Much huffing and puffing has been filling the media world lately with the launch of the new Aaron Sorkin series The Newsroom. The talented intellectual giant who brought us The West Wing, with all it’s rambly dialogue in woundy corridors has set his sights on the media business. Haven’t seen the pilot yet, but virtually all reviews proclaim it to be overwrought and preachy and too-Sorkinesqu. But even with that shellacking, I still plan to watch the opener.
Which brings up something I have now seen, a movie about the media biz which has probably had fewer eyeballs view it then will see the latest Sorkin opus, the documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times. Released theatrically in 2011, it takes a snapshot of what this venerable newspaper is like and it attempts, like all members of the dead tree society, to re-invent the wheel for this amazing 21st century world.
Much of the narrative thread for our making-of-the-sausage journey is provided by David Carr. He is a crusty twice drug addicted curmudgeon of vast experience and take no prisoners attitude. It is no wonder the camera love his personality and gravely voice, which provides us the only f-bomb in the film, dropped onto some unsuspecting net pioneers who knows not what they are talking about.
We follow Carr along all the various issues popping up at this time, starting with the dichotomy of old and media in warfare. The wonders of twitter are espoused to Carr by another reporter, and after some initial resistance, he adopts the technology wholeheartedly. “The real value of this service is listening to a wired, collective voice” Carr says while checking a feed. He does not hate this new world, he just hates the hypocrites who run it.
When they show Carr participating in one of the numerous media panels shown, he gets annoyed at Michael Wolff, founder of newser.com. Wolff rails against how bad most newspapers are, which causes Carr to hold up a printout of a newser page with all the aggregated NYT items chopped out. “But I wonder if Michael has really thought through of getting rid of mainstream media content?” Carr says to a poker faced Wolff.
This brings up the touchy issue of aggregating content. The NYT wants to erect the dreaded paywall because Google, among so many others, passes around all media outlets works like candy. But someone still has to pay for all that candy somewhere, somehow. So many online do not realize where the original materials they read comes from. The New York Times provides so much news and analysis, to so many places, with not all of it being even acknowledged or paid for.
This lack of basic courtesy, along with legitimate drains of advertising revenue to the internet, helps cause stocks to plummet in 2009. The resulting crunches bring on layoffs affecting even veteran reporters. William Keller, the Executive Editor, has the unenviable task of picking and choosing who will survive, and the pain is noticeable for him. Carr takes a very laid back attitude towards this event, and even blames the top brass for helping bring it on. “Their was this decades of organization hubris about our know excellence and our own dominance and then in a matter of 18 months, all of a sudden the air ionized the situation and everybody started asking the question: can the New York Times go out of business?” Carr declared.
The Times survived. As they also did the Jason Blair and Judith Miller reporting scandals from just a few years before, mentioned here as well. Other issues come up, sure to spark debate. Was the second Wikileaks info dump viewed as a partnership or as source? Will tablets save the day, like Rupert Murduch predicts, with much hope? When the NYT hires on a young anonymous blogger to work for them, does that constitute a lowering of standards? That same blogger, Media Reporter Brian Stelter, is the one who had the almost impossible task of getting Carr onto the twitter.
The wild and wooly year showcased in Page One: Inside The New York Times gives much affirmation for those in the media and much enlightenment for those in the general public. It would not surprise me if Sorkin’s new show has the opposite affect, where media people shake their heads in disbelief and everyone else thinks this is how it all really happens. I have always been wary of how little people understand how the news fits together.
Page One shows you how page one comes together.
P.S. Nerd moment at the 52 minute mark. Seeing David Simon arguing with Arianna Huffington at a media conference. My jaw met the floor.