Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Film offers unique look at newspaper industry

The lovely Miss Wendy and I spent the afternoon at the movies over the weekend, watching a documentary that was informative, entertaining and, at least for me, a bit melancholy.

Page One: Inside The New York Times, focuses on the Times’ Media Desk and offers a unique look into the inner workings of big-city Journalism and the challenges newspapers are facing in a digitalized world moving at warp speed.

Much of the narrative is seen through the world-weary eyes of David Carr, a recovering addict who remains gritty around the edges. He’s the mirror image of all you’d expect to find inside the inner sanctum of one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world. But his no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is attitude – considerable talent and obvious smarts – offers up just the sort of character needed to build a film around.

The documentary does a good job of capturing the yin and yang of daily journalism and the ugly business of figuring out what’s happening around the world; the conference room meetings where office politics are part of the equation and hallway chats between editors and reporters where all the heavy lifting is accomplished.

If you ever worked for a place that buys paper by the ton and ink by the gallon then you’ll appreciate the nitty-gritty details of the film. You’ll also have a unique understanding of the dark clouds of anxiety that hang heavily over the newsroom.

Newspapers, you’ll recall, aren’t doing all that well these days. Page One opens with the closing of several papers across the country, then details the financial struggles and, inevitably, the cutbacks at the Times – bureaus are closed, sections folded, buyouts offered. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, Carr and his colleagues go about the business of covering the news. Mixed in with their work – interviews, conferences, writing, editing – are panel discussions and debates about the future of journalism, the ascendancy of the web and the digitalized media. The filmmakers do a good job of exploring their topic, staying focused and, ah, cutting away the fat. Trust me on this, it’s an editing thing!

Ultimately, what plays out is an engrossing look at an industry in flux. At the Times, reporters and editors are still trying to figure out how best to attack the future while holding on to all the important stuff that defines exceptional journalism – accuracy and objectivity, euphonically blended with passion and sweat.

In a world where anyone can call them self a journalist, steal news reports and post lame and vapid opinions, it’s clear that such excellence is needed. Sadly, what’s needed isn’t always what we get.

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