Page One: Inside the New York Times
Published: August 3, 2011
If there’s any nagging issue with the engaging Page, it’s a preaching-to-the-choir-to-get-it-to-sing patina. It’s difficult to imagine anybody still employed in journalism — or people who are just news junkies — not being seduced by its arc of a newspaper and its journalists fighting the good fight of tracking down sources, fact-checking narratives, possessing healthy skepticism, and trying to speak truth to power. That’s what newspapers are supposed to do. That’s what Rossi captures the wonderfully even-keeled editor Headlam doing: listening to his reporters, constantly asking questions, making sure all the “i”s are dotted, and taking those calls from people who are trying to stop stories from going forward. That’s what newspapers have always done, as Page alludes to in interviews with Gay Talese (the former Times writer and author of 1969’s The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at The New York Times: The Institution That Influences the World), a discussion of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and interviews with former Washington Post Watergate scandal reporter Carl Bernstein. And in such company, Page offers yet another glowing argument for why traditional journalism matters: Reporters write history’s first draft, warts and all, and no single person can do that by him/herself.
Page is less successful at reaching those not already on the news-matters boat: Nothing in it is going to convince a devoted news-aggregator consumer that traditional news has an inherent value that isn’t free. More problematic, Page’s discussion about publishing’s imperiled business model in a print-versus-web culture are familiar and, like most discussions of it even right now, speculative and partial, if only because nobody has outlined the plan that’s going to work.
These question marks sometimes lend the documentary a vacillating tone: You suspect Page feels it’s telling a story of a minor victory in an ongoing campaign (it concludes with then-Times Executive Editor Bill Keller announcing 2010 Pulitzer finalists to the newsroom) while at the same time a tad unsure just how the paper is going to fare in the long war. Page opens with a sequence of an issue of the Times being made — the same big rolls of newsprint heading to the presses and finished copies being loaded onto trucks that formed the nostalgic coda to 2009’s State of Play, whose undertow was the end of traditional print journalism. Only Carr, ever incredulous, appears to consider the unthinkable: a world without traditional shoe-leather journalism. In the scene preceding his presentation to the conference, Rossi’s camera catches Carr talking candidly about his appearance as he drives there: “We’re just going to gather around the campfire and say, ‘We’re all right — aren’t we? Are we OK?’”
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times
Dir. Andrew Rossi; writ. Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi; feat. David Carr, Carl Bernstein, Bruce Headlam. (R)