Last Thursday, the New York Times media columnist David Carr died suddenly and way, way too prematurely after collapsing in the paper's newsroom -- succumbing to lung cancer that the world, his colleagues, and possibly Carr himself didn't know that he was afflicted with. He was just 58, with a wife and three children.

His death resonated in places you might expect (above the fold on the front page of the New York Times) and places you wouldn't (an article about the New York journalist's death is, as I write this anyway, one of the most-read stories on On the surface, all the furor is a tad hard to explain. After all, Carr never won journalism's premier award, the Pulitzer Prize (although I'm thinking that could change in April if the Times had the foresight to enter him this year). He didn't "take down a president" with his reporting (to be fair, neither, really, did these guys). He was a sharp writer who often brilliantly turned a phrase, but his sole book -- The Night of the Gun, about his fall into and rise up from drug addiction and other sins -- got mixed reviews.

One might be tempted to chalk it up the flurry of Carr tributes and remembrances from journalistic cohorts to our 21st Century American trend of forming our communities -- the people we overly protect celebrate, protect and ultimately grieve -- not around where we live but around where we work.

But the sudden loss of Carr does indeed cut deeper; his sum was so much greater than the parts. He was said to be a amazing mentor, alternately fearsome, prodding and gentle, to a generation of young journalists in Washington, D.C. (where he edited the Washington City Paper in the late 1990s) and New York -- many of them now mature journalists who have an out-sized voice in the national conversation. At the end, in what proved to be the zenith of his writing life, he was the whiskey-voiced caricature of a persona that so many in the business crave for themselves -- acerbic, witty and wise. In a business that lives for a great redemption story for Page One, Carr's -- from abusive crack addict to successful dad, empathetic co-worker and venerated writer -- was banner-headline stuff.

But even all of that doesn't explain the strong reaction among so many who didn't know David Carr, the man, but only knew his byline. From a vantage point here in Philadelphia, a short train hop that sometimes feel halfway around the world from Times Square and Dupont Circle, it felt -- from the mid-2000s on -- that Carr's media coverage didn't so much define the news business as magically transcended it.

The David Carr decade in American journalism coincided with an era of layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs, bankruptcies, belt tightening, and billionaire buffoonery. A writer could fill a medium-sized delivery truck by wallowing in that pool of despair, but that's not what Carr's weekly Media Equation was all about. Every Monday, on your doorstep or splayed across your laptop, Carr portrayed journalism not as a dying art but as a noble and worthy calling -- some days by celebrating the innovative or the brave, other days by avenging the corrupt who threatened to bring it all down.

Here in Philadelphia, Carr famously donned his avenger cap; when a major ethical lapse threatened the reputation of the newspapers, the Timesman set things right by making one phone call. We still remember that here, and we are still grateful. At a time when it seemed to journalists that an undertaker might next ring the doorbell, Carr arrived as a salesman in the best sense of the world. When we were ready to cancel our subscription, as it were, he sold us on journalism all over again -- both with the stories he told, and through the gusto with which he told them.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Carr was up on a stage doing what he did best, probing his fellow journalist Glenn Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras and leaker Edward Snowden about the national security state; by 9:30 p.m., he was inexplicably gone. Is it any wonder that so many in the media are asking themselves, what the hell do we do now?

Blogger's note: Funny thing, but after taking vacations in December and January, I'm going to be gone much of the rest of February, too. I'll pop back in next Sunday and then I'll be back for a solid 3-4 months, I promise, starting Feb. 26. Talk about the fake news while I'm gone.