Page One: Inside The New York Times Review

How the world gets is news is changing more and more each day, and though the popular mindset places newspapers as the models of obsolescence in that paradigm, there’s no one more aware of this shift than the people on the inside of news outlets. In the offices of The New York Times, the battle between online and print media rages with dwindling advertising sales causing massive layoffs of newsroom staff and an increasing focus on producing content for the next generation of consumers. Andrew Rossi’s The New York Times follows members of its staff through a series of critical events in the evolution of how news stories are told including Capitol Hill coverage, the rise of WikiLeaks, and the fall of The Tribune Company. Through it all we see veterans of the Times’ up and down struggle with advents of the new age and can’t help but wonder whether advances in technology are the death or savior of objective journalism.

When The Atlantic published an article expressing doubts about the future financial viability of The New York Times in light of emerging online trends in news consumption, it received heavy backlash from those unable to conceive of a reality where the Times was the central hub of modern journalism. As a newspaper, The New York Times has set the pace for modern reporting. Yet it’s a static medium. Once an edition is printed it’s out for the day – and it typically doesn’t get to have the next say on news events until the next day. Meanwhile, online venues like The Huffington Post and even Twitter have a continuous 24-hour window where new stories trickle in and explode as the world adapts to them in real-time. In a world where online advertising pays next to nothing and print advertising seems content to plummet downward to meet it, how can a journalistic institution stay afloat?

The dilemma of relevance and profitability seem all but impossible when WikiLeaks, whose leader Julian Assange advocates activism over journalism, can break huge stories and drop them online with little fanfare. Even though blogging has received something of a black-eye for credibility in recent years for its lack of fact-checking, the fact still remains that releasing information online works much faster than printing it in a paper. To make matters worse, the paygrade for online content comes nowhere close to a sustainable model for a company like The New York Times that has roughly 1,100 employees on its newsroom floor producing content which, once online, can be repurposed or copied thousands of times over across the web making it next to impossible for the Times to be recognized as the forefront of news even if it is.

When newspaper companies have tried to shift their value systems and restructure [read: downsize] to stay current and competitive in a wired world, they end up broke like the Tribune Company or degraded like The Washington Post. The latter used to stand as the pinnacle of investigative journalism thanks to its coverage of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate , but as the paper fell on hard financial times it had to shrink its news force and in the following years went through a serious decline. The staff and editors of The New York Times look at papers like The Post, or The Los Angeles Times, and fret that they represent the inevitable future of all print journalism. Their fear seems well-placed.

Is professional journalism heading for its deathbed? Or is it already there? If companies like The New York Times are to have any stake in the future at all, it lies in their conviction to actively seeking out the stories and not simply repackaging them like the majority of the internet. You would think that’s common sense for any outlet claiming to tout news, but oddly enough few online sources go to the same degree of investigation that The New York Times still does. But even if they continue to go out and research the leads and create compelling copy, where do they release it? The Times’ shift to the web and its model requiring a subscription to view additional articles beyond an initial ten has found limited traction and now has the institution scratching its head trying to figure out how it can reconfigure its once profitable model that derived revenue from subscriptions and paid advertising. The future seems bleak for newspapers, even with the rising popularity of tablets that lend themselves to page-by-page consumption.

It feels like page one has officially lost out to the homepage.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

For a documentary, the Blu-ray bursts at the seams with extras. After you listen to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein defend the future of journalism as being furthered by technology and not doomed by it, Emily Bell adds to the argument by outlining the steps needed to keep journalism relevant in a digital age and Sarah Ellison, a former reporter of The Wall Street Journal, discusses Rupert Murdoch’s murderous vendetta against The New York Times and legitimate journalism. Production featurettes include a reaction reel of journalists to the film, a Q&A with the cast and crew, additional scenes, and an interview with Tim Arango, who became the head of the Iraq bureau of the NYT.

"Page One: Inside The New York Times" is on sale October 18, 2011 and is rated R. Documentary. Directed by Andrew Rossi.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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