PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES
Magnolia Pictures/ Participant Media
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Andrew Rossi
Written By: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi
Cast: David Carr, Bruce Headlam, Brian Stelter, Tim Arango
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 6/6/11
Opens: June 17, 2011
I can see it now. On page 3 of the Washington Post, a headline: "Nuclear weapon detonated over D.C. Five square miles wiped out." Then on the front page: "New York Times' final issue hits the streets." Both potential news items are devastating, and one hopes that neither will ever take place. Yet, in 2009 and in 2010 the prospect of The Gray Lady's folding or at least going into Chapter 11 was one of the most discussed items among media bloggers. The Times Company, founded by Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones in New York City, issued its first edition September 18, 1851, with the statement: "We publish today the first issue of the New-York Daily Times, and we intend to issue it every morning (Sundays excepted) for an indefinite number of years to come." Perhaps not even Raymond and Jones could have projected that their paper would survive its own century, but the paper of record-as it's called since it's available on microfilm and on NexisLexis where you can read all about the daily doings of the Civil War-may no longer be sold for two cents an issue but you can count on seeing it on the New York newsstands or right at your front door 365 days a year.
"Page One: Inside the New York Times," is Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack's love letter to the world's greatest newspaper, one that sends some forty copies to the White House and an almost equal number to the Kremlin each day. To its credit, the powers that be at the Times allowed Rossi and Novak and their crew to serve as fly-on-the-wall observers for one year, which is not in itself surprising, but the paper has obviously had no problem allowing the documentary to focus on the potential for its demise. With the rise of the Internet, giving anyone with a computer and a modem access to countless news media around the world including the New York Times itself, the print edition would seem to some to be an anachronism, an elderly gray lady at this point and at this stage in technology when thousands of newspapers have gone to out of business or have tried to survive by laying off all too many loyal workers. As the doc points out, the Tribune Company is kaput as is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the Boston Globe is bankrupt among others that fill the pages of media obituaries.
While commentators include writers and execs at The New Yorker, The Nation, Atlantic, and other print media, most of the picture is taken up by four journalists who work out of mid-town Manhattan: David Carr, the outspoken columnist treating the nexus of media with business, culture and government; Brian Stelter, a Times reporter since he was twenty-one and thereby one wholly at ease with Twitter, YouTube and Facebook with an assignment to write about WikiLeaks' leaked footage from the Iraq War; Bruce Headlam, Media Desk editor who tries to keep the fat-boys' atmosphere disciplined; and Tim Arango, a young man who volunteers to report under fire in Iraq and quickly rises to be chief of the Baghdad desk.
Bill Keller, the executive editor whose job has just days ago been taken over by Jill Abramson, admits that the news media have an uncertain future. And no wonder, As with Amazon's conclusion that e-books are now selling more than hard covers and paperbacks, we need not wonder that the Internet has already surpassed print as our main news source. When I was a kid, everyone, but everyone in the New York subway cars was reading a newspaper-the Times, the Herald Tribune, the Daily News, the Post, the Sun, The World, The Telegram, PM, the Daily Mirror, the Journal American. If you're from New York and take the subway, look around now: more often than not, nobody but nobody is reading anything more titillating than the BlackBerry or other Smart Phone. It's a new age, a revolution that has not changed the media world since Gutenberg's printing press, and the Times has suffered a drastic loss of income from advertisers who will not pay money when people are not reading print!
"Page One" evokes a few major blows to the paper's integrity as when Judith Miller, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, filed reports on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, reports proven false; and Jayson Blair was found to be reporting news events that he fabricated. Generally, however, the occasional faux pas has not contributed to the paper's prestige: it's all about the technology which allows readers to download from such news sources as Newser.com, HuffingtonPost.com, and Gawker.com. With such competition, does the Times have any hope of garnering enough increased revenue by charging us for digital articles?
The documentary comes most to life when David Carr speaks. Carr, a former crack addict who has written a memoir, "The Night of the Gun," which Arianna Huffington has called "the fierce, funny, disturbing, brutally honest, and ultimately uplifting story of Carr's decent into a self-inflicted hell and a bumpy return to life," shows that people of his caliber are among the resources that the Times can use to morph into the financially successful paper it once was.
Unrated. 90 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online