August 1, 2011


Watching a documentary on one of the great American newspapers, and the financial struggle it finds itself in, as I ponder a journalism degree next year is depressing, inspiring and intimidating.

Director Andrew Rossi places himself inside the New York Times newsroom for a year, filming the journalists and editors with unprecedented access. He happens to do so during one of the most turbulent periods in newspaper history as daily newspapers are failing and either closing or being bought up and gutted. This is also the year when WikiLeaks first breaks and becomes a huge force.

Rossi focuses on one man inside the paper in particular, Media Desk reporter David Carr, and attempts to give some sort of wider context by discussing the newspaper industry, the history of the Times and the ongoing financial troubles. Carr is a great centre of the film, as he is an intriguing character and, as someone who writes about media stories, an obvious “in” for Rossi. A recovered crack addict, Carr is intelligent and generously armed with well-timed quips, who appears to be a fierce reporter who doesn’t tend to quit.

Around Carr and his editor, Bruce Headlam, the newspaper industry is, as they say, in dire financial straits. Digital media and the concept of the citizen journalist challenge the traditional concept of news dissemination and newspapers like the Times are struggling to find ways to survive in this changed media landscape. The Times has to lay off 100 staff and introduce a pay-wall on their website. There are discussions and debates that Carr participates in, notably with the editors and owners of Vice magazine during an interview. But sites like Twitter, Gawker and WikiLeaks have changed the game dramatically - this is a far cry from the introduction of the TV news. Anyone and everyone can post "news" that is consumed by the world at large. It is telling that, on the large interactive board that tracks Gawker's most popular stories, the ones about celebrities and trash are the top trenders.

Rossi both loses focus and narrows his focus too much. This is not a film only about showing the inner workings of the New York Times, but rather uses the Times (and Carr) as a way to explore the wider issues facing the industry. And though this is indeed an interesting topic and one worthy of it's own documentary feature, this is a film that is supposed to be about the New York Times: how they work, what makes them different. And though Carr is a wonderful character to follow and an excellent way in for the audience, I would have preferred to have seen more of the other journalists around the building, working their stories. Rossi only gives us a handful of other journalists, who largely serve to provide context to the story of Carr. There are interesting points and discussions raised throughout the film but rarely are they ever explored beyond capturing them on film: the first WikiLeaks video and the editing of said video by WikiLeaks to suit a point, rather than showing the entire picture. NBC calling the end of the war in Iraq, though no official announcement is made by the Pentagon; NBC just wanted the photo-op. This stuff, the news behind the news, is the stuff I'm interested in and intrigued by.

If you have any interest in news, and where reporting could be heading, I would not hesitate to recommend Page One: Inside the New York Times. It is a fascinating watch, with a future of "interesting times" ahead for newspapers to ponder. And I am a sucker for the romanticised image of the crusading journalist; working at a tough stroy, chasing down leads and confirmations. Heaven forbid the future of news and reporting being Twitter and citizen journalists; with no thought, comment or context behind the stories but instead only aiming for hits and pageviews.

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