Friday, December 2, 2011

Page One: Inside the New York Times

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences recently released it's shortlist for the films in contention for Best Documentary Feature for this years Oscars.  As is always the case, the first knee-jerk reaction is of what was left out.  There was the art house hit car racing flick Senna, the sensationally fun house that was Errol Morris' Tabloid, and a team of acclaimed Werner Herzog films (Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into the Abyss) that failed to make the cut.  However, one the of the most glaring and striking omissions was Page One: Inside the New York Times, a fiercely intelligent, thoughtful and relevant tale of the machinations at play covered throughout a calendar year at perhaps the most powerful and important media powerhouses of all time.  Director Andrew Rossi was given unparalleled access during a time when the newspaper industry is most vulnerable, endlessly fearing the fate of a dying industry succumbing to the new and know of modern technological way of attaining and distributing information.  While the hard working men and women at the Times attest to values of responsible journalism indebted to professional accountability and old-school ethics, that fear is prevalent in every shot of this rich, absorbing film.  For an institution that so easily can rest upon its laurels of being the dominant news source not just of the nation, but the world, the high days of the breakthrough of such things as the Pentagon Papers seem like a thing of the past-- the film (and seemingly the Times itself do indeed heed the facts of certain lapse in credibility recently-- both Judith Miller and Jayson Blair are earmarked.)  Yet the film finds the perfect way to lapse those fears and the efforts made by The New York Times to retain not just it's integrity, but reinvent itself during times of upheaval.  There's an avid, impassioned debate between the merits of the old method of receiving and delivering news, and that complicated web that appears now because of powerful online outfits-- one's with sexier tag lines and contemporary media sharks with little interest in valuable information.  The real story is that The New York Times, in an age when many formerly grand newspapers are going under or merely whittling down to irrelevance, is still the most powerful and trendsetting source of news in the world.  Rossi especially chooses to follow the story of David Carr, a colorful and ingratiating media columnist whose backstory consists of drug abuse and single parenting, and it proves entertaining and illuminating, for Carr came to the Times late in life, but spurred on by his verbosity, intelligence and energy proves the venerable institution hasn't lost its way in finding talent, or delivering stories better than anyone else.  And while times are grim for this industry, there's a hopeful narrative in the tale of declining ad sales, sagging subscriptions and layoffs, that the most integral cog in this machine will retain its place on top.  A-

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