Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)

David Carr gets the best moment in Page One: Inside the New York Times.
The media reporter for The New York Times is attending a conference. He holds up a printout of articles featured on a news aggregator's website. Next, Carr presents the same printout with all the newspaper stories cut out. The page is littered with holes.
Message: newspapers create content that people read online. Fewer newspapers, less content.
I'm a print journalist so this film is tailor made for a film film like myself.
Declining readership, and the move of advertising dollars from print to online, have prompted plenty of job cuts in the newspaper industry. My newspaper employed five editors when I started. Now, there's one. Five reporters now try to cover what eight did before. Papers have stopped operating too. In Canada, the Guelph Mercury in Ontario no longer publishes. The Mercury was a daily paper in a city with a population topping 100,000. Not anymore.
Director Andrew Rossi (Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven, Ivory Tower) spent a year covering the media beat at The New York Times. The 12-month stretch saw some major stories break in the industry including the bankruptcy of the Tribune media company and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks' release of classified diplomatic cables.
We see Times' staff consider edited video released by Assange and their probing television footage suggesting American military involvement in Iraq is over. What gets covered? What is news?
Page One does point to missteps done by major players in the newspaper industry that have contributed to its woes. Carl Bernstein, who broke Watergate for The Washington Post, points the finger at Gannett Media for cutting jobs and hobbling papers that were strong in their markets. Classified and employment advertising - lost to upstarts such as Craigslist. Carr points the finger at "decades of organizational hubris."
But, a hobbled media hurts democratic societies, various NYT staff warn because government and business is not being held accountable for their actions. Could Watergate happen today with decimated editorial departments? Bernstein himself notes the Post is "a lesser paper" because of job cuts.
To have strong media "to really gather information," says NYT executive editor Bill Keller, is "essential to a functioning democracy."
"It just doesn't work if people don't know," he says.
What this reporter would like to see is another documentary follow a newspaper in a smaller town. What happens when school board meetings don't get covered when there's no newspaper staff to attend? How is municipal government watched for its actions?
Another neat thing about Page One is an accompanying book (Page One: Inside The New York Times) with a series of essays bout the newspaper business. These pieces are short - less than 10 minutes to read per contributing writer. I'd suggest reading the book before or after viewing Page One.
Strong media - newspaper, radio, television, online - offer more coverage in the communities they serve. Competition keeps reporters on their toes so they don't get complacent. Politicians, police, school board officials and businesses know their actions will be watched.
Page One offers a look at what if that coverage no longer exists.
RATING: 8/10

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