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Q&A Interview:
David Carr: Traditional Media Will See 'A Lot of Pain'

















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In their own words

David Carr: Traditional Media Will See 'A Lot of Pain'
The New York Times's media columnist and first blogger returns to the Web with a warning: Media people need to develop multimedia skills if they want to "make it through this racket alive."

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 11/06/06

David Carr, the New York Times media columnist and general assignment reporter on the culture beat, became the Old Gray Lady's first blogger last year with the launch of The Carpetbagger, a short-term blog covering the Hollywood film industry's awards season. The blog went dark after last year's Academy Awards ceremony in March. (One of The Carpetbagger's coups was successfully predicting that "Crash" would trump odds-on favorite "Brokeback Mountain" to win best picture.)

Starting today, The Bagger is back. As promoted in in-house ads in the Times, The Carpetbagger aims to take audiences "behind the scenes (and studio doors) for a close-up of the screenings, the spin and the bravado that lead the way to the Academy Awards."

Being the first blogger at the New York Times "was a little like being the first monkey in outer space," Carr wrote on his blog as he signed off last season. "It was a privilege, but not something that was without peril." Among the perils: being the first Timesman to produce YouTube-friendly online video clips of man-on-the-street-style interviews, talking with people in Times Square and insiders at Hollywood parties for their thoughts on entertainment and the movie biz.

Carr wrote about media for both the alternative weekly Washington (D.C.) City Paper and the Web news site Inside.com before joining the Times in 2002. As a chronicler of the changing media landscape for his Monday column in the Times, Carr says he sees his multimedia blog as a way for him to "develop new skill sets that make sense."

I Want Media: Why is The Carpetbagger returning?

David Carr: There's been a tremendous hue and cry from both the viewing and reading public for the return of The Carpetbagger.

Actually, that's not true. But it sounds better than the fact that we had fun doing it last year and we thought we'd give it a whirl again.

The New York Times is ready and willing to engage our readers in whatever way we want. People at the Times are very interested in blogging. One of the big surprises for us was our World Cup blog last summer. You'd think of the World Cup as primarily a television event. But it got a lot of traffic.

I think our biggest achievement with The Carpetbagger last year was that it allowed material from the blog to flow into the paper and material from the paper to flow into the blog. Synergy -- a tacky, horrible word that usually never means anything -- gained real traction during our run. We got a good look at how things might go in the future.

IWM: Did The Carpetbagger make you an online video star?

Carr: Being an online video star is sort of akin to being the tallest dwarf. It's a very minor form of celebrity. One time I was in front of a Lowes theater in Jersey City and a guy who looked completely normal walked up to me and said, " I really enjoyed your TV work with The Carpetbagger." I said, "Well, thanks, man."

The Web loves video. People love to watch other people doing stuff online, even if what they're doing is not salacious. We got a lot of traffic from those videos.

IWM: Your video clips have been described as "kooky" and "offbeat." Could they jeopardize the integrity of the New York Times?

Carr: That's for other people to decide. I know that they were great for the blog. When I went to the West Coast, people knew who I was because of those videos. I think they actually helped me to be taken seriously as a multimedia journalist.

There's a risk there, sure. I know that some of my colleagues probably wonder: "Is this the plan, really? To have this guy wandering around Times Square? Is this what the future looks like?" I must tell you that it's comfortable to me.

I don't presume or brag about a level of expertise when doing The Carpetbagger. I take a very common-man approach. There's a danger, I think, that if we do something slick and overproduced we might end up confusing viewers and not entertaining them. The primary gesture of what I'm doing is entertainment. This year I want to try breaking news.

IWM: Is the Web now the best way to reach news audiences?

Carr: I give a lot of talks at colleges and universities, and I see how 18-year-olds are using media. I find that there's a good level of recognition of the New York Times brand among young people.

Our challenge is to give the Times to them in ways they can use. After some people get their broadband up and running, with all the rich media and links, maybe the little pile of dead trees doesn't look quite as dynamic.

The danger here is that we make the Internet product so compelling that the paper over time becomes kind of a marketing brochure for the Web site. As both a consumer and someone who uses all sorts of new media, I still find newsprint to be a very elegant, portable, searchable technology that I enjoy getting my hands on every day.

I view the printed version of the New York Times as one of humankind's most interesting creations. I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt that.

My blog also could end up making me look like an idiot, like the dad in the basement at the teen party. I still feel it's important for my work to be in the newspaper every week. I don't want to get on the elevator at the office and have people say: "Didn't you used to work here?"

IWM: Any predictions on the future of blogging?

Carr: There's a growing economic model of micro-targeting that will allow for either federated blogs or particularly strong blogs to be significant businesses. I don't suspect that the New York Times's blogs will ever be a third leg of the stool. But in terms of the sort of constellation of ways in which we put out the Times, they're going to be important.

Blogs are going to become a part of the media eco-system going forward. Still, I obviously have to believe that large media brands will continue to exist, because that's how I buy hamburgers and milk for my family. I have a significant rooting interest.

IWM: A column on Forbes.com observes that both the New York Post and Daily News are picking up readers while the Times is reporting a circulation decline. The tabloids are said to be benefiting from presenting the news with a "point of view." Should the Times become more like the Post?

Carr: Absolutely not. And I say that as an avid reader of the New York Post. First of all, I do not speak for the New York Times and have no more information than the average Joe. But there's no indication that the Times is heading down the tubes.

Should we drop down to a quarter and run four pages about how we pushed our circulation past our competitor? I'm not anxious to be in that business. There's plenty of point of view in the New York Times, but it's clearly labeled as such. I think that that's going to be more important, not less, going forward.

I introduced [New York Times executive editor] Bill Keller at the American Society of Magazine Editors meeting. His presentation to the magazine editors was upbeat and competitive. He doesn't view this as a bad time to be running the Times. He seems to be really enjoying the job. And, by the way, I think he's pretty good at it.

IWM: As a media columnist, what's the big story you're seeing right now?

Carr: The meaning of the word "network" has changed. The Huffington Post, which is a network, went from nothing to millions of eyeballs in almost no time flat. YouTube, with no huge hardware infrastructure, became a network inside of a year. And inside of 18 months it became a network that Google would want to spend $1.6 billion to acquire.

Now that programming capabilities are in the hands of consumers, allowing them to platform-shift and time-shift, how will the big content creators keep up and make money doing it? Just because media companies can own the methods of production no longer means they're going to own the audience as well.

IWM: What will these changes mean to traditional media?

Carr: They're still going to be winners. Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller, the Sulzbergers are going to do just fine. But it's going to take some maneuverability.

What will be the personal changes as this adjustment occurs? I think there's going to be big change at Time Inc. Significant things are going to happen in media as they reorganize to meet a changing environment. I'm not suggesting total mayhem and chaos. But I do think there's going to be a lot of pain going forward.

And not just at companies, but for individuals like you and me. We have to be really nimble if we want to leap from lily pad to lily pad and make it through this racket alive. I didn't agree to do The Carpetbagger just because I wanted something else to do. I wanted to develop new skill sets that make sense.

Back in about '98, Steve Coll, who was then the managing editor of the Washington Post, suggested that reporters would one day be walking around with "hat-cams" -- little cameras mounted on hats that record video in real time. At the time I was working for the Washington City Paper, and I wrote a column about how nonsensical that idea was. I think I called him an idiot. And now, that's essentially what I'm doing with the video on The Carpetbagger. Less than a decade later the future I ridiculed is now the world I inhabit.




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