‘Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times’ a riveting look at an institution in flux

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Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times

Written by Kate Novack and Andrew Rossi

Directed by Andrew Rossi

USA, 2011

A succinct, if somewhat scattered, portrait of a journalistic (and cultural and political) juggernaut in flux, Andrew Rossi’s Page One seeks to accomplish a whole lot in its scant 90 minutes: determine the true severity of the threat to the newspaper industry; assess the strengths and limitations of internet journalism; depict life inside and around the hectic Times newsroom, and provide at least a basic biographical understanding of some of its more colorful denizens. It doesn’t necessarily flesh out all of these ideas satisfactorily, but as one of the rare docs that feels overburdened with intriguing material rather than straining desperately to produce a feature length out of just one or two concepts, it’s hardly a dealbreaking tradeoff.

Page One finds Rossi and his cameras occupying the Times offices for just over a year, chronicling the inner workings of the paper in a time when various cultural commentators, business entities, and journalistic up-and-comers are hastily predicting the paper’s imminent demise in the face of online journalism. That the film soon reveals itself to be a gleefully contrarian advocacy piece for the Times’ continued relevancy is a natural outgrowth of the time Rossi spends among so many of its fiercest advocates.

There’s one figure Rossi is consistently unable to keep away from for very long: David Carr, Times media reporter, ex-drug addict and convict, and a man blessed with the ability to dress down opponents and methodically assemble incisive pieces through extended bouts of intense work. In fact, much of Carr’s work is devoted to chronicling the difficulties the paper is facing in the pages of the paper itself. Carr is by some distance the most charismatic figure in the film, and scenes in which he squares off with new-media types who have written off the Times are priceless, especially a trip to the offices of Vice Magazine and a debate appearance in which he absolutely decimates the smug founder of a popular news blog when he points out how many of their top stories are merely recycled “mainstream media” pieces. (He’s not present for a sequence wherein we visit the offices of Gawker Media, but their page-hit-driven “big board” is correctly identified as an affront to real journalism.)

Page One does suffer from a quickly evident editorial choice: while the twin scandals of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller are mentioned, and the severity of the breach of readers’ trust is briefly discussed, there is virtually no mention of how these lapses in truthful reportage were possible in a newsroom with such a high pedigree and scrutiny level. If Rossi investigated these issues thoroughly during his time in the Times offices, it didn’t surface in the final product, which feels both like a missed opportunity and a concession made to strengthen the film’s unambiguously pro-Times stance.

Regardless of that shortcoming, it’s difficult to leave Page One thinking that Rossi and his crew did not make a compelling case for the Times and its dedicated staff as not only a continuing force for excellence in journalism but as a living, breathing entity that is both learning to adapt to the changing media landscape while carefully – and publicly – scrutinizing those same efforts in the name of transparency. For anyone invested in or concerned about the future of journalism or news media, it’s essential viewing, even if it doesn’t always apply the sort of journalistic rigor the Times itself would require.

Simon Howell

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