Movie Review: Page One

Page One: Inside the New York Times gives viewers a unique look behind the pages of newsprint, offering us access to the Times’ newsroom and its media desk at a time when the industry is undergoing rapid changes. The film follows reporters like David Carr and Brian Stelter as they track print journalism’s evolution in the age of information, when other newspapers across the country are going bankrupt. Page One gives a rare insight into the issues the New York Times team faces everyday, from WikiLeaks to Twitter to consumers who believe in a free online news world. The Times’ struggle is shown not only as a struggle to stay alive, but to stay alive with continuing integrity and excellence in reporting.

The documentary team of Kate Novak and Andrew Rossi offer what very few have offered before: unrestricted access to the Times’ newsroom and the processes therein. Might the Times be in trouble in the Internet age? Yes. Is journalism as a profession dead as a result of social networking and online news sites? Absolutely not.

Although the tone of the film was appropriate, the storyline and plot could have been quite a bit clearer. I often found myself getting lost in the sequence of scenes, which was dizzying at times; the connections between topics were not immediately visible while watching the film. However, even though the storyline could have been more linear, it could have been worse. It is a tribute to director Rossi that he didn’t become completely lost in the convoluted world of endless information that is the New York Times. Choosing what to include in the film must have been difficult; we can all appreciate that. For the most part, we are left to make connections and understand implications on our own. This is not a film for people who wish to be mindlessly entertained.

The film includes several scenes of the page one boardroom meetings with the executive editor Bill Keller and other editors. They are shown going about their daily routines despite the turmoil around them, trying to decide what should go on page one and what should be excluded. These scenes ground the film; they provide us with something solid in the middle of a multitude of shifting topics.

The choice to include the opinions of reporter David Carr in the film was a good one. Carr brings something more to the table than a seasoned reporter may be able to. Throughout the film we are told that Carr is a former crack addict and relatively new to the Times. Having been an “outsider” for most of his life, Carr offers fresh insight into the Times and its current predicament. Carr is of the opinion that the Times will evolve and move forward. His voice is both optimistic and certain: the Times will survive. This is a refreshing change from the many other voices in the film, most of which are filled with doubt, unease and foreboding.

In contrast to the tone of Carr, Brian Stelter, 26-year-old blogger and reporter for the Times, was able to offer a view from a different generation. For many young people, Stelter may serve as a lifeline to the film; it is easy for young, aspiring journalists to relate to him. Without that crucial connection, people of my generation might feel alienated from the processes at the Times; the inclusion of Stelter lets us know that the Times is a promising place to explore new talent, as well as a place to nurture seasoned writing.

As I have previously said, Page One is not a film for people who don’t want to engage mentally. That being said, those looking for something more cerebral or have an interest in the news industry in general, you’ll find this film eye-opening.
Rossi and Novak manage to provide an honest portrait of the Times at a critical point in its life. Ten years from now, we will be able to look back at this film and either marvel at how the newspaper giant has evolved, or mourn the (unlikely) loss of such an influential societal staple.

Page One opens Sept. 22 at Cinematheque, with four more select showings Sept. 23, 24, 28 and Oct. 5. Following the opening night screening, a panel discussion will be held at the Winnipeg Free Press Café, 237 McDermot Ave..