You've likely heard: Print media is in a death spiral. Andrew Rossi's documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times frames this issue through a few fly-on-the-cubicle months at the Times. When not chasing down sources, deadlines and tardy staffers, editors and reporters mull over the changing nature of their job and industry.
The camera captures the sorting-through of a couple of stories that illustrate the shifting world of news-gathering: how to cover the "end" of the Iraq war when the moment lacks any imprimatur, and feels more like a PR gambit from the administration; and how to cover the WikiLeaks documents dump. (Old heads can compare the accessibility the Internet granted WikiLeaks with the months spent readying the Times' big 1970s scoop, the publishing of the leaked Pentagon Papers.)
Rossi's film fleshes out this profile with interviews from peripheral figures -- academics, other mainstream-media figures and Internet-based upstarts, such as Gawker. Schadenfreude runs through some of this outside commentary, but Rossi's argument is that now, for all its failures, news -- even from fast-moving Internet-based players -- is still indebted to staid, "boring" institutions like the Times.
In this realm of seemingly interchangeable bland white men (the boys'-club newsroom has changed, but not that much), the feisty, idiosyncratic David Carr steals the show. This late-in-life Times man -- he hired on after stints with alt-weeklies and hard drugs -- seems least likely to succeed in the rarefied, slightly smug air of the Grey Lady. Yet he's among the paper's most impassioned defenders. (As a media reporter, he inhabits a strange hall of mirrors, reporting on the demise of newspapers and other "legacy media" such as himself.)
Like other ink-stained wretches, I can't get enough of the ongoing horror show that has even the venerable Times chewing its fingernails and erecting paywalls: Can anything save print media? Where will the ax fall next? What career-saving social media am I neglecting to employ? But the often hagiographic Page One has plenty of general appeal. The way in which news is gathered, received and processed -- as well as what impact it has -- is rapidly transforming.
It's an admittedly pointy-headed preoccupation to fret about an uninformed citizenry, but we're now in a grand experiment -- of local, national and global scope -- to establish what constitutes "news." The old line says: "Without established and well-funded news institutions, we'll miss the next Watergate." Upstarts pooh-pooh: "Entrenched media's collusion with government and corporate parents is a fluff-driven circle jerk -- bring on the revolution, and let last century's gray heads roll." Page One doesn't know the answer: This is just a snapshot, but one from an important player in an ongoing crisis.
Page One: Inside the New York Times
Directed by Andrew Rossi
Starts Fri., Aug. 12. Manor