Page One: Inside the New York Times is a 2010 documentary by director Andrew Rossi. He is granted inside-the-newsroom access to the New York Times. It is currently showing at Market Street Cinema in Little Rock.
We meet several journalists and editors (including Bill Keller, then-Executive Editor) who are struggling with evolution of mass media. Changes in the way people get their news are blowing the media companies off their foundations. The NYT seeks to adapt with the landscape, and to avoid dying off entirely.
The film begins with several media reports asking The Big Question: ‘Is the Newspaper dying?’. In recent years, the decline of ad revenue and of subscribers has been so severe that many newspapers are completely gone. Most of those that remain have had to trim their workforces. We meet several long-time NYT journalists that are laid off as a result of industry-wide cutbacks. Some time is spent on the NYT’s near-invincibility in its heyday.
We see the meetings and conversations that determine what gets on the NYT’s front page each day. ‘Is this newsworthy? How newsworthy is it? And is it newsworthy everywhere?’
Significant attention is also given to the recent arrival of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks comes on the scene, and dumps its treasure-trove of information. The NYT journalists debate on how WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange should be viewed. In the end, the two partner to put bombshell news stories on the New York Times front page for more than a week.
The issue of lost subscribers to the web is also addressed. NYT reporter David Carr attends a convention where the subject of online news aggregators is brought up. Carr displays two charts. The first, a web page screen-shot of a news aggregator and all the articles it finds. The second, the same screen-shot, but with all of the articles written by the old institutions (NYT, WaPo, etc) cut out. In spite of the diminishing of the NYT and other old media institutions, they are still the ones doing the bulk of the on-the-ground reporting. Many state and local newspapers get the bulk of their stories from the New York Times, The Washington Post, Associated Press, etc. Some attention is brought to NYT’s website instituting a paywall to read the articles. Some people are outraged and refuse to pay. A lot of this is a holdover of the belief among many that because something is on the internet, then it should be free.
We also get a view of the mismanagement, misconduct and flat-out boorishness that led to the bankruptcy of the Tribune Company. David Carr’s reporting on then Tribune CEO Randy Michaels’ misdeeds may have contributed to his downfall.
The film concludes with the same cloud of uncertainty that was there at the beginning. What will the New York Times of the future looks like? Will the New York Times exist at all in the future? We don’t know. What we do know, is the people in those offices and those boardrooms are doing what they can to stay alive.
Page One is an enlightening look in one of the most famous newsrooms in the world. See it if you can.