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Film Review

Page One: Inside the New York Times

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“You have lived through the worst cyclical recession the publishing business has ever seen in modern times,” New York Times media columnist and culture reporter David Carr tells the attendees at a publishing conference in his Minneapolis, Minn., hometown toward the end of director Andrew Rossi’s compelling documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times. They’re in what looks like a hotel meeting space; it’s one of the smaller conference rooms. “Look around you, you’re still here. Don’t think about the people that are gone. Think about the people that made it. It’s a really big deal. It demonstrates, No. 1, that you are a bunch of tenacious motherfuckers, I’ll tell you that. You have proven you cannot be killed.”

Over the course of Page’s 88 minutes, Carr emerges as its de facto focus: He’s old-school journalism’s dogged pugilist who still has a number of good jabs in him, verbally dressing down Vice editors and mouthpiece Michael Wolff while simultaneously being an ideal representative of the necessary growing pains the Times had to endure in order to survive in the 21st century’s new-media landscape. For roughly one year, 2009-10, Rossi and his camera were granted impressive access to the Times’ newsroom, particularly its media desk: editor Bruce Headlam; reporters Tim Arango, Richard Pérez-Peña, and Brian Stelter; and columnist Carr. This period, as Carr acknowledges above, coincided with an often-devastating drop in print advertising, leading to layoffs and buyouts throughout all aspects of American journalism, including the Times.

At the same time, the Gray Lady was trying to shape-shift and handle stories and sourcing issues brought on by this constantly changing new-media scrum: the emergence of Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks with the Afghan war logs and the eventual Times partnership (along with The Guardian and Der Spiegel) with the activist-journalism hybrid, NBC Universal’s merger with Comcast, the release of the iPad and the reconsideration of paywalls for online news content, and, via Carr, the reprehensible corporate culture at the Tribune Co. (the Baltimore Sun’s parent) that contributed to its bankruptcy. The colorful Carr is the perfect human story to anchor Page’s peek behind the scenes of an ink-on-paper news institution learning how to stand up and tweet in the digital age. As the doc lets him confess, Carr is the former New Journalism devotee, drug addict, and single parent on welfare who has performed a career metamorphosis to become one of the Times’ better-known online names, thanks to his Carpetbagger blog and a very active Twitter feed. Still, there’s something about Carr, with his smoker’s rasp and no-BS attitude, speaking at the Minneapolis publishing conference that feels a tad like actor Warren Oates in The Wild Bunch motivating who’s left before a Mexican warlord’s henchmen gun them down.

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