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‘Page One’ a provocative look at journalism’s future

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“Page One: Inside the New York Times” begins with a shot of the proverbial presses rolling, then explores how print journalism and the newspaper most associated with excellence and influence could soon be extinct.

But the film is too unfocused to succeed as the penetrating portrait of the Times that it could be. Yet as director and co-writer Andrew Rossi guides viewers down current straits with prime Times players and shows how the paper is struggling to stay afloat and top-rung amid shrinking ad revenue, plethoric Internet media and other no-big-secret challenges, he presents an urgent, important picture of what is at stake.

With access to the Times’ almost too-stunning digs, and focusing on the media desk, Rossi uses four Timesmen (the media desk is white-male terrain) to provide insights and journalist-at-work nuggets.

They are media editor Bruce Headlam; Iraq-bound reporter Tim Arango; reporter Brian Stelter, a former teen blogger recruited for his new-media savvy; and old-school reporter David Carr, whose colorful, unreserved personality bucks the image of Times starchiness.

Rossi covers a lot of ground, including the Times’ Pulitzer count, a mass layoff and the decision to charge online readers for access.

The fabricated reporting of Jayson Blair and the disastrously misguided reporting of Judith Miller receive mention, as does WikiLeaks. Daniel Ellsberg, it’s pointed out, needed The New York Times. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange did not.

Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom putting together an important story under deadline knows this atmosphere can be the most exhilarating in the cosmos, and Rossi doesn’t quite capture that energy.

His decision to concentrate on media reporting — at the expense of, for example, international or national coverage — is partly to blame. So is his constant jumping — from WikiLeaks to an Atlantic magazine article predicting the Times’ demise to the familiar statements about new vs. old. A central argument doesn’t form.

At the same time, however, Rossi presents an admirably intricate and fittingly disconcerting picture. To see the Times cutting corners makes one queasy, and to witness business transpiring as usual — grade-A journalists working dynamically — is inspiring.

Thanks to Carr, who emerges as the movie’s quotable star (“You know what this reminds me of? A newspaper!” he says of the iPad), the film is entertaining.

Most memorable is the reporter skillfully operating on the phone, obtaining what he needs from sources and company honchos for a story on mismanagement at the Tribune Co.

At such moments — and they’re plentiful — “Page One” is a powerful reminder of what journalism has long been about and of the role newspapers play in keeping people informed. For a worthwhile trip into a creaky institution that also manages to be a vital galaxy, check it out.

MOVIE REVIEW

Page One

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With David Carr, Bruce Headlam, Brian Stelter, Tim Arango
Written by Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi
Directed by Andrew Rossi
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 31 minutes