Thursday, 27 October 2011
Page One: Inside the New York Times
By Alan Bacchus
As the pinnacle of print journalism, the New York Times sits at a precipice of change in the media industry. With the gatekeepers of news now spread out a thousand-fold given the proliferation of the Internet, how will the Times adapt and reclaim its status as the ‘newspaper of record’?
This is the fundamental purpose of Andrew Rossi’s documentary, which attempts to bring audiences inside the revered establishment and show the inner turmoil that has been rocking the paper for the past few years. Rossi’s activist and ideological style gives the film some urgency and the feeling that American culture, and society in general, would suffer from the loss of this great paper.
While the mere fact of watching the absolute best-of-the-best in journalism working on a daily basis is indeed compelling and watchable, a lack of focus and discernable ‘ending’ prevents the film from successfully moving us emotionally or engaging in the journalistic crisis.
It’s a gigantic institution, but Rossi’s entry point is the Media Desk, a newly created department reporting specifically on the changing landscape of media, including the Times’ place in the new world order. David Carr quickly emerges as the ‘star’. He’s a forthright and opinionated reporter, as well as a former crack cocaine addict who emerged from addiction in his 20s and 30s to become one of the world leaders in media journalism.
Carr’s gravelly throat, which crackles from years of abuse through smoking and drugs, gives him the right kind of working class authoritative edge we associate with journalists of old. His confrontations with young, hip bloggers attempting to denigrate the institution result in some fine verbal ass-kicking from Carr himself. With that said, Rossi also features a number of younger hot shots who have cracked the Times through their media savvy and youthful energy.
The spectre of WikiLeaks looms over most of the film as well. The breakthrough of that site into public consciousness provides a thought-provoking contemporary contrast to where the NY Times used to be. Rossi connects the influence of the NY Times on breaking the Watergate scandal in the ‘70s with Julian Assange’s modus operandi with his controversial whistleblower.
But what about the integrity of journalism, a moral foundation that WikiLeaks seemingly has broken down over the past year? Rossi’s question about the Times’ potential obsolescence in comparison to WikiLeaks is never successfully answered. But then again, this story has not ended and continues to be written.
So while Page One lacks closure, it’s indicative of how journalism works today – a self-sustaining, rapidly evolving organism challenging everyone, including the most entrenched newspapers such as the New York Times, to keep up with the Joneses.
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada.