalists, we’re usually a fairly resilient bunch. We wake up every morning expecting that something, somewhere is going to go to shit. And whatever it is, we’ll be all over it. As David Carr said, our job is to go out, “find people more interesting than (us), learn about something, come back and tell other people about it.”

What we don’t do very often—or very well—is watch our own favorite things smashed and stolen right before our eyes. “It feels like a watershed,” WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook said Friday. “An amazing, unsettling week in media.”

WilliamsFridayWe watched America’s most-watched network news anchor fall, turned with breathtaking speed into a punchline. By week’s end Brian Williams was gone, off on a six month suspension that may really be a lifetime ban—the network that built its brand around him moving with great speed to erase his name and face from “NBC Nightly News.” The graphics, the set, the open, the website, the Twitter feed, were all de-Williamsed by Thursday night. Television, ever the cruel and shallow money trench that Hunter Thompson described, showed its usual Soviet efficiency. A leader had fallen out of favor, and that meant editing history books, warehousing statues, and getting rid of those big, smiling photos in the lobby.

And yet, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush put it, Williams was only the “fourth most important media story this week—and a distant fourth at that.” We learned that Jon Stewart, a fixture for more than fifteen years, wouldn’t just always be there, whether we catch “The Daily Show” each night or not, to slice into the hypocrisy of the news—the stories, and the ways we cover them.

Nobody had pulled us aside and whispered, hey, don’t count on having Jon cover 2016. You might have to make do without. It just happened, like all the rest of the crap this week. There it was in somebody’s tweet, and without any time to process, otherwise strong writers–people who could effortlessly go on live television and talk off the cuff on almost any breaking story–simply sat at their TweetDecks and typed “NO” or “fuck” or simply, “what?”

And then it really started to hurt.

463263584-e1423762211909Bob Simon, a reporter’s reporter, a survivor, was killed in a car accident on the West Side Highway. His loss gutted journalists at CBS—both the young, who considered Simon a role model, and the old, who witnessed Simon’s fearless reporting around the world. Blocks away at CNN, Anderson Cooper, who has reported for “60 Minutes” and grew up watching CBS, blew out the rundown to devote time in his newscast Wednesday to Simon. Cooper then stayed on after 10 p.m. to talk about Simon on “CNN Tonight.” As Cooper told CBS’ Vladimir Duthiers later, Simon was “the correspondent I always dreamed of becoming.” As the news of Simon’s death was still settling in Thursday, we learned about the death of former NBC News war correspondent Ned Colt, who, like Simon, was kidnapped in Iraq. Simon during the first Gulf War; Colt during the second. A massive stroke took him at age 58.

And then Carr. Another survivor. Another journalist who could call out the posers and the fakes. He was smarter than all of us at understanding the ways journalism was changing, and yet just as proud to stand up and celebrate the most analog of platforms—and the one he loved like no other–the printed New York Times. He was the guy we needed to make sense of this week—not to be the final, terrible blow.

“I never expected to cry when a famous person I never knew died. And here I am,” said Suzanne Yada, of the Center for Investigative Reporting. “It was a shit week already, what with Brian Williams and Jon Stewart and Bob Simon and all. And now this.”

It’s Friday now, and this week, of course, will end. Before long, we’ll be back talking about things going to shit for other people—outside journalism. But our losses will linger.  Some of America’s most storied newsrooms are in mourning, and all of us are adjusting to the loss of some of our very best and brightest. As Jamil Smith put it, “the voids opened this week in journalism are almost too wide to fathom.”