Film Focus: Page One – Inside the New York Times

by theleighreview

Page One- Inside the New York Times (2011)

Page One_DVD_3D_RGBCertificate: R

Director: Andrew Rossi

Writers: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi

Starring: David Carr, Sarah Ellison, Bill Keller, Bruce Headlam, Brian Stelter

Running Time: 92 minutes

“The Times was a very human institution run by flawed figures, men who saw things as they could see them, but it was equally true that The Times nearly always tried to be fair…and each day, barring labour strikes or hydrogen bombs, it would appear in 11,464 cities, throughout the nation and in all the capitals of the world; 50 copies going to the White House, 39 copies to Moscow, a few smuggled into Beijing and a thick Sunday edition to the foreign minister in Taiwan, because he required The Times as necessary proof of the earth’s existence, a barometer of its pressure, an assessor of its sanity.”

Gay Talese – Former Reporter, The New York Times

Reviewed by Matt Keleher

It’s clear that the burgeoning social media age has brought with it a stark change in the way we consume information – specifically news. The newly emerging crop of savvy young bloggers and self-styled web polemicists are ever eager to challenge the old guard.

Indeed, diminishing readership and advertising revenue has plagued many print newspapers in recent years.

The New York Times is regarded by many as an American institution, but as many of its long-standing rivals plummeted into bankruptcy; all eyes fell upon the Times, clamouring to see whether the newspaper behemoth would sink or swim…

Andrew Rossi’s documentary ‘Page One: Inside the New York Times’ gives us an unprecedented look at life inside the newsroom, chronicling  a crucial year for The Times, during which a household name that has forged its legacy in print must regain its footing in a landscape increasingly shaped by its digital competitors…

Pictured: The New York Times Media Office

Pictured: The New York Times Media Office

We’re introduced to some of the paper’s most influential figures including the spirited David Carr, once a crack addict now a savvy communicator, prominent reporter and advocate for the Times at social media conferences. A would-be zeitgeist blogger attempts to upstage Carr by insinuating the traditional print column lay out favoured by the Times is outmoded when compared to the livelier design of his webpage; in response, Carr reveals how the webpage would look sans content originating from the Times; he produces a page with a dozen holes cut out of it!

When the world was dominated by print, the Times’ a much loved and trusted brand was the chosen source of news for a great many of New York’s denizens. In the burgeoning digital sphere, however the game is markedly different; as everything is instantaneous consumers are no longer likely to get their news from a single source; individuals will search for news specific to their interests with everyone from news corporations to homebrew bloggers vying for their attention – on the web, the Time is just another voice…

Pictured: Media and Culture Columist David Carr (left) and Media Desk Editor Bruce Headlam of the New York Times

Pictured: Media and Culture Columist David Carr (left) and Media Desk Editor Bruce Headlam of the New York Times

Brian Stelter is the young media correspondent who had already made a name for himself as a prolific blogger. Stelter took the lead while the Times took the risky decision to run some of the controversial WikiLeaks material as it emerged; he is seen conducting a phone interview with the site’s founder Julian Assange. When asked whether he considers himself to be a journalist or an activist, Assange asserts that he does, although with the principles of activism.

After careful deliberation, the Times ran a selection of confidential diplomatic cables leaked by Assange – some showing world leaders in an atypically candid and unflattering light. The reaction to Assange, and the Times was an even split of praise and vitriol.

“I think it was an important moment that WikiLeaks chose to go through The Guardian and The New York Times in the sense that they were detoxifying the information they had and they were giving it a little more veracity” explained Carr.

Bill Keller, then Editor at the Times added: “The basic calculus that you try to do in your head is the trade-off between the obligation to give people information about how they’re being governed and on the other hand, the government’s legitimate need for secrecy.”

Another topic that the film explicates is honesty and integrity in journalism – first, a dark chapter in the Times’ past is brought up. When it transpired that Times’ journalist Judith Millers reports concerning Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction were based on faulty information, her career was effectively finished and in turn the Times’ credibility was rocked.

There’s also a segment concerning controversial figure Sam Zell, who in 2007 bought the Chicago Tribune, LA Times and a number of other media assets. In a now infamous conference, Zell (the very model of The Fountainhead’s Gail Wynand) stated that to generate revenue, journalists should focus on what the readers want. A Tribune journalist complained that readers wanted “puppy dogs” as opposed to true journalism; Zell’s response was:

“You’re giving me the classic journalist arrogance of deciding that puppies don’t count…Fuck you!”

Zell filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Staff at the Times agree that a lack of journalistic principle on the part of Zell and his coterie contributed to their failure. In 2013, more than three years since Rossi finished documenting life at The Times, the paper is still alive and well.

It’s tricky to speculate through which medium the daily news will reach us in 10, 20 years’ time, but the tenets of journalism (should) remain the same. Having watched this film, the message I was left with was: whether you write for The Times, in an upscale office or for yourself from a studio apartment – the best always write with purpose and conviction and while they may not get it right every time, I, as a reader have respect for any writer who strives to exercise fairness and objectivity in their work.

Watch the film’s trailer here:

Have you seen this film? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box…