On the surface, Page One: Inside the New York Times details issues that have been beaten to death: the print media news model is dying, blogging is huge, and WikiLeaks may have singlehandedly catapulted social media into the big leagues, demonstrating how unnecessary (and outdated) a New York Times newspaper is when it arrives on your doorstep.
But director Andrew Rossi’s documentary isn’t concerned with chronicling crusty old journalists’ inability to keep up. There’s no “Err, what the hell is this Twitter thing?!” Instead, Page One shows the rat race that the Times staffers face to beat an immeasurably bigger empire: that of online media.
Page One mostly follows around the Times’ media desk and their fight to, 1.) be accurate, 2.) be first, 3.) be on the front. It’s astonishing, for instance, that when the New York Times first got wind of Julian Assange’s game-changing WikiLeaks, the media desk editors had to fight and claw their way to make it a page one story.
Now, I can fully understand how this all may sound… well, boring. A bunch of newspaper editors bitching about how their story is better than their colleagues’. But Page One is far from dull. Its scope is massive, which turns out to be its best and worst attribute.
Best of all the Times personalities we meet is David Carr, an ex crack addict with a wicked wit, and a limited tolerance for bullshit. Watching Carr ream out a source he’s interviewing (who has unwisely insulted the Times) is jaw dropping. The man curses, raises his voice, slams on his keyboard, and out articulates everyone in the room. Basically, he’s the antijournalist. And if he wasn’t so goddamn good at his job, I’m sure he’d be out of one.
Carr’s personality is enough to fill this entire 88 minute film; he’s the most engrossing, and by far the staffer with the most lasting power. In hindsight, I wish Rossi would’ve limited his scope, and focused solely on Carr. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Carr’s story can’t sustain an entire feature length documentary. Regardless, Carr’s scenes are the most memorable. When he’s off screen, you’re waiting for him to come back.
The rest of the film, wisely, does its best to not take a stance. For every staffer praising the necessity of print media, there are five people who urge that social media is the way to go.
Page One may not open your eyes to what you already know is coming, but it does a damn fine job of chronicling how it got there, and where it's probably going. A-