Friday, 9 September 2011


Madman Films
Now Showing

Call it ironic or prescient but on my way to the screening of Page One, the documentary chronicling a year at The New York Times as it struggles to remain relevant and commercially viable in the new media world order, I discovered the closure of a(nother) bookstore.

The screening was being held at the Dendy Newtown, and whilst walking along King Street I realised that the Elizabeth's Secondhand Bookstore, which had been a Newtown fixture for as long as I could remember, had been replaced by a(nother) Pie Face franchise.

Not that disappearing bookstores are uncommon nowadays - sadly, it seems to be an all-too-frequent occurrence - but surely there is still a market, even as we venture further and further down the rabbit hole that is the digital age, for pre-loved books, no? Just as there is/should remain a market for print journalism.

Page One, directed by Andrew Rossi, concerns itself with The New York Times doing battle in a world which increasingly goes online for its news, and expects that news to be free. In 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis and as other long established American newspapers folded, The NYT had to lay-off 100 workers.

Not that the doco depicts the internet as the big evil but its protagonists, namely columnist David Carr, argue rather convincingly that getting it right is far more important than being first. He also points out that even as the likes of Twitter and aggregated news sites become peoples' preferred daily news sources, without traditional media sources such as the NYT, a lot of these sites have nothing.

Twitter might be able to spread the word faster and more immediately than a paper which has to wait until the next day to drop, but the new media won't always have the depth of analysis, or even the professionalism of a broadsheet. And there remains a distinction, however increasingly small it is becoming, between fact and opinion.

Then there's Wikileaks, which fortuitously for Rossi and his team, made their mark during the filming of the doco by releasing hundreds of cables related to the United States' involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. WikiLeaks chose to share some of these cables with The New York Times and other respected international newspapers; an uneasy alliance for the team at the NYT news desk: are they part of the problem or the solution?

Page One should provide the same thrill for journalists and writers which The September Issue did for fashionistas. I enjoyed (much to my surprise) that latter documentary a lot - I'm not the least bit interested in fashion - but Page One is much more in my wheelhouse; I could watch a series on the day-to-day workings of The New York Times (here's looking at you ABC, SBS et al).

And give me David Carr over Anna Wintour any day. The direct, deceptively curmudgeonly but no doubt heartfelt Carr (think an older, emaciated Paul Giamatti) staunchly defends both the NYT and print journalism, challenging the rise of new media (though he does concede his respect for the reach an impact of Twitter) and exposing those who have wreaked havoc on his profession and its institutions from within, namely the financial powers-that-be at The Los Angeles Times.

2011 has been an exceptional year for documentaries, with plenty more still to come in the next three months. And Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times is one of the better ones, specially if you have the slightest interest in journalism, media or the printed word.

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