The fly-on-the-wall approach to documentary filmmaking has never been more fitting. Page One: Inside The New York Times offers a spectrum view of the venerable newspaper at its most vulnerable, and a look at one of the world's most respected newsrooms in the middle of shifting media significance.
Director Andrew Rossi was granted complete access to The Times' Media Desk and newsroom throughout 2010, capturing reaction to the ever-present question: What would happen if The New York Times went under? Page One documents the paper's losing battle against the internet, but the movie tells more than it shows. Interviews with Times reporters and industry experts (like former Times writer Gay Talese and New Yorker Editor David Remnick) reveal their not-so-surprising impression that it would be a blasphemous world indeed without the newspaper.
Between these scattered interviews, Page One speeds through the news and issues that take place within the hallowed paper's walls — from the emergence of WikiLeaks, the unveiling of the iPad, and newsroom layoffs to reporter disputes, competition from the Huffington Post and Gawker, and The Times' own struggle to get readers to pay for online content. They very well may be serious links to the paper's inner workings, but they lack any sort of theme or structure here. Rossi merely piles on 12 months of news, with the dying print industry serving as the glue that holds 90 minutes of jargon together.
Page One focuses on four rigorous journalists at the paper's all-important Media Desk, including the sharp-tongued David Carr, who covers the downfall of the Tribune Company, which owns The L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, among other powerhouses.
But it doesn't zero in on any of the paper's leading figures, like then-Executive Editor Bill Keller or current boss Jill Abramson, both of whom are featured as supporting players siphoning through stories as their colleagues lobby for page-one cred. On top of all this, Rossi throws in Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and plagiarist Jayson Blair, hoping to tie together ethical issues of the past with those facing the paper today. But there's not much to this; it all comes off as fluff and filler.
While the movie promises a look "Inside The New York Times," there's only a brief glance at the paper's center of action. And really, does anyone other than journalists and news junkies care about this stuff? For those who do care, it's a raw and honest account of a small but influential sector of the paper. And ultimately it's affirmation that The New York Times isn't going anywhere soon.