Thursday, June 23, 2011


Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Lincoln's Film Society.
Image by The NewsGallery
This weekend we attended a screening at the newly added Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln's Film Society (pictured left), with its first ever feature film: Page One

It's a documentary directed by Andrew Rossi, about the front page staff of the New York Times. Behind the scenes there's about a hand full of journalist who're highlighted, all of whom are white men. 

The story sets the tone that these journalists work quite hard in maintaining the integrity of the highest ranked newspaper in the U.S., in the midst of print media's impending collapse. In the front of the narrative are Brian Stelter and David Carr—both of which are reporters for the Media section of the paper, and both of which, for the most part, do not fit your typical Ivy League, upper class prototype of the journalism landscape.  

Jolted by the side-effects of technology's democratization of information, Page One captures the Times' struggle to stay afloat along with other print medias (some of which folded), and further exasperated by the economic meltdown. The controversies divulged behind Rossi's camera, reveal how at one point during the crisis, the paper had to send a package letter to the entire staff—asking any willing volunteers to resign prior to assigning lay offs—it is definitely one of the most chilling scenes in the film.

Q&A with Brian Stelter at Lincoln Film Center for Page One.
Image by The NewsGallery.
Stelter, a former political media blogger who once hailed from his grandparents' basement as a pro-blogger, is at the heart of the new-media debate. He is a hyperactive tweeter, who shuns his finger on other journalists who don't employ social-media to communicate with their public. "I'm trying to tweet during this Q&A," he told the audience with conviction as the 26 year old, wearing jeans and flip-flops answered and reveled in taking part of the New York Times lifeline documentary. 

In the film, Stelter is shown working on his desk with at least four screens (a computer, a laptop, an iPad, and a mini TV), while talking to sources about the infamous WikiLeaks leakage, one of whom actually being Julian Assange himself—and who ironically defines his position as someone between a journalist and an activist in the exploited phone interview.  

When asked why the cast of the film represented only that of white men—lacking gender and race representation: "I think the disjointed film reflects the state of journalism." Indeed the movie does suggests a close parallel between the time of the publication's inception when the whole entire masthead was entirely dominated by men, to now.

In fact, Stelter admitted that the Times' Page One staff is made up of 14 correspondents—only two of which are women—and both declined to participate in the making of the film. "For fear of scaring off sources," Stelter elaborated.

Carr on the other hand, is even more of an anachronism in this New York Times telltale story. A former crack addict, who's been arrested twice, and having been on Welfare as a single dad of two, comes off as the underdog hero for the prominent-yet wrestling-to-survive -publication.

There are many compelling scenes of Carr in the film—leading one to inwardly cheer for him to win his battles: like when he schooled a Vice Magazine staffer during an interview about the random merge between CNN and the hip-hop mag.  

Offended and Baffled, the former junkie vociferated at the rookie—reminding him who was initially and still is at the forefront of journalism, and that just because his new funder sent him to Africa to obtain more Vice readers—going once most definitely doesn't make him the expert on international reporting; or when he refers to Stelter as "an actual robot, designed in the Times' Center basement, built to destroy him." 

All joking aside, in reality Carr plays the ideal reporter: an agent who serves the public to uncover the truth—checking, balancing, and restoring integrity in the power of the press.  One of the the pivotal anecdotes in the movie is when he manages to expose and thereby, dethrone ill-moraled executives who bought off the Tribune Company (parent company of the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune among others).  The threat of a lawsuit ensues, while the Times stands its ground, in the name of what Carr and other NY Timers refer to as "the chip," (meaning exceptional journalism).  He also goes around giving lectures at media conferences, defending the continued significance and therefor relevance of the paper for the many who question the need for traditional reporting, all the while stealing their content to begin with. 

And that's exactly the ultimate message of Page One: "Consider the Source," which Stelter also reiterates at the end of his interview. 

Underscored beneath what is at times a rightful, and yet at other times a highly inflated righteousness of superiority above all other publications, is that a world without the New York Times— would be a lesser world: of knowledge, reference, of conscience, of intelligence and sense—and yes at the end of the day, some excellent and courageous reporting. 

What is also worth noting however, is that the movie portrays a very limited point of view on the paper's behalf. Of about 1,150 staff writers, we're only allowed to see it in a very particular angle—through the lens of about a handful of white men—the ones who agreed to be followed around for the year that it took to capture this film.

At the very end of Stelter's interview, he was confronted with a very poignant commentary from the audience: how the Times doesn't in fact cover all current events—as in Japan's ongoing predicament, Angela Merkel's recent visit to the White House, down to President Obama's daily agenda.  Completely caught off guard, the young new-media reporter fell almost tweetless, "Yes, that's true. It makes me upset that we didn't cover [those stories]," he finally responded candidly.

The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prize to date. By March of this year, the print/new-media publication has recently put up its pay-wall—requiring its online readers to pay for its extensively rich and innovative online content.  And after seeing Page One
, you may even wonder why it was ever free to begin with: Especially if, "Journalism is alive and well, and feisty, especially at the New York Times" - Bill Keller.

Update post film production: On June 2, 2011, Bill Keller stepped down as the Executive Editor for the Times to become a full-time writer.  He is succeeded by Jill Abramson (former Managing Editor).  Abramson is the first woman to ever become the paper's Executive Editor to date. 

Page One is now playing at the new wing of Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln's Film Society, in New York until July 7, 2011.  For all other cities, please check your local listings. 

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