Can 'Page One' Give The Times a 'September Issue' Moment?

Positive Publicity Beckons for the Gray Lady

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NEW YORK ( -- Is the Gray Lady about to have a "September Issue" moment?

"Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times" has been playing at the Sundance Film Festival this week. And not unlike "The September Issue," the 2009 documentary about the inner workings at Vogue magazine, "Page One" serves at least in part as a marketing vehicle for the publication it examines.

Director Andrew Rossi, whose earlier work includes the Al Jazeera documentary "Control Room," doesn't try to veil that fact.

"If you care about news contributing to the way that we vote," he says, "the way that we make policy, the way that we just are informed citizens, I think that hopefully you'll come away from this film thinking 'You know, I should support my local newspaper,' or The Times, or whatever sort of source of information is important to you.'"

Where "The September Issue" was a lot of fun, though, we're a little worried by Mr. Rossi's promise that "Page One" includes "a lot of verité time spent watching people as they practice their craft." If he means watching reporters talk on the phone or type out articles, this doc is going to be one long slog.

Thankfully there's David Carr up in this clip, whom we're not surprised to hear provides the most juice in the movie even though he shares screen time with characters like Gawker founder Nick Denton, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, New Yorker editor David Remnick and Atlantic columnist Michael Hirschorn.

Writes The Daily Beast on the way to finding the film "gripping":

When one of Vice Magazine's young Gonzo executives tells Carr that Vice has been reporting on the lack of toilets in Liberia (resulting in humans defecating on the beach), but the Times wants to write about "surfing," Carr shoots back: "Just because you put on a fucking safari hat and looked at poop doesn't give you the right" to attack the paper of record.

It is still not entirely clear why the Times, a paper which has never felt the need to bow down or explain itself, allowed Rossi to infiltrate its inner sanctum.

Later in the interview, Carr blasts: "I don't do corporate portraiture. What the fuck is going on with your partnership with CNN?"

"My daughter, when she saw (the film), she said, 'You look like a thug,'" Carr told The Daily Beast at a dinner on Main Street following the premiere.

Leaning back in his chair, a striped woolen scarf thrown cavalierly around his neck, Carr frowned. "I don't like how mean I am in the movie." The one "mean" scene he says he doesn't regret was when he does a masterful takedown of Newser founder Michael Wolff (leaving the normally unflappable columnist speechless), during a panel discussion about the media. "That, I like," Carr said.

Beyond its entertainment value, does "Page One" deliver a ton of substance? Not as much as critics want.

Here's the Guardian:

"Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times" sounds like a pretty authoritative title for a documentary, but Andrew Rossi's scattershot study of the "Gray Lady" (as the text-heavy paper used to be known) never really breaks the surface. Indeed, it's hard to know what Rossi was expecting; as you might expect, his contacts there have one eye on the camera at all times, and though many elements are presented as candid -- Rossi is granted access to staff meetings large and small, and is present on a day of mass redundancies -- no one ever lets the company line slip. And let's face it, why would they? Newsroom journalists are the most media-savvy professionals of them all."


Ultimately, the otherwise likable 'Page One' only really fails in its attempt to say something. Rossi spreads the film over too many areas, not knowing whether to simply observe with a direct cinema approach or to tie together a greater examination and contemplation of the times of the Times. But if the end 'where are they now?' titles (through which we learn that Stelter indeed lost 90 pounds over the course of filming) are any indication, he seems to have mostly been interested in doing a puff piece on the lives and work of the few reporters and Media Desk editor Bruce Headlam -- also an enjoyable and compelling character -- as opposed to a look at the news industry and process as a whole. That many will think this an important film is reason to label it a dubious sort of journalism itself. So don't believe the hype, but do enjoy the documentary anyway.


Recorded over a period of 14 months, Rossi's coverage of daily news meetings and interviews with editorial staffers aren't as juicy as one might have hoped or expected, but for journos (who will likely rep the film's most appreciative audience), simply being a fly on these hallowed walls will offer much to savor. Excellent tech package includes black-and-white footage of the newsroom at its 1950s peak, a precious yet saddening reminder of the profession's more prosperous days.

And former Times reporter Sharon Waxman at The Wrap:

"On the one hand, the film directed by Andrew Rossi does an able job of documenting the critically important role that the Times continues to play in news-gathering and dissemination -- and why it can be so damn exciting to be there. On the other hand, the film gives a rather superficial assessment of what everybody really wants to know: Will the Times make it, or not? Can the newspaper of record change fast enough, dramatically enough, to adjust to an upside-down business model? That he doesn't answer."

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