Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Andrew Rossi.
How can old-fashioned print media survive and be competitive in the revolution of new technology and media like Twitter, Internet bloggers and Wikileaks? It seems like everyday the obituary columns of newspapers are full of reports of the death of major American newspapers, and the ability of The New York Times to survive in these difficult economic times has been a source of much speculation over the years. Advertising revenue has collapsed, and major newspapers have gone bankrupt across the country.
These are some of the issues explored in this fascinating and eye-opening documentary from Andrew Rossi (who co-produced Jehane Noujaim’s Al Jazeera doco Control Room). Page One raises some timely questions about the relevance of print media in this technology obsessed age. Granted unprecedented access, Rossi and his film crew spent a year embedded in the offices of the venerable New York Times, observing the day to day operations of the newsroom.
Rossi takes us inside the crucial editorial meetings, where each department editor argues for their stories. But Rossi also shows us the downside of the changing media, as the editor announces a round of retrenchments to the assembled staff. Rossi also follows a couple of journalists, including the eager young Tim Arango who heads off to cover the war in Iraq and ends up as bureau chief, and Brian Stelter, a blogger who now heads the Times’ media desk.
But the most colourful character we meet is David Carr, a former crack addict, who is now a respected and outspoken media columnist for the paper. Carr speaks out about the newer technology, but he also acknowledges that newspapers need to somehow use these emerging social networking tools.
Rossi compares the Wikileaks site and its exposure of secret files with the paper’s own achievements in publishing the infamous Pentagon papers three decades earlier. But he also questions the future of investigative journalism in this age of quick and immediate on-line blogging that mainly passes on snippets of gossip and rumour without the basic fact checking and verification of sources of newspapers. He draws a parallel with the Watergate affair and how intrepid reporters from the Washington Post brought down a President.
There are interviews with former reporter Gay Talese and New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick and some black-and-white archival footage of the newsroom from the 1950s that put the paper’s past into perspective.
Page One is a fairly balanced view, as Rossi also looks at some of the recent scandals that have tarnished the Times’ reputation and damaged its credibility. Executive editor Bill Keller, who recently stepped down from the post, offers a candid appraisal of the paper’s many failures. The film charts the changing face of journalism, but ultimately argues that there is still a place for print media in this electronic age.