Page One: Inside the New York Times
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PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES deftly gains unprecedented access to The New York Times newsroom and the inner workings of the Media Desk. With the Internet surpassing print as the main news source and newspapers all over the country going bankrupt, PAGE ONE chronicles the transformation of the media industry at its time of greatest turmoil. It gives us an up-close look at the vibrant cross-cubicle debates and collaborations, tenacious jockeying for on-the-record quotes, and skillful page-one pitching that produce the daily miracle of a great news organization. What emerges is a nuanced portrait of journalists continuing to produce extraordinary work under increasingly difficult circumstances. At the heart of the film is the burning question on the minds of everyone who cares about a rigorous American press, Times lover or not: what will happen if the fast-moving future of media leaves behind the fact-based, original reporting that helps to define our society?
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The giant may be wounded, but it's still a giant. Page One shows some of the negotiations with Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who provided material to the paper because he knew it was the best way to spread his message. Popular news aggregator sites are happy to link to, or rewrite, New York Times stories but don't want to pay for them.
So what does the paper do? Does it stop printing and focus only on digital delivery, does it put up a paywall to fend off the freeloaders, or does it continue trying to save costs (we see tearful farewells of people who have been fired) as it slowly bleeds away? Several other major U.S. newspapers have already folded while others are effectively in bankruptcy protection. Who cares who produces the news as long as it's out there?
Because this is a media story, Page One tells it largely through the eyes of the paper's media reporters. This is where the film starts to run into problems. Much of the film focuses on David Carr, the loud and opinionated media correspondent who used to be a violent drug addict until he turned his life around. Although Carr is certainly a character, and resolutely defends the traditional values of the paper at the many panels he speaks at, putting so much emphasis on one person means the audience starts to wonder whether the film is really about him or the Times or both or neither. The effect is confusing and we wander down a few dead-ends, such as the farewell party for a reporter heading off for Iraq. This is supposed to show that the Times does matter, that it is devoting a lot of resources to cover a difficult and important story. Yet the way it is slotted into the film makes it look almost like an afterthought.
That said, there's enough here to make it worthwhile, including some very funny moments (the bemused reaction of reporters and editors when NBC "announces" the pullout of the last U.S. troops from Iraq is worth the entry price alone) and many scenarios which will ring true for reporters in the audience.
Page One doesn't really answer any of the questions it poses, although it does seem to conclude the Times would be sorely missed if the paper went under. All in all, this is a flawed documentary, yet one well worth watching.
PAGE ONE reminds us that even if the Internet had not cut in on some of the newspaper industry's action, THE NEW YORK TIMES probably still would have lost readers when its complicity with the Bush White House became public knowledge. As a subscriber to the F.A.I.R. (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) publication EXTRA! for 25 years, I've read more than a few articles about the TIMES' pro-moneyed interests reporting, but the Judith Miller/Iraq scandal took it to a higher level.
Nonetheless, I'm still rooting for the NEW YORK TIMES to survive and be a great newspaper, even if it was never as great as we think. We need newspapers. There is no substitute for them.
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Presenting fact is no longer a public service. Or even necessary.
Just as long as you get attention.