DIR: Andrew Rossi • WRI: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi • PRO: Alan Oxman, Adam Schlesinger • DOP: Andrew Rossi • ED: Chad Beck, Christopher Branca, Sarah Devorkin • CAST: David Carr, Tim Arango, Carl Bernstein
During a visit to the New York Times offices for the American satirical news show The Daily Show in 2009, comedian Jason Jones held a copy of that day’s newspaper and challenged its editorial staff to ‘show me one thing in there that happened today.’
This biting critique is more relevant today than it has ever been before – what can a daily newspaper offer in the age of the internet other than yesterday’s news?
Addressing this question comes Page One: Inside the New York Times – a superb documentary on the role of the media in the age of Twitter. Director Andrew Rossi, who previously worked on the documentary Control Room about Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq War, was given exclusive access to the New York Times’ editorial staff to produce this feature.
The film looks at the history of the New York Times and America’s other leading newspapers and contrasts their past successes with their recent decline with the rise of instantaneous online news sources. It also looks at how the likes of whistleblower web giant WikiLeaks and shifts in technology, such as the release of Apple’s iPad, have changed the way news is written and distributed, as well as looking at the effects on the paper of the collapse in advertising during the global economic crisis.
At the centre of the film is David Carr, a wisecracking former crack addict turned media columnist. Looking at both Carr’s personal life and his work life, we are shown how the last few years of enormous change in the media business have affected him – from his aggressively reluctant introduction to Twitter (of which he is now a master) to his first experience of reading the New York Times on an iPad (‘Do you know what this reminds me of? A newspaper.’)
Contrasted with Carr are a number of younger journalists, including social media wunderkind Brian Stelter and ambitious reporter Tim Arango, who during the course of the film embarks on his first trip as a war correspondent to the Middle East, a trip begrudging father figure Carr fears he will never return from.
The title of the film is somewhat misleading – while the film gives us some idea of how the biggest stories are broken, we get very little sense of how the leading US newspaper is produced. We meet no sports writers, arts critics, copy editors; financing and advertising are discussed in broad strokes; and aside from a tour of printing facilities over the opening credits, we see little of how the paper is produced and distributed.
But while it fails to live up to its title, it lives up to something far greater: it reveals a struggling juggernaut of American society in an era it may not live to see the end of. Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein reveals in an interview how it took him and Bob Woodward two years to break the biggest story of the Twentieth Century, whereas today Julian Assange can leak 20,000 ‘Watergates’ at the click of a button. The film never fails to capture the unprecedented era of change that we are still living through.
Perhaps overly biased towards the newspaper’s cause, the film remains a fascinating study of today’s media throughout, and is often shocking, moving and extremely funny. A poster of Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane hung up in a NYT office lords over much of the film’s proceedings, reminding the journalists (and us) of the need for responsible, honest journalism, and the trappings of media megalomania.
Page One is a film that will become a textbook for all media students in the years to come, and may some day in the near future serve as a fascinating, tragic epitaph to a lost titan of the industry.
Page One: Inside the New York Times is released on 23rd September 2011