December 30, 2011 by David K. Sutton
Review: PAGE ONE: Inside The New York Times
If you are a news junkie and enjoy documentaries then add this one to your Netflix queue. PAGE ONE: Inside The New York Times is a highly entertaining and fascinating look at the inter-workings of The New York Times. It’s made all the more poignant given the harrowing challenges that traditional print media face in an ever-changing landscape of information and news.
Director Andrew Rossi has crafted a tapestry of behind the scenes footage at The New York Times interspersed with interviews of key players to capture your attention, entertain and inform. There is a particularly large focus on NYT Journalist David Carr where we get to see his process of in-person and over-the-phone interviews to gather the information that goes into high-profile columns.
The documentary won the lottery when they were witness to how the Times participated with WikiLeaks to release classified cables. It is interesting to note that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange became household names only after partnering with traditional print media – The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. WikiLeaks may be viewed by many people as rogue and dangerous but they are nothing if not an embodiment of new media. The fact that Julian Assange saw the value in partnering with prominent traditional print media should give us pause if we think our democracy can thrive in a world without newsrooms and professional journalists.
The undercurrent of the documentary is the decline of traditional print media with the rise of the internet and new media. Only time will tell if this documentary serves as a memoir to a once great newspaper or as the demarcation point where The New York Times was able to find its way in the new information world.
If The New York Times is one of the stronger traditional print media companies remaining then it is eye-opening to learn about the challenges that it faces at a time when people increasingly get their news delivered free over the internet. I put emphasis on the word free because nothing is really free. Much of the news and information we get for free is still sourced from good old-fashioned journalism and newsrooms of traditional print media that employ thousands of people. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for these hard-working individuals to get paid for the service they do but sadly I must admit that I haven’t paid a dime for The New York Times – well, except for a short time when I subscribed to the Times on the Kindle in 2009 – even though I’m aware that many news stories I’ve read over the years exist in the public consciousness because of the Times.
I don’t know what the future holds for The New York Times and traditional print media but I truly believe they need to find a way to exist with sustained relevance in this new world of instant access to overwhelming information. It’s truly amazing to connect instantly with people and news from all around the world every second of the day, but I often wonder how our news gathering and reporting will be affected if newsrooms and professional journalists were to disappear.
Visit the front page of any new media company like The Huffington Post and much of the content they aggregate often times traces back to a traditional print media source like The New York Times. Many of these new media companies do not employ journalists and do not send people to the story. Many people say in an age with smart phones with video cameras and mobile internet access everyone is a reporter but my concern is the ethical code and the motivation of those covering stories as well as the need to put together a cohesive, concise and accurate narrative of the events. I believe that professional journalists feel they have an ethical, even moral, obligation to cover stories faithfully. I’m not sure the same can be said for someone who just happens upon the scene of a story with his or her smart phone in hand. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a value to this kind of coverage – in fact, I’d say it’s invaluable – but can it be the sole coverage?
You might be thinking my opinion on this topic is interesting given I run a political opinion website that many times is critical of the media, but I’m also under no illusion of where much of the news comes from and the value of hard journalism. If the lights went dark in all newsrooms around the country what would the news look like? What would that mean for our democracy? I don’t see how the hard journalism happens in the future without those newsrooms.
The slow collapse of these newsrooms has at times produced results that make it easy for the public to be critical of traditional media. I believe traditional media is under immense pressure to get stories right, to look objective and stay relevant at a time when many people seem elated by its potential demise. Let’s not forget about the journalists and other workers within traditional media companies who are constantly wondering if they will have a job next week. I believe these factors are negatively influencing the quality of the product and ultimately this may serve to accelerate the demise of traditional print media.
In the future, will we look back at this time and celebrate, or will we look back with envy of a time when hard journalism and a strong drive to find the truth helped sustain our democracy?