Page One: Inside the New York Times

Page One Inside the New York Times

Andrew Rossi’s Page One: Inside the New York Times is not a searing look at the ins and outs of reporting for a major publication such as the New York Times but rather a look at the decaying print media landscape and the way that it has and will continue to change.  The very fact that I am writing this blog post now is a vivid reminder of the things that have changed.  Rather than reading Manhola Dargis’ insightful critiques, you have chosen to read a stranger’s ramblings on the things he loves most: movies.  The Internet has created a world in which the news and insightful writing has become free and open to anyone who knows how to type in Google.

Page One takes us into the offices of the “Paper of Record” to show how that change has affected the day-to-day business of the paper and the way they report the news.  This is mainly through the eyes of the people who work the Media desk, those on the front lines of the changing media landscape and who have their fingers on the pulse of social media and what the Times needs to do to keep up with the times.  The star and main attraction of the film is undoubtedly David Carr, a former drug addict who has come to be known as one of the paper’s great defenders to those in the new media.  A fiery personality who tends to say what he has on his mind, he’s the kind of personality that makes documentaries like this really come alive.

What could become a staid retelling of facts rather becomes an insightful look not just at how the media landscape is changing and the fascinating people who are leading the paper into the future.  Rossi’s film takes place during a certain time and place in which the traditional media’s place is being questioned harshly.  Julian Assange’s Wikileaks is making big headlines and the confusion on what that makes Assange, reporter or activist, and what the Times’ role is in releasing the information, is it just arbiter or are they reporting the news as they’ve always done.  New terms and traditions must now be applied that never had to be used before and Rossi’s documentary juggles that aspect quite nicely.

Rossi is given great access but one only gets the sense we are only getting a small portion of the story.  It seems as the changing landscape becomes clear, Rossi decides to focus his attention on the Media desk with much of the rest of the paper’s actions becoming back-grounded.  What could have been an interesting look at how a major paper is run and the inner workings of all of that, the documentary becomes a polemic against the tide of new media.  What the documentary says at the end is not so much the right vs. wrong of print media vs. new media but rather that the New York Times must change or face complete destruction.

Of course, according to the interviews therein, the loss of the New York Times would be too great a loss to bear.  Whether I agree with that sentiment is hard to say but I will say that Rossi’s film makes that point with great effort and Carr is certainly the greatest advocate for that stance.  While I would say the subject matter of this documentary is vital in the sense of what needs to happen for print and traditional media to remain as vibrant as it once was, Rossi’s film fails to deliver on a more rounded aspect of what the paper is today.  The film gives a great sense of what the paper was and its tradition of great reporting and the current worries of a great institution, the film whitewashes the paper’s major flaws and controversies, bringing them up but never quite giving a critical look.  Rossi’s film is too loving and embracing of the old media giant to be very critical and can only concentrate on ways to save the giant rather than giving an insightful, critical look at the ways that the New York Times, and other major papers like it, may have give rise to their own downfalls.  As a loving tribute to the paper and an interesting look at how the changing media landscape is affecting the largest paper in the nation, Rossi has created something truly special.  However, as far as actual insight and deconstruction of the paper itself, that will have to be left to other writers/filmmakers.

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