Sunday, July 24, 2011

Page One (Rhoades)

“Page One” Is Making News

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My wife used to work for the New York Times Company – and I attended several gatherings and company retreats with her – so we were eager to see “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” the new documentary that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Yes, we recognized several familiar figures, like NYT chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. (who does not like to be called “Pinch”), and noted the names of friends on the credits, like advertising columnist Stuart Elliott. Old home week, you might say.

For this documentary, director-producer-cameraman Andrew Rossi was granted unprecedented access to the Times’s newsroom, and spent a year following around staffers of the paper’s Media Desk. These are the reporters tasked with reporting on the changing face of media, including the Times itself.

As one New York Times exec described it, these as “interesting times” in the old Chinese proverb sense. And he’s right. Rossi picked a momentous period in the Times’s 160-year history to document. We witness the precipitous drop-off in advertising revenue, the onslaught of online news blogs and aggregators, the layoff and forced retirement of 100 New York Times staffers, the publication of Wikileaks revelations, its brave reporting of the demise of the Tribune Company after a take-over by non-news businessmen, the decision to add a paywall to the NYT’s website, the Times facing the threat of bankruptcy, and trying to divine its own fuzzy future.

David Carr is the de facto hero of this piece, a New York Times columnist who focuses on media issues including print, digital, film, radio and television. This hunched-over, world-weary, but fiercely intelligent reporter serves as an unlikely Don Quixote whose windmills may be real dragons. Wunderkind media reporter Brian Selter serves as an apt Sancho Panza, supporting Carr’s quest to make heads-or-tails of the shifting media landscape.

David Carr is quite an interesting character. A cocaine addict turned journalist, this “very human” man tilts with those who would question the value of on-the-ground news reporting or the consequences of not having a New York Times. Here we watch him take on the self-aggrandizing editor of Vice magazine and sexually inappropriate then-CEO of the Tribune Company with equal righteousness.

In “Page One” you’ll hear from Washington Post legend Carl Bernstein, Wikileaks activist Julian Assange, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, billionaire dabbler Sam Zell, and Gay Talese, author of “The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at The New York Times: The Institution That Influences the World.”

While “Page One” never resolves those issues about the future of news media (no one can), or the ongoing role of the “Gray Lady,” it does pose an even more important question: the value of journalism in a free society.

Those of us who have worked for news media will find this documentary sad, but inspiring. “Page One” should be requiring viewing for every publisher, reporter, blogger, newcaster, and J-student in the nation.

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