Take five: David Carr

The Times' media columnist steps into the spotlight, growling.

David Carr

David Carr

Among The New York Times' more familiar bylines, media columnist David Carr occupies a vaunted place for fans of clear-eyed, unruffled reporting (in a field not known for it). Now Carr is a costar—perhaps even the hero—of a new documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times. Coincidentally, we caught up with Carr on the same day Jill Abramson was named the Times' new executive editor (in Carr's admiring words, he called her a "newsman, through and through").

Is it weird to see yourself becoming the story onscreen?
I told [director Andrew Rossi] that he wasn't even going to get a documentary out of it. A bunch of people typing in a big office—it's not the most cinematic thing in the world. But it turned out to be a movie movie. I'm just a schlub, but I look like Batman by the time they're done cutting it.

Do you think the film might interfere with your ability to do your job?
I cannot tell you. A fundamental about journalism is leave the building. Find other people that are more interesting than you. So I love pulling up at the big Hollywood events in my crappy rental car. That makes me happy. I want people to know that I'm a craftsman, that I can be rented, but I can't be bought, and that I cover the milieu, but I'm not of the milieu. And if sitting still for a movie about my job has spoiled my ability to do it, that would be a horrible thing. But I did a very personal book a couple of years ago [The Night of the Gun, Carr's memoir about his cocaine addiction], and everyone said it was going to mess me up, and it was on the best-seller list and it had no effect on me.

Why has it become fashionable to knock the Times?
It's always been part of the DNA of our relationship with the American news consumer. People feel passionately about the paper. They want to blame the paper for getting us into the war in Iraq, and then disregard the fact that we've gone and stayed for ten years. I see it as the dark side of love: People bring a very high level of expectation. So when you do have a significant stumble in our reporting—a face-plant, even a Jayson Blair—it takes everyone's breath away, including our own. At our shop, if you get someone's middle initial wrong, you're going to be on page 3 getting corrected in a heartbeat.

Speediness, as we see in the doc, can sometimes be the enemy.
Yes, as the paradigm shifts from quality to productivity, reporters are expected to be dynamos spinning out content on all manner of platform: Do a blog post and then make a video about it, then Twitter behind it, keep it moving, and then reverse-publish back into print and add more. That's all great, unless in doing so, you lose your ability to think long thoughts.

What makes a killer news story?
People should remember—and this is true from everybody from Gawker to Huffington Post to us—that news is the killer app. If you tell something that people don't know, you're going to get a huge spike in traffic. You don't break news by surfing the Web, cut-and-pasting what is of interest to you and putting your own spin on it. You've got to pick up the phone, send out the e-mails, Twitter out questions and come up with something no one else has. People are only going to look at ten nude beaches or the latest nip slips so many times.

Page One: Inside the New York Times opens Fri 17.

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