Page One: Inside the New York Times

Documentary on the changing face of journalism provides a behind the scenes look at the New York Times. That daily periodical has always been ONE of the most hallowed in journalism. Let’s not forget The Wall Street Journal after all.  That is clearly the opinion of director Andrew Rossi. He was granted rare access to the New York Times newsroom for a year. This investigative report analyzes how the Internet and modern media has changed the print business and the way in which people get their news. There is a very real battle to stay relevant at the moment. Newspapers all across the U.S. are going bankrupt.

I suppose one’s enjoyment of Page One will rest on whether you even care if the New York Times survives or not. My feeling is, the paper deserves to exist if the public wants it to exist. Does it contribute a service that the people are willing to support? The paper must adapt to the modern world. But the documentary does the publication a disservice by treating it as a historical monument that must be supported because it’s necessary for the good of society. I don’t know if things have changed, but the New York Times was a business the last moment I checked, not a charity. That’s not always obvious from Rossi’s effort to convince us of its relevance. He does provide a window into the contemporary newspaper game and for that, it is entertaining. Still, there isn’t enough to convince us of his point, even at 88 minutes. Regardless, this feels more like a segment on 60 minutes than a feature film anyway.

The focus jumps around too much, touching on many topics, but never really delving too deeply on any one thing. “Freedom of information” website WikiLeaks, which publishes secret documents from anonymous sources, is touched upon for example. Its editor-in-chief, Internet activist Julian Assange could be a documentary subject unto himself. Other scenes involve interviews with various staff members at The New York Times. These talking heads, with one exception, weren’t particularly engaging. Of these staffers, the majority of time is wisely given to media and culture columnist, David Carr. His inclusion is something of a double edged sword. It’s understandable that the filmmakers would devote such an enormous amount of time to his point of view. He’s a caustic character to be sure, and a hilariously fascinating one at that. However his outlook is merely one person’s opinion and I would’ve liked to have heard more from opposing view points. We get a few snatches here and there, but they’re fleeting. Carr’s dominance is exhibited throughout the entire film.

Web based news blogger Arianna Huffington tosses a memorably glib line at one point when she addresses her detractors by saying “I was not around when the printing press was invented; but if I were around I would imagine that the people dealing with stone tablets would be making a similar argument.” If that statement provokes an emotional reaction in you, then you should find Rossi’s report interesting at least. Unfortunately I didn’t think he did a satisfactory job of convincing the audience to cherish those “stone tablets”. The way it’s presented here, it felt like mourning the eclipse of the horse and buggy in the shadow of the automobile.

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3 Responses to “Page One: Inside the New York Times”

  1. Great review. Probably won’t be seeing this movie.

  2. Very insightful, Mark! Loved your review, especially that last line “he way it’s presented here, it felt like mourning the eclipse of the horse and buggy in the shadow of the automobile.”.

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