For most movie audiences, this documentary may not have more urgency than Cinematheque's co-feature about saving whales.

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New York Times media reporter David Carr

POSTMEDIA

New York Times media reporter David Carr

For most movie audiences, this documentary may not have more urgency than Cinematheque's co-feature about saving whales.

Of course, anyone who works at a newspaper will find Andrew Rossi's doc Page One: Inside the New York Times, gripping, life-and-death stuff.

The whale metaphor may be apt. Among North American papers, the Times is the great black-and-white, a leviathan that has practically defined print journalism for generations. Among its achievements recounted here is gaining the enmity of Richard Nixon for its publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, revealing the dirty laundry of the war in Vietnam.

The doc is jump-started by a story in The Atlantic magazine that suggested the paper was on its last legs, another victim of the drastic decline in advertising revenue that has harpooned other venerable publications such as the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (the drastically downsized latter is now online only).

The doc takes pains to show that rumours of the paper's impending demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Yet it is not an exercise in PR spin. The film acknowledges the hits the Times has taken to its overall credibility, encompassing the Jayson Blair scandal (in which a reporter knowingly fabricated stories) and the more devastating Judith Miller stories which essentially (and wrongly) parroted the Bush-Cheney justification for going to war in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction. (The doc overlooks the fact the Times also published Joseph Wilson's scathing op-ed piece What I Didn't Find in Africa, authoritatively countering the speculation that Saddam Hussein was building WMDs.)

The "Inside the New York Times" aspect of the title is something of an exaggeration. Rossi doesn't exactly offer a cross-section of the Times' many departments. In fact, apart from some glimpses into editorial meetings, determining the content on the front page, the bulk of the film follows reporters covering the media beat. Recognizing star quality when he sees it, Rossi focuses particularly on David Carr, a former drug addict who managed to get his own life together and takes on the added mission of rescuing the Times' reputation as a news organization.

For any newspaper hack, it is joy to see Carr debating Michael Woolf of the website Newser on the subject of whether the mainstream media is a dinosaur. Carr holds up a printout of Newser's top stories with all the MSM-generated stories scissored out. It looks like a Swiss cheese.

For us ink-stained wretches, it is a Rocky moment.

That said, the doc illustrates that the newspaper institution does need to change to survive. Here, that plays out with the WikiLeaks documents and video that circumvent mainstream media. It is duly pointed out that if Daniel Ellsberg had had access to the Internet, he would not have needed the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. The Times couldn't beat WikiLeaks, so it joined 'em, utilizing the newspaper's resources to glean through the thousands of leaked documents to publish something more easily digestible.

Is that enough? Page One may not provide all the answers, but it provokes pertinent questions.

With that in mind, a panel discussion takes place after tonight's screening at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café with panelists including former Winnipeg Free Press journalist Curtis Brown, WFP journalists Frances Russell and Lindsey Wiebe, and Duncan McMonagle, journalism instructor at Red River College.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of Page One: Inside the New York Times.

Copies of the embattled publication.

ALLIANCE FILMS

Copies of the embattled publication.

 

If you're reading this article, chances are you have at least a passing interest in the role and value of newspapers. You like original reporting and writing enough to pay for it, online or on newsprint. And you'd probably enjoy Page One.

-- Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News

 

Compelling viewing -- not only for the issues it raises about the state of journalism, but because of the presence of the paper's media reporter, David Carr.

-- Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress

 

In journalism parlance, we have a dozen or so sidebars crowding out a fabulous front-page feature.

-- Stephen Cole, Globe and Mail

 

A fascinating study of a newspaper doing its best to not just survive but to continue to do so with excellence while the world tilts beneath the venerable broadsheet.

-- Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

 

A colourful "how the news is made" movie capturing some very smart, very committed reporters and editors adapting to the changing rules in our brave new online news world.

-- Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

 

Even if the movie fails to truly capture the inner workings of a newspaper and the amount of work required to print an issue every day, it's still a highly entertaining snapshot of a culture in the midst of a rapid transformation...

-- Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald

 

Nimble and up-to-the-minute, Page One is entertaining even if you don't have built-in interest in the topic.

-- Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press

 

This film functions as a countdown timer to the doomsday when all the news that's fit to print becomes unfit for short attention spans.

-- Joe Williams, St. Louis Post Dispatch

 

Basically a carefully airbrushed and authorized portrait of the Gray Lady during 14 months when there was serious speculation about the paper's impending demise.

-- Lou Luminick, New York Post

 

For those of us who read -- on smudgy paper or a battery-powered screen -- Page One is a vital, indispensable hellraiser.

-- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

 

It's not quite the same thrill as glimpsing the man behind the curtain of the great and powerful Oz, but for journalism junkies, the fascination of Page One: Inside The New York Times is something like that.

-- Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

 

-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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