The documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times could have easily been titled Requiem for a Dream, to reflect the hope that print newspapers would have remained relevant and even thrived as the world went online and turning pages quickly became an archaic act. By focusing on the world’s most famous and esteemed newspaper, director Andrew Rossi and co-screenwriter Kate Novack are really telling the story of all print media — newspapers and magazines alike — and the result sounds an awful lot like an elegy. In five years’ time, the film will probably be fodder for the History Channel.
Viewers hoping for an in-depth exploration of the day-to-day workings of The Times will be disappointed by the film’s rapid pace, which manages to touch on all of the controversies and events surrounding the newspaper over the last few years — Judith Miller, Jayson Blair, plummeting stock prices, even the company’s recent decision to erect a paywall — without ever going into much detail. We get brief glimpses of daily editors’ meetings but are never privy to closed-door conversations about falling advertising revenue or the paper’s difficult decisions to eliminate entire sections. When The Times was forced to lay off 100 employees from the newsroom, we are shown tearful departures and farewell speeches, but we don’t see the conversations in which management struggled with who to let go. The movie is slick and entertaining, but much of it is as superficial as a Twitter post.
Page One: Inside The New York Times fares much better when it slows down and sticks with one subject for more than just two minutes of screen time. The paper’s controversial decision to publish secret government documents released by Julian Assange via WikiLeaks, for example, is deftly explored, with executive editor Bill Keller talking about the tricky balancing act of keeping the public informed without putting covert government operations at risk.
The movie also focuses on several Times’ reporters, such as Brian Stelter, a former blogger hired by the paper as a media reporter who is the embodiment of the new journalist, simultaneously Tweeting, blogging and writing stories with two computers on his desk. The undisputed star of the film, though, is media reporter David Carr, the former crack addict who served time in jail for cocaine possession, raised two children by himself on welfare and then remade himself into a sharp, relentless investigative reporter and media commentator.
Carr gets the most screen time in the film: We see him reporting controversial stories (such as the sexual harassment scandal that rocked the Tribune Co. in 2010) and persevering in getting sources to go on the record. The movie also follows him as he interviews the editors of Vice magazine, where he’s quick to dress down someone who dismisses old media as a fossil, and on panels about newspapers and mainstream media, where he makes eloquent and convincing arguments about the importance of newspapers that feed countless news aggregating websites and provide bloggers with material.
Page One: Inside The New York Times was panned by The Times in a freelance review written by Bloomberg News’ Michael Kinsley, who dismisses the film as superficial and suggests you just watch His Girl Friday again. But even if the movie fails to truly capture the inner workings of a newspaper and the amount of work required to print an issue every day, it’s still a highly entertaining snapshot of a culture in the midst of a rapid transformation, an exploration of how the old and the new are gradually learning to get along.
Screenwriters: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi.
Producers: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi, Josh Braun.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 88 minutes. Vulgar language. In Miami-Dade: South Beach, O Cinema; in Palm Beach: Living Room, Shadowood, Delray, Cinemax.