Sunday, July 24, 2011

Page One (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Page One: Inside the New York Times

As the camera opens, newspapers are being shuffled out in a spacious warehouse that looks a bit like a hangar belonging to a giant spacecraft. Then, crisp white pages are sorted and hung upside down resembling fresh cotton sheets. Shiny white trucks pull in looking like milk trucks. No, this is not the opening to the cult film "O Lucky Man!" or a scene from Stanley Kubrick's "2001", this is the start of "Page One: Inside the New York Times". And in a sense the trucks are delivering a kind of mother's milk: a daily paper that has set the standard for decades and the singular paper that still remains the paper par excellence for many in the Western World, despite scandals and allegations of erroneous reporting at the start of the Iraq War.

"Page One" is about The New York Times and how it is striving to adapt to the changing cyber realm of news and how it is packaged. During the Nixon years, The Times was a pinnacle of free press. The publication was an illuminating tool during Watergate. One almost gets the sense that it was almost superhuman in its duty to report the news objectively, to tell America what was going on, or what sneaky things were afoot before any other source. And indeed, it was. It sounds a bit like Batman to me: a Fortress of Truth with the gargoyle busts of Edward R. Murrow on the ledges for protection.The old films of the newsroom does show men in white shirts and black ties working around the clock, smoking and going to and fro. These are folks that probably didn't sleep much, drinking Nixon's crimes like so much caffeine.

Decades after that heady heyday, the New York Times credibility slipped with false intelligence sources regarding Judith Miller and the plagarism scandal of 2003 by Jayson Blair. In 2007, The New York Times computers jittered with the news of buyouts of The Tribune. Was this the beginning of the end for printed news?

"Page One" does a fine job of interspersing office life with the existential limbo of the moment, although except for David Carr, who is thankfully unapologetic and outspoken in opinion, these reporters don't offer much juicy detail. You do get the sense that these guys still do stay up all night to break that one hot story, the story that will put the fear of closing to rest.

The standout remains David Carr who as an ex-alcoholic and crack user is like a character out of Robert Crumb or Charles Bukowski and sung by Tom Waits. Dressed in an old tweed coat and scarf, he is leery of the new technology. He might look at an IPad as if it were a faceless creature from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, with no good news for anybody. Carr regards Twitter as unnecessary chatter, at least initially. Then he decides to just go with it.

The character portrait of Carr gives this film a much needed colorful voice. Coupled with noirish music, this documentary almost achieves some apprehensive tension. It is not sustained throughout, but it is there--a tone of anxiety. The question of What If The Times Closes?
Oddly I'm thinking of the Warholian figure of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. With his shock of silver hair, he is an eerie cyber-pop manipulator of video footage. A few years ago, he put The New York Times back on the map. But, will the use of Internet news, by himself and others, be the undoing of this historic bastion yet?

We all must stop, listen and keep reading as much as we can. The New York Times on paper is a tactile pleasure. Its inimitable touch should not be lost.

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