Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // November 28th, 2011
"This year, the biggest story is their own."
Being a recent college graduate, in two writing intensive fields, I have to admit that I spent the better part of my college career scared about the changing climate of journalism and writing itself. While the evolution of blogging and social media has created an almost surreal level of interconnectivity within our society, it's still not a very comforting landscape for those wishing to draw a steady paycheck. After watching Page One: Inside the New York Times I still have the same exact fears about the uncertainty of our future, but there's the smallest light at the end of the tunnel.
At the most tumultuous time in journalism's history, with the present in shambles and the future bleak, Page One: Inside the New York Times gives us an inner glimpse at the media desk of the country's most respected newspaper. From the paper's involvement with the volatile WikiLeaks to America's supposed withdrawal from Iraq, this documentary captures the ins and outs of respected journalism and the ways in which the industry tries to reinvent itself for a new media age.
Bloggers vs. Journalists.
A few years ago, the coexistence of these two bordered on the volatile if not outright impossible. Bloggers would attack the mainstream media and those stuffy newspaper writers as relics, dinosaurs in the internet age. Grumpy journalists would fire back about how blogging was eroding the very fabric of society because of an inherent lack of facts and hard-nosed investigative reporting. Both sides have some merit but they're also short-sighted. Within this documentary, we watch as the New York Times, that most revered of newspapers, attempts to adapt in order to save itself and an industry. If they succeed then they've given a template for the future to every other struggling newspaper in the world. If they fail then they've shown that the newspaper, as we know it, is well and truly dead. Circulation has plummeted, interest has waned, and relevancy has evaporated. But the way in which the paper attempts to stay afloat is in trying to meld bloggers and journalists. It's a pretty obvious solution: why not combine social media and other forms of technology with the age old art of journalism to create a news cycle that never becomes dated or irrelevant and that always stays at the fingertips of the reader? But it's easier said than done. Hubris is always hard to overcome.
Filmmaker Andrew Rossi (Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven) does not candy coat his film as some sort of ode to the industry, at least not fully. He doesn't outright bemoan the changing culture or try to deify these journalists as something they aren't, in a way that Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) would do if this was his film. Instead, Rossi treats his camera as a fly on the wall within the offices of the New York Times. The words are not his, the message is not his to control. What Rossi does is show us the method behind reporting the news. The constant push and pull between relevant news and back page fodder, the monotonous and sometimes infuriating practice of research and fact checking, the monumental backlash that occurs when someone doesn't in fact feel like a fact needs to be checked...
It's the same feeling of monotony melding with tenacity that Alan J. Pakula used in All The President's Men to inspire an entirely new generation of reporters. Someone needed to show the world again how important men and women like these are and Rossi has done that in a sublime way. The personalities of these reporters come alive as we watch them maintain their strict sense of credibility even as the world around them is crashing down. The film itself centers around David Carr, a somewhat filthy mouthed former drug addict with a rock & roll personality crusted in salt. His position in the film is to act as a mouthpiece for why blogging is evil and why journalism is vital. He's articulate about why the world needs hard-nosed journalism and why blog sites need a paper like the New York Times in order to get the zeitgeist rolling. While Carr is incredibly poignant, vivaciously passionate and exhilarating to watch, there is also a sense that he's too stubborn and too set in his ways to truly understand the predicament that his paper is in.
Luckily Rossi balances this by also focusing on new media wunderkind Brian Stelter, who made the transition from starting a news based blog to working for the New York Times. Stelter's story is the one that highlights the ability of a blog to act as a viable source of news and facts, just like any newspaper, but on a 24 hour cycle. Stelter is the shining example of where the field of journalism needs to start going towards. Rossi unfortunately doesn't nail home this point about Stelter the way that he needs to, instead choosing to focus more on Carr because of his larger than life personality. This decision hampers the film from being truly objective and encompassing.
The most surprising thing about Rossi's film is just how it matches up with some of the more major events in the media industry. One specific example that the film centers around is that of WikiLeaks and whether the information that Julian Assange is releasing is viable and on par with an event like the releasing of the Pentagon Papers or whether Assange is merely a reckless inciter. We're privy to the water cooler conversations with the journalists as they volley between the two poles. They also discuss in frank detail whether Assange not needing to go through a hallowed paper like Daniel Ellsburg had to is a signal that people don't need newspapers or reporters to break big news anymore now that everyone can use the internet as a platform and a mouthpiece. By the end of the film, the answer to this question is still up in the air but the optimist in me shies slightly closer to "newspaper credibility."
On the whole, Page One: Inside the New York Times grants us inside access to the king of newspapers at the exact moment when the world has shrugged off the need for them. The film humanizes its characters at the same time that it documents the method and madness of journalism. Rossi stands strongly on his belief that the blogosphere can't run without tangible newspapers providing the groundwork and legwork in defining the social and political spheres of our nation. It's a very well stated point, a very true point, but Rossi does himself no justice by almost criminally neglecting a strong voice in his film for the new media type. Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post shows up to get the briefest say in before disappearing, but besides this, most bloggers or those on their side are never given a voice in Rossi's film. While it's hard to fully love a documentary with such a blind spot, it still has its finger firmly on the pulse of the issue for most of the film. But Rossi should still be reprimanded for only giving us one side of the coin.
The film doesn't dole out answers or reasons but it gives the brightest shimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak outlook.
The Blu-ray itself sports a relatively decent 1080p (1.78:1) transfer. It is a documentary after all so it won't blow your socks off, but the hand held style of the film is faithfully captured. One note is skin tones do veer from natural to a bit orange, but it's to be expected for such a fast paced documentary where proper lighting can't exactly be structured throughout the New York Times offices. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on this disc is also about as solid as you'd want it. There's virtually no discernible play in the back channels but the dialogue is crisp and clear. David Carr's raspy tic-filled voice benefits greatly from the clarity.
Where the disc really shines is in its special features which add a host of interviews with revered journalists like Carl Bernstein talking about his view on the newspaper crisis, Emily Bell discussing her views on how newspapers can adapt to new media, and Sarah Ellison on Rupert Murdoch. There's also a great little feature that hosts a buffet of journalists commenting on the film itself and its positives and negatives. The special features are rounded out by a few additional scenes, a Q&A with the cast and filmmakers and a feature that goes in to more depth about Tim Arango, the New York Times Iraq correspondent, who is only briefly touched upon in the documentary.
An enlightening documentary on a troubled time in American history that has yet to be resolved. The host of special features on this Blu-ray only add to its quality.
Not guilty but one wishes for a more comprehensive look now that we've seen
the inner working of the big kahuna.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Bonus Scenes
* Official Site