A look at the battle to maintain a (presumed to be dying) standard of the times
Rating: R, Grade: A
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
New Media, as opposed to the lower-cased version, which generally is about software applications rather than hardware that requires more seismic cultural investments, generates anxiety and fear, a healthy reaction, at least that’s the argument we attempt to use to convince ourselves that everything will be alright as we read reports about the wholesale demise of industry and a segment of the economy. New Media is front-page news across multiple sections of the newspaper.
But what happens when it is the front page itself that is threatened by the hostile takeover of the emerging New Media?
Print media, represented in all its glory and honor by The New York Times (the Grey Lady herself), has staved off seemingly mortal blows in the past, from the latest iteration of the New Media doomsday herald. From the dawn of radio, the first flicker of television, the 24-hour news cycle spawned by cable, to the high-speed (such an antiquated term in these hyper-evolved days) explosion of the internet (which has gone from upper case to lower in a nanosecond), The New York Times has been the strong and steady heartbeat, the measure of the relative life force of the print media.
And so, documentary co-writer/director Andrew Rossi (Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven, Eat This New York), with seemingly unprecedented access from The Times investigates the current crisis from inside the belly of the biggest news beast of them all. How is The New York Times able to withstand this onslaught against traditional journalism? Rossi illustrates the same tenacity and nose for the story that has been the hallmark of The Times at its best.
Anyone involved in any facet of the journalistic trade, especially the print-based side (whether mainstream dailies or alternative weekly formats), can argue that the rapid rise of bloggers and instant dumping of information without proper context, while opening up more access and community and reader engagement, exposes the system to attack of gossip, hearsay and fabrication. In the dash to break the news first, journalistic integrity is the initial casualty.
But, Page One offers an antidote or more importantly a prescriptive regimen practiced by the staff of The Times able to counterbalance the more harmful side effects of New Media. The Times, while slow to acknowledge and incorporate business and advertising remedies to offset the impact of heightened (and free) access to information across the Internet, has embraced the blogosphere and reined in its hunger and voracity. Bloggers for The Times are never content to merely project the first words on a breaking subject; they, as the paper has always done, are concerned with being the first to get the facts straight (or as straight as possible).
Thanks to its right-hand presence alongside some of the current best on the beat, the film also gets a few candidly self-reflective assessments as well. The Times, in recent years, has obviously succumbed to the pressure and need to break “stories” and found itself having to admit, for instance, in the Jayson Blair case, its own culpability in the decline of journalistic integrity or its inability to sustain a model of profitability.
These are human errors, shortsighted lapses of judgment that speak to what lies behind the facade of the Grey Lady, the people. And here again, Page One astutely tells the story of some of the key people, the faces and voices that represent the paper at this transitional moment. The seemingly ever-present chronicler of The Times, David Carr, leads the charge. With one foot firmly in the old school tradition (the obsessive hard-boiled news junkie) yet also seeking sound footing in the new media age, Carr, like The Times, serves as the guardian at the gates, continuing to ensure the sanctity of the institution and the industry.