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Page One: Inside the New York Times
(No longer in theaters)
Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times spends a couple of minutes on the eponymous front page (what leads, what goes on page two) before jumping around the paper’s headquarters like an overeager puppy. Rossi evidently cottoned early on to media writer David Carr, who becomes the de facto protagonist, both a lively personality and someone who examines, on a daily basis, the overarching question: Can America’s best newspaper survive in this new multi-platform world? An ex-drug addict, Carr is quick on the uptake and pugnaciously defends the Times against any and all who belittle it: His evisceration on a panel of clammy aggregator Michael Wolff is a mighty moment. But a hipster like Carr is an odd figure on which to center this portrait. He’s the diametric opposite of the prototypical Times lifer and no reflection of its historic culture.
What Rossi misses is that until recently, the Times was contemptuous of other media. Rival papers were only reluctantly cited, and if a subject wasn’t covered, it didn’t, in the editors’ view, exist. Writers’ idiosyncratic voices were determinedly ironed out, and anything that undermined the paper’s faux objectivity was viewed with distaste. (I once freelanced a story on a Lord of the Rings marathon, and the editor cut the most intriguing quote, from a fangirl, on the grounds that — this is an exact quotation — he “would never socialize with such a person.”) Rossi touches glancingly on the scandals of Judith Miller and Jayson Blair but only to show how they hurt the paper’s reputation, not as products of institutional arrogance. And he does a half-assed job portraying the paper’s dalliance with Julian Assange, whom editors regarded with palpable squeamishness and whose trove of information they barely examined.That said, the Times is now without peer, and Rossi catches its writers’ and editors’ tireless sense of responsibility, which mostly transcends their pretentiousness. And its culture is changing for the better, unlike its rivals’. One of Carr’s big stories is the Chicago-based Tribune mess featuring the destructive, Gollum-like publisher Sam Zell. Thank God the Times would never socialize with such a person.