David Carr dies: 'Page One' documentary stands as fitting tribute

The late New York Times reporter David Carr's irascible spirit was captured in the documentary 'Page One'

A newspaperman to the core, David Carr wouldn't dream of putting himself at the center of a story. But the incisive, irreverent New York Times reporter and columnist, who died suddenly Thursday at age 58, couldn't help but steal the spotlight in the 2011 documentary "Page One: Inside the New York Times."

Directed by Andrew Rossi, "Page One" chronicles a year at the Gray Lady during a period of unprecedented turmoil and transformation in the newspaper business, seen mostly through the lens of the NYT's media desk.

Carr is featured alongside editor Bruce Headlam and fellow reporters Tim Arango and Brian Stelter — the latter of whom Carr quips is "a robot assembled to destroy me" — but he quickly emerges as the film's most charismatic figure. Whether scolding the founders of upstart media company Vice or gleefully taking down the Tribune Co.'s corporate mismanagement, Carr is at once salty and sagacious.

Above all, he comes off as a true believer in journalism — not only the old-school values of speaking truth to power, but also the potential of future generations of reporters armed with new tools and ideas.

At one point, Carr contemplates the current state of the Times. "Even casual followers of the newspaper industry could rattle off the doomsday tick-tock," he says. "Not to worry, suggest the new-media prophets. The end of the New York Times wouldn't be that big of a deal, they say, because tweets, blogs and news aggregators could create a new apparatus of accountability. But some stories are beyond the database. Sometimes people have to make the calls, hit the streets and walk past the conventional wisdom."

Ironically, "Page One" might have reached a wider audience — it grossed $1 million domestically — had it not been panned in the New York Times itself. The paper brought in an outside reviewer, political journalist Michael Kinsley, and he advised moviegoers to see "His Girl Friday" instead.

As it stands, though, "Page One" remains a fitting tribute to Carr, a guy who was always willing to make the calls, hit the streets and walk past the conventional wisdom.

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