Page One: Inside The New York Times

Page One: Inside The New York Times


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Weaving in and out of the venerable US newspaper The New York Times over the course of 2010, Andrew Rossi's fly-on-the-wall documentary tries to portray 2010 as a writing on the wall year for the papers of record in the US. This was the year that not only saw further inroads of web-based news aggregators, Twitter and bloggers into the mainstream whilst the availability of free web news ate further away at the traditional print/advertising distribution model, but saw Wikileaks dominate headlines by publishing leaked official secrets during the Bradley Manning affair.

The NYT and other papers, such as The Guardian, were at best co-publishers in this affair rather than the ones that hunted out the leaked cable information themselves (they have since seen Wikileaks release further cables unredacted without even involving them). Some papers vanished, others hid behind paywalls (the doc ends with the NYT's paywall model about to be rolled out). The documentary offers up more than a few talking heads to discuss the collapse in print and ad revenues and raise the question: could we see the end of The New York Times? And should we care?

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It is clear that the NYT journalists here think we should care, and much of the time that we see them on screen in this documentary they are trying to fight their corner, either talking to the camera or in various panel discussions across the year with the 'young turks' of the blogosphere. Essentially they argue that the news doesn't come out of nowhere; solid, fact-checked news that winds up being retweeted or blogged about has to come, more often than not, from a trained journalist who is part of a well-funded news organisation.

The most virtuoso proponent of this view is the irascible and magnetic David Carr, a media writer for the NYT who gets the most screen time here. A take-no-shit pavement-plodding journalist of the old school with a past history of addiction, Carr is one of the those dogged types determined to keep doing his job even if the sky falls in, and in one hilarious scene upstages media writer Michael Wolff at a conference about the death of print media by holding up a blog front page with all the news briefs cut out, leaving a patchwork. This, Carr is saying, is what your blogosphere is like without papers like us.

Much of the time Rossi's camera follows the staff of the NYT media desk, a desk set up by new NYT editor Bill Keller to comment on the very changes the paper is struggling to deal with itself. The media writers themselves are a diverse enough gang in age, temperament and technical ability that they themselves highlight the changing face of the media model. Carr is nicely contrasted with the NYT's Brian Stelter, an avid blogger, Tweeter and media expert who was hired by the NYT simple on the strength of his blog. Stelter is rarely seen on screen without his Iphone, and operates with both a laptop and a desktop screen at his workstation, information constantly being beamed in and out of his zone. Is he the media writer of the future?

Given that his documentary only runs 90 minutes, Rossi barely has time to do more than scratch the surface of these momentous issues facing the newspaper industry, and his camera does flit around a great deal rather than finding something to grab onto. Perhaps Rossi could have just, in the absence of being able to capture the big picture, kept the camera solely on David Carr, a journalist so charismatic and sharp (and yet not of the generation exemplified by Stelter) that he alone might have made a better guide through the maze of issues facing America's paper of record.

As we see Carr covering the collapse of the abysmally run Chicago Tribune paper - which seems to have been bought by boorish executives who ran it like a car dealership - it is hard not to think that the documentary could have covered that story alone in its 90 minutes. There perhaps lies a great example of the collapse of print journalism.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2011
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Page One: Inside The New York Times packshot
A documentary about the famous US newspaper and the crisis facing modern journalism.
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Director: Andrew Rossi

Year: 2010

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: United States


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