A dying industry or a surviving monster? Page One is like an old fashioned broadsheet. Its substance stretches all the way across the kitchen table and its all-encompassing content looks to explore rather than preach any particular agenda.
Filmed between 2009-2010, director Andrew Rossi is granted remarkable
access into the New York Times newsroom. Page One succeeds by potentially telling the story of any well renowned broadsheet, trying to adapt to a world of tablets and twitter and determine its remaining place in a global media in flux.
Rossi tries to cover just about every modern problem faced by the paper. From declining revenue, to paywalls, to social media and the bravery of a young correspondent departing for Iraq. In a world where any idiot can set up a blog, bang on a keyboard and give an opinion, Page One asks: just where does an old giant like the New York Times fit into all this?
One of the film’s main features is David Carr, a former cocaine addict and now a media columnist for the NYT, effectively charged with documenting his own industry’s downfall. Carr is a fantastic character who may not come across as your typical journalist but certainly has all the right instincts. He acknowledges he wasn’t really sure about Twitter, but he succumbs and agrees it’s absolutely essential for any journalist, backed up by his 14,000+ tweets. He acknowledges the importance of pragmatism, an essential feature of survival.
One moment that particularly stands out occurs when Carr interviews the founders of online publication Vice Magazine before entering an exchange that really cuts to the heart of the old media versus new media debate. The guy from Vice Magazine asks why the NYT is writing about surfing, leaving publications like his to write about cannibalism in Liberia ‘because that’s what fucks me up’. Carr responds.
David Carr Just a sec, time out. Before you ever went there we’ve had reporters there, reporting on genocide after genocide and just ’cos you put on a fucking safari helmet and went and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do. So continue, continue.
VMG I’m just saying I’m not a journalist…
DC Obviously, obviously, go ahead.
New media may offer diversity, but in terms of quality the film reminds us that institutions like the NYT are unparalleled, and it will take a lot more than a flashy website and a desire to be ‘alternative’ to match the calibre of their coverage. Page One may lack a definite conclusion, but gives the impression good quality journalism will always have its place, especially when so much online content is just a rehash from newspaper stories. In the Q&A afterwards, Andrew Rossi acknowledges not everyone will appreciate his ambitions to document so much into a single film. It does chop around but that actually mirrors the chaos of a newsroom quite nicely.
With so many financial problems, editor Bruce Headlam asks at one point: ‘How do you cover the President on the cheap?’ A media in crisis perhaps, but the very word crisis stems from the Greek krísis, meaning a turning point. Page One may not offer any solution to the problem, but we’re certainly at a place where change is inevitable. The film may not present a solution just around the corner, but it certainly instils a great appreciation for quality journalism and in whatever form it may take in the future, long may it continue.
Page One: Inside the New York Times is out now in the UK. Certificate 15 (UK)
Review by David Rank