“Page One” Review
The line for the Sundance premiere of “Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times” was an aggressive and, from the perspective of this young journalist, a star-studded one. Amy Goodman was vying for a seat as was filmmaker Eugene Jarecki. It was the only film in the festival where the press line was just as long, if not longer, than the general entry line. This comes as no surprise: Everyone in the business wants a look at life inside the Gray Lady.
Andrew Rossi’s riveting documentary provides just that. Most of the scenes take place in the corner of the newspaper’s shiny, new offices occupied by the media desk and its top reporters, David Carr, Brian Stelter, Tim Arango and editor Bruce Headlam. Watching them at work is unexpectedly entertaining. They have a charming, banter-filled rapport. Carr likes to complain that Stelter, a fresh-faced Internet guru with three screens beaming from his desk at all times, “is a machine specifically created to destroy me.” They collaborate on how to approach high-stake stories – WikiLeaks, an investigative takedown of the Tribune Company – and provide each other with a preventive buffer against over-hyping. It’s a testament to the benefits of collaboration, the, albeit old school and expensive, habit of working together under one shared, Renzo Piano-designed roof. There’s an advantage to writing from one’s own lair, as I am at the moment: You can go barefoot without offending anyone, there’s easy access to leftovers. But “Page One” shows how having an editor 12-feet away is part of what makes the New York Times as good of a paper as it is.
By focusing on the media desk, and especially on its charmingly gruff spokesman David Carr, the film looks into larger issues of journalism today. Carr has a superhero capacity in the film. He faces off against aggregators and less serious journalists, a crusader of journalistic integrity in the new media rubble. Carr is a dexterous, foul-mouthed debater – he single-handedly earned the film its “R” rating – and every time he fires back against someone belittling the Times, you want to cheer.
Carr is indefatigable, but one wonders about his employer. There’s much talk of layoffs and pay walls and, more explicitly, whether the Times will ever go extinct. To answer this question, Rossi takes an impressionistic, rather than an investigative approach. In fact, Rossi spends very little time with the executives at the paper – the people who actually know where the newspaper stands financially. (He spends even less time with women at paper. The office, as far as the film goes, is roaring with testosterone.) Rossi situates the media desk within history of journalism. His montage includes the Pentagon Papers, the IPad, and Jayson Blair, the reporter caught plagiarizing and fabricating, among other disparate topics. It’s a long-winded and, at times, confusing way of saying that this, too, will pass.
Page One opens nationwide on July 1
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