Documentary Review: PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (2011)

Written by: Kate Novack/Andrew Rossi

Directed by: Andrew Rossi

Buy Page One: Inside the New York Times on DVD (or Blu-ray)

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Page One: Inside the New York Times chronicles the transition of one of the most important journalistic institutions in the country as it attempts to remain relevant and profitable in an era when anyone can access news for free at the click of a mouse while also showcasing the day to day activities of some of its more higher profile writers. Focusing more on the Media Desk, a section whose writers pontificate and report on the goings on in their own industry, we are treated to the twice-daily pitch meetings between the journalists and the editors that decide which stories make the cut as well as the act of getting a story done itself and all the work that goes into it. Overall, this 14 month glimpse into a fledgling industry is interesting and thought provoking but at the same time I can’t help but wonder how much better it could have been had it stuck with one story over another.

There are multiple stories being told through out Page One: Inside the New York Times. First, as stated previously, is the “fly on the wall” moments where we watch the staff in action. While that happens, we are also introduced to the more dynamic personalities of the New York Times, including the story’s spiritual lead David Carr. A media/culture columnist, Carr believes in the Grey Lady and her importance to the journalism world at large. He is a staunch defender of investigative old-school journalism, and is quick to defend what he and his cohorts do whenever questioned or mocked by the new media. A particular scene that has been talked about over and over again in other reviews is his verbal dressing down of the owners of Vice, one of the bigger news sites on the internet that has the audacity to compare what they do with what he and the New York Times does. He is the perfect figurehead, and has great screen presence and charisma, making it completely understandable why Rossi chose him as the main “character” to his overall story.

The bigger story, however, concerns the “old media Vs. new media” fight that has been going on since the internet started becoming more of a legitimate place to find news, and Rossi finds a good bridge with NYT writer Brian Stelter. Originally a blogger himself and younger than the rest of the staff by what appears to be a wide margin, he is picked up by the paper to be a reporter and to lend them his expertise in the world of social media. Stelter was my personal favorite writer that was spotlighted, because as a blogger myself, it was nice to see that even a big-name paper like the New York Times would be aware enough to hire him and use his strengths.

The whole paradigm shift from old media to the digital age is inherently fascinating, and when Page One: Inside the New York Times concentrates on that, that’s when it’s at its most watchable. Watching the New York Times try to maintain their ground against the onslaught of WikiLeaks and other sites is admirable and kind of sad all in one; admirable that they are sticking to their guns and their ethics, but also sad because they seem to lack a fundamental understanding of just how much things have changed. The “pay wall” that they have erected for their site is especially indicative of that. Had they gotten into the internet game a little sooner and set the stage for internet journalism, like they did for print, then the pay wall wouldn’t be a big deal but trying to institute it years later when people now expect their news to be free seems like a terrible idea. Yes they are ballsy for it and yes in theory it’s a wonderful idea, but people don’t expect to pay for content like that anymore and they can just go to The Huffington Post instead. As much as I love the moxy of the New York Times, things are changing and there may come a day when they are thrust right down to the bottom rung.

Page One: Inside the New York Times is an interesting look into the declining newspaper industry and its fight to both combat and embrace new media on its own terms. While essentially a puff piece, the seedier aspects of the paper are glossed over rather quickly, it’s engaging thanks to the personalities of Carr and Stelter as well as the inherently interesting “old media Vs. new media” debate that rages in the industry. If it had stuck to one story over another a little better it would have been a much better doc, but it’s satisfying in the end either way. I just hope there never comes a day when I’ll have to explain what a newspaper is to my grandkids.

 Grade: B

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