Ripped from today’s headlines, and the imperiled machinery that produces the headlines, this captivating and timely documentary offers a slice of life in America’s most august newspaper institution and details its fall and hopeful rise—or, at least, reinvention. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi has done an excellent job of zooming in on the precipitous onslaught of forces threatening the very existence of both the New York Times and the paper-based newspaper industry as a whole.
For now, at least, the old gray lady has dodged a bullet. Further, the newspaper industry (take, for instance, the very paper you’re reading) is hanging on and learning how to adapt to new cyberized realities of public info and news consumption. That’s the good news. What is still up in the air is the residual dilution of journalistic ethics in the cheapened atmosphere of the blogosphere. Clearly, though, there still exists the long-standing “New York Times effect,” in which what happens in the Times gets reworked—and sometimes directly linked—through “aggregator” sites like Gawker and the Huffington Post.
Along the way, Rossi also brings us inside the mythic newspaper: inside its structure, the actual buzzing offices where deadlines are met and breaking decisions are made. It’s interesting to see some of the names we read spring to life, especially in the case of the rumpled charisma of media journalist David Carr, the star of the show here. The former crack addict and jailbird has emerged as a great example of the importance of a feisty, truth-seeking writer we need on such cases as the Chicago Tribune’s malfeasance and mishandling of its media holding. Editor Bill Keller (who recently announced he was stepping down from the post) speaks to the radical differences between the time of the Pentagon Papers in the ’70s and the WikiLeaks revelations of last year.
Another documentary, or series thereof, could tell the larger Times saga, but Rossi wisely keeps his focus on the last few years, as the post-2008 economic crisis and waning of the old newspaper model have sent the industry reeling. Because of the topicality of the material, the film may be destined to be yesterday’s news, but for now, it tells a riveting and relevant tale and tells it deftly. All the news fit to print is still being printed, or posted. To be continued.