Thursday, June 09, 2011

“Page One” – Movie Review



This week began the June portion of the Summer Semester of my movie class and we screened the documentary “Page One: Inside The New York Times” .



As many decades as The Gray Lady has been in existence, it has somehow managed to survive various obstacles – poor economic conditions, cutbacks of resources and scandals when the paper was in fact the news itself. In recent years, however, a new and unexpected challenge has emerged: the decline of the print media in general and the failure of many long-standing newspapers in particular. With the digital revolution in full force, many print outlets – including and especially The New York Times – have seen significant declines in their advertising revenue. As a result, they struggle to stay afloat.

For a number of years now, The New York Times has had a prominent presence on The Worldwide Web – the problem has been, however, that they have given away their content for free. Although they have always had advertisements on their Web site, the amount of revenue taken in from this has not offset the costs of providing the content. As a result, they have now instituted a new policy commonly referred to in the industry as a “paywall” – basically, a firewall that requires users to pay in order to acquire further access. You are allowed a limited number of free articles a month – after that, you must pay for a regular subscription to the site in order to see more.

In addition to that, layoffs and other cost-cutting measures have forced the paper to sometimes rework how they obtain and/or disseminate their news. For one thing, they have been cornered into making deals with some rivals – Web sites that supply content in digital form only. One of them has been Wikileaks; this is not a new concept – CNN did a similar partnership with Vice magazine to get their video content from . But will The Times’ subscription-based digital service generate enough revenue for the paper to sustain itself over the long haul or is their introduction of this policy a desperate last gasp that is merely too little and too late to save this legendary bastion of journalism?


This movie is somewhat schizophrenic in the sense that while entertaining, it is also simultaneously a little scary. Regardless of your opinion of The New York Times, it seems that we might be in grave danger of losing serious professional journalism what with all of these newspapers going out of business. It almost appears as though the entire industry is waiting for The Times to figure out how to make a go of it simply so that they can copycat their business paradigm. While competition can certainly be a good thing, the rivals with whom you are competing might not necessarily be better, just different – and that is what’s attracting people to their Web site, especially among a younger demographic.

The clear star of “Page One” is David Carr, The Times’ Media Desk reporter whose fascinating background would never lead you to believe that he’d ever wind up as a reporter for this particular newspaper. He’s quite a character and depending on whether or not you like him, you may either find the movie has too much of him or too little. One of my misgivings about the movie is that it occasionally seems like something of a love letter to The Times; while they touch on certain scandals that have rocked the paper over the years, it would’ve been interesting if the filmmakers featured interviews with the likes of Jason Blair and Judy Miller to get a different perspective on things.

While the movie was enjoyable, the best part of the class was the interview prior to the screening – our instructor discussed journalism and the technological revolution’s impacts on it with legendary writer Gay Talese. Talese, a former reporter for The New York Times, is interviewed in the documentary. A number of years ago, he also wrote a book about The Times called, “The Kingdom And The Power”. Nearing 80, he reflected on his beginnings with the paper as a copy boy, then, after returning from the war, he was re-employed by the paper, but this time as a sports reporter. He said that his goal was never to write a story that appeared on page one of the paper because he preferred to be assigned to a story that would appear on page 30; he said that the advantage to this was the fact that doing so would give him a greater opportunity to focus on more human elements of a given story and reveal things that he would not ordinarily have the time or the space for if he were assigned to a page one type story.


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