I am one of those people who are inconsolably depressed over the death of print journalism. Growing up reading The New York Times and The Washington Post, I thought it was my destiny I would one day write for one of these noble institutions. OK, maybe not write—but I took it for granted I would at least read them. The internet happened in the intervening decade or two and shocked everyone, including, as it turns out, The Times itself.
The new documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times (Andrew Rossi) addresses the internet’s aftermath, and how it affected print journalism, The New York Times in particular. Beginning with The Rocky Mountain News’ retirement and ending with The Times’ creation of a pay-wall, the director does well describing the reactions from everyone involved, from the television talking heads, the editors, and the journalists themselves.
David Carr, the irascible Times media critic, is our host, and he does a great job defending the newspaper, and attesting to all it has to offer a sustainable, intelligent democracy. His takedown of Newser’s Michael Wolff during a debate was especially fun to watch. After Wolff decries The Times for Judith Miller’s misleading reporting in the run up to the Iraq war, Carr dismisses Newser as a news aggregator. Holding up a cut-up Newser homepage, he shows that by eliminating the mainstream media, one is also sacrificing the site’s content.
There are so many great moments like these, but for an hour and a half documentary, there are simply too many narrative threads to compose something coherent. Sure, it is nominally a look inside The New York Times and how it fights obsolescence, but that in of itself is too much. Sometimes we are in the editors’ meetings, other times we are in Minneapolis learning about David Carr’s past lives, and by the end we are learning more about the Tribune Company’s bankruptcy than we are about the future of The Times.
The problem is not the documentarian, but the subject itself. A newsroom that big, and encompassing so much history, could never be distilled in one doc. And, honestly, the death of journalism is a topic too difficult to compress into mere sound-bytes. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the filmmakers to pick a subject, and the responsibility of a clever editor to make sure the final cut reflects that focus. Page One is a great movie, about a great subject, one I care to hear more of, yet there are times when great isn’t good when covering a story.