Monday, September 26, 2011

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Last Friday I went to watch the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times at Cinematheque in the Exchange District. The film looks at what the future is for journalism and specifically print newspapers in a world where people can get their news from social media like Facebook and Twitter, bloggers, and free online sources.

The film follows David Carr, who according to his bio on the NY Times website writes for the "Media Equation column for the Monday Business section of the New York Times that focuses on media issues including print, digital, film, radio and television." He is seen ironically covering the closings of newspapers and the firing of reporters in the film.

The film shows organizations such as Newser and Vice, and Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the news website the Huffington Post, claiming that traditional investigative reporters, such as David Carr of the New York Times, are no longer needed or relevant. I think Carr quickly negates that argument by holding up a print out of the Newser homepage and then a print out of the homepage with all of the stories originally printed elsewhere cut out. As Carr looks through the holes of the paper at the audience at the Intelligence Squared debate, I believe he makes his point on the value of journalists writing original material, as he does at the NY Times. Carr also shuts up a loud, young enthusiastic reporter for Vice TV in his own undeniable style that is perfectly captured in the film on several occasions by noting that the New York Times had been on the ground in Africa for much longer than Vice.

I think these two instances are important because they show that the need for reporters to be on the ground doing original reporting is a necessity for other organizations in the business of news and reporting because they break the news, which gives others the opportunity to work off the work they've already done. If there weren't reporters on the ground in war zones or personally calling sources and crafting sources, where would the material come from?

But, as I just mentioned, the news is a business. It's hard to keep newspapers running because their business model is incongruent for the digital environment of the news. The newspaper industry has faced hard times lately. I think the film did a good job of highlighting the two main reasons the newspaper industry is struggling: the fact that advertising revenue has gone down and people not buying the print newspaper. I think that the film made a good point in showing that the reason newspapers are struggling is not because that people do not care about the news, the New York Times, or reporters, but because of the clash of a decrease in advertising revenue and free online versions of papers emerging.

At the end of the film we are left with the question of how the newspaper industry will have to change to still produce credible, well-researched journalism and survive as a business: i.e. make money.

The New York Times has issued a paywall for their website, allowing people to view 20 articles a month before being blocked and asked to become a digital subscriber. The New York Times remains loyal to their current subscribers by giving them unlimited digital access to the paper.

I really loved the movie and would recommend anyone to see it, even if he/she is not a journalist. It showed this training journalist why newspaper reporters are important to journalism. I always knew newspaper journalists were important, but now I have an even clearer idea of why after watching this film.

I also thought that it was very interesting how David Carr embraced Twitter, and as he says in the film, it "did not turn his brain to mush." Brian Stelter, another NY Times reporter, also says in the film he doesn't know why a reporter wouldn't be on Twitter. I've had conversations with older people who believe Twitter is a trend. Well, if the NY Times is using it, I think it might be a trend one in the news business might want to pay attention to. I believe Twitter is an important new aspect to journalism, but will not replace it and certainly isn't trying to in my opinion.

Although I loved the movie, and getting a glimpse into the NY Times newsroom, which is visually magically beautiful, I was scared to hear all the layoffs and newspaper closings. However, it may be my youthful optimism, but I think there will always be a place (and a job) for someone who is passionate about journalism as a journalist and I know there will always be a need for reporters who go to the source and create original pieces.

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