The New York Timeâ€™s motto is â€œAll the News Thatâ€™s Fit to Print.â€ But what happens when the news skips print entirely and becomes a tweet? Page One: Inside the New York Times the new fly-on-the-wall documentary from filmmaker Andrew Rossi tries to answer that question through the prism of the newsroom at the New York Times during the most tumultuous era for journalism since the printing press was invented.
The main focus of the film is The Times’ struggle to remain relevant in the age of Twitter. Yet the film does little to illuminate that struggle, preferring instead a stream of talking-heads telling the camera how dreadful it would be if The Times did not survive. A sobering thought but donâ€™t beat us over the head with it. Thankfully, the further Rossi gets away from this endless drumbeat of doom and the further into the stories that break while he’s there (Wikileaks, in particular) the better his film gets. Case in point, the fascinating debate around the Times publishing leaked documents concerning the war in Afghanistan and the meaning and impact of that decision.
Then thereâ€™s the â€œstarâ€ of the film, the talented and charismatic David Carr, The Timeâ€™s media columnist and reporter (and former crack addict), with his rattled, dusty whisper of a voice and a survivor’s impatience with lies and hubris, cutting through the film like the banged-up but tenacious spirit of journalism itself. Whether watching him work the phones on a juicy story about the corporate corruption at the rival Tribune Company or cutting off the poseurs at Vice magazine at the knees, Rossi’s film is at its most vibrant when Carr’s on screen.
All these angles and stories are fascinating for the viewer but â€œPage Oneâ€ has the distracted quality of a news junkie’s Twitter feed. Perhaps if it were given the Ken Burnâ€™s treatment, â€œPage Oneâ€ would be an extraordinary film. In the meantime, Rossi never gets around to exploring his opening question: What would the world be without The New York Times?