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Oscar Watch: Return of the Carpetbagger

Oscar Watch: Return of the Carpetbagger

To know that David Carr is in touch with the online zeitgeist, just read this week’s New York Times media column about Google. Carr gets it. And once a year, when he morphs into The Carpetbagger, he gets to shows his stuff to a media world that is struggling to make the transition from print to pixels.

On December 1, Carr’s award-season alter-ego The Bagger will embark on his fourth season of daily Oscar-blogging. As befits the constantly evolving nature of hybrid journalism, there will be changes. For one thing, The Bagger aims to file daily video on the blog from his New Jersey basement. “There’s huge demand from people for someone who looks homeless in his messy basement talking about the most glamorous event in the world,” he says. “I will certainly use props and there may or may not be puppets.”

Carr–who writes fast–plans to churn out six or seven posts a day (crikey!) which he will not have to do alone. Other NYT staffers, such as Brooks Barnes, will assist him. Such are the demands of rebuilding traffic for this seasonal blog. Other more elaborate video features will be produced in a more conventional manner, using Carr as “talent.” Carr has already set up nine or ten stories he wants to cover. “There’s more planning ahead,” he admits, “and more willingness to go to L.A.”

Going into his fourth season, it’s hard for Carr to continue the conceit of the franchise that he is a bumbling outsider sent to cover the ultimate insider event. In the past, Carr admits, he has “gotten rolled by people” pursuing Oscar coverage in the all-powerful NYT. “I can’t pretend not to know what’s going on,” he says. “I’ve picked up on some things.”

With four Oscar-related features coming up in the newspaper of record, Carr is careful to make sure that the two worlds don’t collide. “Whatever unwritten rules there are about doing what we do are baked into me,” he says. “Some chip is installed. In three years I have never gotten edited.”

While Carr installed his Google Reader last week so he can check out other Oscar blogs, he wants to avoid falling into group-think because, he finds, “often it’s wrong. It’s like an echo chamber. I’ll be doing less reading and more phone calling.”

The Bagger is also playing catch-up on viewing kudo-friendly films. “I’ve seen almost nothing,” says Carr. “It’s like showing up at school when everyone’s four chapters ahead.” He does foresee several strong story threads to pursue through the award season: the comeback of The Wrestler star Mickey Rourke, Harvey Weinstein, who is “always in the middle of things,” and Anne Hathaway’s bid to gain traction for Rachel Getting Married. One thing Carr is counting on: “The Oscar race is always full of surprises,” he says.

I dig what Carr is doing because he’s a student of the form. He doesn’t rest on his superior knowledge and writing chops. (He also published a well-reviewed memoir this year, The Night of the Gun.) He’s humble. He gets out and pounds the pavement, notebook, tape recorder and videocam in hand. While he has backup help, if he wants to post a blog item swiftly, he will do it himself. (Most of the time he files to a desk where editors make sure he doesn’t make any hideous typos or grammatical errors that would embarrass the Times.) The pace of a blog is fierce. “If I know it, other people do too,” he says. “Sooner is almost always better than later.”

How many stuck-up NYT reporters would not only see the Twilight phenomenon coming, but would schlep to a local mall to report it first-hand? And how many Pulitzer Prize-chasers would demean themselves by doing an Oscar blog? Carr’s an unusual breed. He does it because learning this stuff is the smart play that keeps him ahead of the curve. He’s going where the whole paper has to go, eventually.

And he’s still writing the Monday media column. “The end of ’08 and beginning of ’09 will be a serious time in the media business,” he says. “I’m working on trying to develop skills with The Bagger to use in media coverage afterwards, maybe video blogging. The pace of the media story is ferocious. Big tectonic things are happening.”

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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