SXSW 2011 Review: PAGE ONE: A YEAR INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES

by: Kate Erbland
June 16th, 2011

Editor's note: This review was originally published on March 22, 2011 as a SXSW Film Festival review.

Rating: 3.5/5

Writers: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi
Director: Andrew Rossi

Early in PAGE ONE: A YEAR INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, a declaration rings out – “the great newspaper is dead.” It is the challenge of the rest of the film to tack on a footnote to such a sweeping statement, a little asterisk that tells the audience, “not including the New York Times.” Documentarian Andrew Rossi spent a year inside the New York Times, chronicling the shifting landscape of news reporting as seen through the eyes of the Times’ own team of editors, writers, reporters, and columnists. Is the great newspaper dead? Is the Times an exception to the rule? Is there a place for paper in our increasingly touch-screened world?

The film doesn’t stick to a linear timetable, and it doesn’t focus on just one story, it instead tracks the changing face of how news and “journalism” is made and distributed to the public. The Times keenly feels the encroachment of other “news outlets” on their turf – from the “journalism with an agenda” of WikiLeaks to the aggregate model of Newser to the glorified blog that is the Huffington Post, supposed competition is everywhere, and it’s hard to figure just where the traditional newspaper fits. The instant accessibility and participation of readers (thanks to technology like the iPad and social networks like Twitter) also add to the pressure on the Times to reposition itself in something that is less a transition than a full-bodied revolution. In the world of new media, there is no longer an ability to “stop the presses,” and the benefit of a daily newspaper (crammed with “day old” bits) is much harder to support.

Rossi entrenches his audience in the moves and shakes of the Times, from internal politics and squabbles to the way a story makes it from idea to page, PAGE ONE is not so much as an informational doc as an experience. The film still takes time to cover a startling breadth of topics germane to the life of a the newspaper – from infamous Times writers like Judith Miller and Jayson Blair to the financial issues the paper and its owners face. For anyone who has ever taken an interest in the Times or big newspaper in general, PAGE ONE is required viewing. For those who only have the time and inclination to skim their Google Readers for the latest quick hits, the film may feel both too inside and oddly dated.

If anything, PAGE ONE succeeds mightily at putting faces to those tiny bylines. Rossi’s film gives us such interesting (and real) characters as Bruce Headlam, Bill Keller, Brian Stelter, and Tim Arango, all very different Times writers and editors who add something very different to the film. Yet, there is one breakout figure in PAGE ONE whose wit, antics, and straightforward nature are without peer – David Carr, media and culture columnist. Anyone who has every fancied themselves a writer or a journalist or an investigative reporter will be stunned by the personal style and professional integrity that Carr brings to the table. The man is a beast and a badass, a real person with a real job worth cheering for – not a small feat for any documentary to accomplish.

PAGE ONE: A YEAR INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES manages to inspire personal attachment to an industry and its workers, making viewers feel emotional for a business and its model that they may not have ever even considered. More of a slice-of-life documentary, the film doesn’t get especially hard-hitting and it doesn’t offer many solutions for the many problems facing the Times and its ilk. An enjoyable experience nonetheless, PAGE ONE is a worthy supplement to any Sunday paper, richer than just a cup of coffee, and pages more satisfying.

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  • http://twitter.com/BTSjunkie Brian Kelley

    One of my highlights of SXSW was Carr’s Q&A after the first screening of this and then finding ourselves next to and talking with Elvis Mitchell at our dinner spot. All within an hour.

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