Print Is Still Dying, and Newspapermen Are Still Fun to Watch

06/08/2011 4:00 AM |

Page One: Inside the New York Times
Directed by Andrew Rossi

Print is dying. But don’t stop the presses because it’s old news. It’s also the subject of Page One, a documentary about media transformation reflexively told through the media desk at the New York Times. An overview of the troubled state of journalism today, the movie sums up arguments anyone with a passing interest in the subject already knows—about the shift in ownership of the means of distribution, about changing advertising models, about buyouts and layoffs, about Julian Assange. The movie is also a convincing if cheerleading argument for the importance of the Times. (In one amazing smackdown, columnist David Carr humiliates a Vice editor following a flippant remark about the paper’s Liberia coverage.) With “unprecedented access” to the Times newsroom, director Andrew Rossi captures (and possibly influences) the staffers’ dogged professionalism: reporters chasing stories and challenging sources; editors debating newsworthiness during night shifts.

I suspect that Bill Keller’s A1 meetings aren’t inherently interesting, but for those who don’t need the primer in recent media trends, Page One is easily enjoyed as journo-porn (or as time capsule, especially with Keller’s recent resignation), looking behind the scenes of recent high-profile coverage: Carr tussling on the phone with Tribune Co. execs, Tim Aragno fretfully awaiting Andrew Sorkin’s copy on the NBC-Comcast merger. There are also delightful professional portraits of Times staff, some straight out of The Imperfectionists (particularly editor Bruce Headlam), peppered with talking-head versions of the industry’s most noted figures: Talese, Bernstein, Remnick, Lemann, Jarvis, Vanden Heuvel, Baquet, Markos, Denton. Amid all this, one detail stands out, a damning indicator of the Times‘s fustiness: as at most dying dailies, there’s not a single Mac in its newsrooms, just a bunch of clickety clackety keyboards and old PCs running Wordpad. The world of The Social Network it most definitely ain’t. Jill Abramson can’t start her new job soon enough.

Opens June 17