Directed by: Andrew Rosi
Premise: A documentary about The New York Times, examining the decline of the newspaper industry and the relationship between old and new media.
What Works: Timing is crucial in the making of certain kinds of documentaries and the filmmakers of Page One benefit from being in the right place at the right time. This documentary is ostensibly an examination of the way in which the Times conducts its business but the filmmakers find themselves making this documentary at a moment in which the entire media landscape is being uprooted and long established institutions such as the New York Times face an uncertain future. As a result, Page One is an important time capsule of a period of upheaval in the news industry and for that reason alone this is an important film. But it is also a well-made, exciting, dramatic, and insightful piece of filmmaking. Page One primarily follows columnist David Carr, who is a staunch defender of the Times and of traditional media. Carr is an effective figure to organize the picture around because he possesses a sharp intellect and an equally adept wit and because he is a realist who comes to recognize the inevitably of the changes to the news industry while also warning of the potential compromises in quality that could result from a decentralized news culture. What this documentary captures is an important moment not only for the employees and readers of the New York Times but for the culture as a whole. As goes the Times, so goes the rest of the traditional news industry and Page One is able to raise many of the relevant questions about what that means for all of us.
What Doesn’t: The last scene of Page One is a hopeful declaration of the continued relevance of the New York Times and the moment seems a little off message with the rest of the documentary, unless it is intended ironically. Page One stops short of declaring what the future will be for the Times and for establishment media as a whole, and that answer may exist beyond the scope of this film, but some educated guesses by the film’s commentators would have been nice.
Bottom Line: Page One is a very good documentary and an important one for anyone who cares about news or the written word. It’s also a compelling story about an important American institution that tells the practical and the human sides of print’s transition into the digital age.
Episode: #372 (January 22, 2012)