“Just because you put on a f**king safari hat and looked at poop doesn’t give you the right…”

07/11/2011

This is the New York Times reporter David Carr as he lays low the young Turk, Shane Smith, a founder of Vice Magazine, in the documentary, Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times. Shane had just claimed that Vice’s form of guerrilla journalism–walking around Liberia with a camera shooting pictures of feces and talking to cannibals–found topics that people “cared about.” In Smith’s words, “the shit was crazy.” He goes on to suggest the old guard Times were off in the rough covering the election tactics of dictators. The film is playing this week at the Angelika Film Center in SoHo. It follows the inner workings of the Times newsroom during 2010, the tumultuous year when, according to the moviemakers, everything changed.

Carr is a pragmatic and brutally honest curmudgeon. The rest of the Times staff, while hammered by layoffs and declining readership, are mostly just trying to keep their jobs. But Carr is mentally as well as physically bent–my neck hurt by the end of the film from looking at him. He’s gone through jail, single parenting, and crack addiction, and come out the other side to become a reporter at the “newspaper of record.” The film suggests the New York Times might be on its last legs, but Carr isn’t worried about his job. He’s survived worse. In general, Carr is worried about “guns and bats” rather than the demise of “the Grey Lady.”

Throughout the film, he argues against “new” media, against two dudes with a camera, against aggregation, The Huffington Post and the lot, against the removal of humans from the creation of story, and we found this refreshing and entertaining. Story without humans is text. RSS feeds and aggregation create entertaining rabbit holes, but they won’t have anything in them once real news is no longer around to aggregate. Self-publishing, with a few exceptions, makes you a publicist not a writer.

As we walked out of the theater, Catherine Jones, the Submishmash Marketing Manager, was overheard saying, “He’s a pretty good argument for doing a lot of crack.”

Clay Shirky recently claimed in a post that “we need much cheaper ways of gathering, understanding, and disseminating news.” At Submishmash, we think part of that might be guys walking around with video cameras, wars recorded by a crowd full of iPhones, or tweets from an engineer outside Bin Laden’s compound. That is where material will be “created.” But we also need human beings like Carr calling bullshit (the entire point of journalism, no?). With powerful and affordable tools like your favorite submission manager or DocumentCloud, publishers can crowdsource direct-from-the-streets content but still do the essential step of editing and making it story.

Michael FitzGerald

Michael lives in Missoula, MT, with his wife and two sons. He’s the CEO and one of the founders of Submittable and the author of the novel Radiant Days.