Page One: Inside the New York Times
Time Out says
This documentary has ‘right time, right place’ written all over it. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi spent the tail end of 2009 and much of 2010 hanging about the newsroom of The New York Times while the guillotine continued to hover over the stiff neck of the print media. On Rossi’s watch, regional papers withered and died, Twitter came from nowhere, Wikileaks entered the frame, the iPad launched and paywalls went up.
‘Page One: Inside the New York Times’ is sanguine about change. It describes it, captures it, but doesn’t lament it. If anything, it seeks light in the dark. You’d imagine Rossi might have found a lot of hacks huddled around the watercooler swapping notes on redundancy and considering a drift into teaching. Undoubtedly, Rossi could have made that film, and there’s gloom when editor Bill Keller talks of a ‘funereal’ mood. But mostly he looks for – and finds – resilience in tough times.
Sticking behind the camera, Rossi bases himself on the media desk, alongside energetic columnist David Carr and his more guarded editor Bruce Headlam. So while Rossi is trying to make sense of the media, so too are Carr and Headlam as they report on failings at the Los Angeles Tribune or try to decide whether NBC’s reporting of ‘combat troops’ leaving Iraq is a ‘real story’ or a ‘media story’.
Rossi wanders about the building, capturing the buzz of a daily and sitting in on conferences to decide the next day’s cover – or ‘page one’ – stories. He homes in on talent such as web-savvy Brian Stelter and fresh-faced Tim Arango, who volunteers to head to Iraq. He cuts away, too, to talking heads who offer broader thoughts, from David Remnick of The New Yorker to Carl Bernstein.
But Rossi keeps coming back to Carr, a gravel-voiced guy in his fifties for whom he has affection and who could easily be mistaken for a bus driver on his scruffier days. You can see why Rossi likes him. He has the enthusiasm and bite of a youngster – but with all the confidence and disregard for niceties of an old pro. He ponders the iPad: ‘You know what it reminds me of? A newspaper.’
But Carr is open to progress. A year after joining Twitter, he’s enthusiastic. ‘Has it turned my brain to mush? No.’ His best scene is a meeting with the owners of Vice when he barks at them for reporting from Liberia and berating other journalists: ‘Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet and look at…poop, it doesn’t give you the right to insult what I do.’
Is Rossi fired by nostalgia for newsprint and inky fingers? A little – but there’s caution to offset the optimism. In the end, he’s more enamoured by traditional journalistic values and it’s those for which his film mounts a strong defence. Whether those values are expressed online or offline doesn’t seem to matter so much to him. It’s a wise position.