Thursday, April 18, 2024

Documentary Reveals Inner Workings of America’s Most Hallowed Newspaper

For aspiring journalists and ancient newspapermen alike, the new documentary “Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times” is a must-see, for equally valid but differing reasons.

The aspiring journalists will get a sneak peek into the world’s foremost titan of classical news reportage, a world that, in a time of blogosphere convenience and Twitter instantaneity, may seem as much a historical

relic as the eight-track tape or 16-bit videogame console. For the ancient newspaperman, it’s a comforting reminder that, sometimes, things stay the same even as they change. The Times is still the Times, and it has proven its resiliency in the face of widespread evidence of the death of print media, surviving on a mix of its historical pedigree and its initially begrudging, but finally accepting, acquiescence to the New Media juggernaut. In short, Andrew Rossi’s documentary shows us that the Grey Lady is still sharp, spry and relevant, even if younger startups have finally pointed out her wrinkles.

The film, which premiered last night at the Miami International Film Festivaland screens again Friday at the Cosford Cinema at UM in Coral Gables, provides an unprecedented all-access look into the hallowed newsroom. It focuses particularly on the reporters who covered the media business over the past year, from the WikiLeaks leak to the Comcast/NBC merger to the apocalyptic prophesies about daily newspapers’ demises, their own included. Indeed, an alternative title to the movie might have been “The New York Times Eats Itself;” issues such as Jayson Blair’s fraudulent fictionalizing of stories and Judith Miller’s discredited war reporting are addressed. Both caused the esteemed paper to play defense against a growing list of critics on all sides of the ideological spectrum.

A lot of media-related issues are touched upon in the movie’s 96 minutes, and to Rossi’s credit, it all flows together like a great investigative piece in the Times. At the narrative’s center are colorful characters any reporter would love covering, from David Carr, a gravel-voiced, ex-crack addict reborn as the Times’ media-bureau pit bull and public face of the department; to Brian Stelter, the blog wunderkind whose once-obscure website led him to a miraculous contract with the country’s newspaper of record.

And like any great story, fictional or otherwise, “Page One” has its share of suspense, which mostly derives from the controversial bombshell of a story Carr wrote last year about the inner sanctums of the bankrupt Tribune company. Carr’s epic story, which detailed the scandalous office behavior of Tribune CEO Randy Michaels, led to Michaels’ resignation weeks later.

I have to admit a bias here. As a former Tribune employee who worked for the company when Michaels and Sam Zell, the raunchy real-estate magnate, began their disastrous ownership of the company, I found great glee in observing the machinations that led to their downfall. It’s a shame that so many people had to be laid off before their damage was done, but if Rossi’s documentary shows us anything, it’s that we should be thankful The New York Times is still around, keeping everyone honest.

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