director Andrew Rossi
Despite the fact that it had been recommended to me strongly by a friend and co-worker, Page One: Inside the New York Times lingered in my rental queue longer perhaps than it should have. In fact, I managed to see a different film also, to an extent, about the Times, Bill Cunningham New York (2011), which, while charming and interesting, was not nearly as fascinating and cleaved so closely with my interests as Page One.
Filmed in 2010, Page One already is a thing of its time. Like the news itself, 2010 and many of the issues encountered by the New York Times newsroom in the duration of the documentary, are all items of a recently passed history. It’s the onset of Wikileaks, which is a fascinating parallel for the Times in comparison with the Pentagon Papers, which they had helped publish four decades before. It’s the storied and significant “paper of record” suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous Internet Age and the corporatization of news media in the United States. Those things are all still very potent issues today, three years later, but things have changed, ever so slightly, in the ever-evolving world that is our present.
This is not at all to say that the documentary is dated in the least. In fact, it is a tremendous, if largely laudatory, portrait of one of America’s great institutions and some of the people and personalities that make it what it is. More than anyone, media editor, David Carr, who I wasn’t personally familiar with until I stumbled on a panel he was on at SxSW in 2012 regarding media aggregators vs. traditional media companies.
I’ve worked in the web side of print publishing for most of the last 15 years, and while that wouldn’t presuppose a need to find the subject of journalism or technology’s role in the journalism/media world, I have found it inherently fascinating. I had taken a class about 19th Century crime writing, as well, which led me to learn about the rise of literacy and the modern newspaper. While I had taken journalism in high school and junior college, I learned nothing at all, but years later, working in a textbook store, I read a journalism textbook about ethics and in later years pined for journalism classes for both ethics and editing. How this all somehow combined into a passionate belief in the need for ethical journalism, quality journalism, I’m not entirely certain. I’m no journalist. I am a reader.
By my thinking, the Times is an institution. An institution of great value to the journalism and public discourse of the United States and by proxy probably a great deal of the world. It’s not infallible (as noted in the film regarding the scandals of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller). It should not by any means be the only source of news and information either. This film, which follows the Times buffeted by the times of its day, seeking relevance, quality, viability, and information is a amazingly telling portrait however complete or incomplete it is.
I found myself wishing that this was a regular television show, though it’s probably much better that it isn’t. Only that the times do keep changing and the issues evolving.
Journalism, to my mind, is an attempt at understanding the truth of the events around us. And editorial oversight lends credence to which of those stories merit the most importance. It’s something that is inherently subjective and imperfect but is also at the core of what a journalist/editor/newspaper is made to do. And with the internet, corporate news organizations scaling back their foreign press, highly slanted television cable news, the idea of where we get our information is, to my mind, more and more important. Today’s issues unfold more and more rapidly, and the newspaper, such as the Times, is not just the paper that is printed everyday but the corps of reporters, editorial staff, the whole entire make-up of their business and their many outlets.
Bottom line: after watching this film, I am going to pay my fair share for the New York Times online. I support quality journalism, I support freedom of the press.