Saturday, 18 June 2011

Page One: Inside The New York Times

I will be honest I was expecting this film to be like The September Issue which I suppose was rather unfair as we are talking about a very glamorous industry while the newspaper business is very dry. The fact that this documentary has grabbed the attention of all the media folks speak volumes. Yesterday Gawker even hosted a screening for its staff which took place on their roof garden. Page One is a fly on the wall documentary that follows the staff on The New York Times for a whole year and watches them not just battle to find breaking stories but also struggling to keep their head above water during harsh economic times. The New York Times which has always been revered by hacks from huge media outlets such as NBC who would consult the paper every morning before starting work. Well you don't win 100 Pulitzer Prizes (more than any other news organisation) for nothing. Nowadays the paper has been served with a double whammy; the likes of homing in on job ads and directories like Craigslist and Gumtree taking over the classified ads, combine that with upstarts such as Gawker and The Huffington Post offering an alternative viewpoint. The much loved New York Times is on pretty shaky ground having to make redundancies in order to avoid going the same way as several major newspaper around the country.
The film focuses on key staff such as Brian Stelter, a media reporter who ran a popular blog called TVnewser which got him headhunted by the publication, Tim Arrango who is a media specialist and roving reporter, Bruce Headlam who is the media editor and last but not least media columnist, David Carr who is the rock and roll guy. There has been a lot of buzz about David Carr due to his rather wild past and there is no doubt that he is the Grace Coddington of the film. Filmmakers Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack gained access to the paper where they followed the media desk working on stories and lobbying top editors to have a presence on page one. The timing couldn't have been better because hot topics such as the Pentagon papers, troops in Iraq and Wikileaks broke during this time as well as ironically the launch of the iPad. It was also pretty smart of the producers to concentrate on the media desk considering that The New York Times is being usurped by new media itself. One thing that Page One did leave me with is a reminder of what real gritty journalism is, something that has been forgotten in the midst of fast food news. While viewing the offices of the publication one thing that struck me was the long and rich history that it and every other newspaper in the world has and that is one advantage that it holds against digital publishers.
I felt like I had been taken back to the 80s where men dominated news - there were hardly any women featured in the film. But what struck me is how idealist a lot of the reporters are and how passionate they were to see justice served. Extreme efforts are taken to fact checking, recording interviews, meeting up with sources and going through swamps of data to in order to nail the details. To be honest Page One was not my cup of tea and at times I found the film pretty boring; it was like watching a court case unfold where the lawyers go through every minute detail. I guess I have been spoilt with the glossy documentaries that focus on the big moments and skip over the nuts and bolts. There were some riveting moments such as David Carr on the panel at a seminar at SXSW and brilliantly defending  himself after being attacked by the founder of The Daily Kos. Also Carr's prickly meeting with the founders of VICE is mildly entertaining. Page One may be a hard watch but it shows a more realistic picture of what it is like to work on a daily newspaper.

I watched Page One at a screening from the Open City London Film Festival which took place last week.

Page One is out on release now in the US and hits the UK in September.

Check out the website for Page One.

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