Despite the fact that I work at an online company producing online content, and I’m a blogger and a tweeter, and I certainly spend more than my share of time tooling around the web, truth be told I still consider myself an “old media” guy.
It’s certainly convenient and easy to find information and read articles online, but that doesn’t compare to the tactile feeling of holding a newspaper or magazine in your hands and flipping through the pages.
Reading an article online often doesn’t come with the same design and layout, and it’s certainly not as permanent as an actual printed piece of media.
So the new documentary Page One is a movie right up my alley.
The film shows us about a year in the life of the New York Times, with its ups and downs, big stories, and personal dramas. (And beautiful office, by the way.)
These are dark days for the newspaper business, what with many big-city dailies shutting down or moving completely online, budgets tightening due to a less lucrative advertising climate, other businesses whose model is to aggregate content from others, and the focus more on making money than on telling good stories. (As Sam Zell, chairman of the Tribune Company, says at one point, “I’m not a newspaper guy. I’m a business man.”)
But at the Times, the lights aren’t out just yet. The film shows us a handful of reporters and editors — among them, David Carr, Brian Stelter, Tim Arango, and Bruce Headlam — who nobly continue to fight the good fight in the name of respectable journalism.
You might think a movie with the name Page One would focus mainly on what it takes for a story to make it on page A1 of the Times. You’d be wrong. And indeed, we never do get to see any real conflict between the editors about what stories will get top placement.
Instead, the film’s real focus is the Times itself, and whether it’s still as essential a publication as it used to be. There are lots of talking heads who discuss how relevant a print newspaper is in this day and age, and what a significant role the Times had — and continues to have — in society.
Much of the film focuses on how the Times decides to cover the Wikileaks story, and it proves to be a nice metaphor, what with the way Julian Assange just put his info on the web for all to see, rather than giving it to the traditional media (compare that with the Pentagon Papers in 1971).
Director Andrew Rossi certainly picked some interesting folks to follow — Carr especially. The gravelly voiced media desk reporter is one of the best ambassadors the paper could have (despite being a former drug addict). He’s insightful, determined, funny, smart, passionate, hard working, and fiercely loyal to the Times. Carr is a real old-school newspaper guy, in the best possible sense.
Compare him to the much younger Stelter, who was an independent media blogger before the Times hired him, and now “embodies everything about new media,” according to a colleague. True enough, Stelter is a blogging, tweeting, tech-loving, writing machine. (Carr says he’s convinced Stelter is “a robot, assembled to destroy me.”)
The juxtaposition of these two makes up the inner heart and soul of the paper.
Of course, one of the questions the film doesn’t raise intentionally is: Why aren’t there more women at the Times? Ninety-five percent of the film is male-driven, and given that the Times recently named Jill Abramson its executive editor, that seems a bit curious — especially since Rossi had a sense that then–executive editor Bill Keller was about to leave his post.
Rossi also chose to put the spotlight on media reporters, rather than “hard” news reporters, so that adds an extra layer of self-centeredness to the film’s “story.”
At the end of the film, Keller declares that “journalism is alive and well, and feisty” at the New York Times. And how.
Page One makes you want to go out and buy a newspaper, to keep this national institution running strong. I’m going to keep on reading, if only because I want to know what stories David Carr and Brian Stelter will report on next.
I give Page One an A–.