Page One: Inside the New York Times

October 28, 2011
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In an attempt to be fully disclosed, I will say that I am somewhat a social media hound. I’m connected to a perhaps profound amount of social networking sites and media sites. I am, for the most part, aware of a great deal of what happens in my respective areas of interests. However, world news, I’m a little weak on. When I do go a searching for news stories and updates, I’m sure that you know exactly where I go: the internet. Google, Twitter, Tumblr, and even Facebook; social media and the internet have become the newsroom everyone goes to without leaving their chair. NYTimes.com, the Huffington Post, CNN.com, etc. They’ve all become so ingrained in the public’s eye for where to get news, we as a society barely pick up an actual newspaper. It’s also no secret that the newspaper industry and the publishing industry in general, have been in the midst of a downward spiral while blogs, internet news sites, and social media centers buzz incessantly with news for free.
If ever there were an important documentary to be made within a culture where we are so dependent on news and dependent on “connection”, it is Andrew Rossi’s enthralling documentary Page One: inside the New York Times. In my previous review for Wes Craven’s Scream 4, I wrote at length about the changing landscape of communication and how that affected character and plot development. The same thought process applies to this documentary, but in a realer, harsher, and perhaps in an even more unsettling way.
As the New York Times remains one of the few daily newspapers still standing, Andrew Rossi not only gives an unprecedented look into how the newspaper functions, but also how it functions with an ever rapidly changing culture. We see the development of its website, its move to charge readers for full access to that website, and the stringent criticism that move gets from readers and journalists alike. It’s a stunning portrait of how a struggling icon continues to work despite the high odds against them.
During the documentary, we see an array of important news stories go through the process of happening; being chosen for the front page, the development, writing, and editing of the story; and finally, the publication and aftermath of that story. Notably, Julien Assange, the founder of the website WikiLeaks, appears in the documentary. As the story develops, the tension and suspense as thick and riveting as any Hitchcock film, commentators and other journalists chime in to give their opinion on the matter in ethical terms.
All the while, the impending doom and looming sense of death hangs over the staff at the New York Times. The pendulum swings ever closer to the Times as other papers, like the Chicago Tribune, die in unceremonious ways. As one hundred jobs are cut before the audience’s eyes, the threat of true extinction is brought before the audience’s eyes as the history of the Times and its transition to the changing media outlets comes alive. It is undoubtedly jarring to see the death of such important media sectors and have one reporter and journalist after another discuss how it was all predictable, but it is important to understand the changing atmosphere for the news and think about how it will change In the future.
While the threat of newspapers doesn’t sound terribly compelling to the average viewer, one will be very surprised at how compelling a topic it is. Yes, everyone gets their news from the internet or from TV, but because newspapers have had such a place within society, isn’t the thought of that all disappearing a bit sad? Andrew Rossi manages to make the topic not only seem more relevant than it already is, but to make it exciting, intriguing, and watchable. It is, perhaps, an area of knowledge that may seem irrelevant to my “main demographic”, but its stress and importance is made with just the right amount of suspense by the director.
Seamless editing and interesting interviews abound. Use of archival footage is abundant. Reflections on top stories are profoundly engrossing. WikiLeaks, the fall of the Tribune, the release of the iPad, the growing ubiquity of Twitter, and other subjects that take center stage. It is a film so relevant and important, that it is best to see it now instead of later, lest it fall prey to being “dated”. It is not, however, exactly a linear narrative. But that doesn’t matter. Like the news itself, it is sporadic and whatever captures its eye is what it focuses on. Yet, it is done in a clean, immaculate fashion. The fact that the WikiLeaks fiasco happened in April 2010 shows how skillfully this film was edited, put together, and released in such a short time. The film is devoid of the clumsiness that sometimes encumbers docs that are a reflection of the time they’re made in. It’s a clean documentary in a pretty dirty world.
The unsurpassed amount of footage and interviews the film has, and the incredibly introspective look at the New York Times offices, is kind of mind boggling. It’s a deep investigation of how the times and the Times are changing and how the people who run it adjust and adapt to that change. Media columnist David Carr, media reporter Brian Stelter, executive editor Bill Keller, and others give fascinating interviews, as well are filmed doing what they do best: capturing a story.
Page One: Inside the New York Times is unlike any other documentary I’ve ever seen. A true representation of the world we live in, Andrew Rossi has made what would seem an easy dismissible topic into something truly engaging and engrossing. It’s a documentary that’s exciting and suspenseful. Anyone who cares about the news, how we attain news, technology, or the ongoing battle between print and tech needs to see this film. As the world continues to change, so does the way we access news, and this documentary captures that portrait astoundingly. It is like the best news story you’ll ever want to hear: something you won’t want to end.
Grade: A





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