To the Times, with love

Documentary dedicated to the Grey Lady is unfocused

Looks like the New York Times has found a way to cut its marketing budget. Rather than endlessly interrupting my daily viewings of "Jeopardy!" with ads for the Weekender subscription package, NYT brass can simply screen Andrew Rossi's "Page One: Inside the New York Times."

Rossi and crew spent a year, beginning in 2008, with unlimited access to particular parts of the newsroom, focusing specifically on its media desk, headed up by editor Bruce Headlam and populated by colorful characters such as froggy-voiced columnist David Carr and go-get-'em reporter Brian Stelter, whom Carr calls "a robot assembled in the basement of the New York Times to destroy David Carr."

The media desk is an interesting choice, considering the ever-changing face of its beat. There's a whole host of important, weighty stories to choose from, such as Stelter's coverage of WikiLeaks, especially because of the Times' eventual involvement with the renegade, whistle-blowing website.

But it's Carr who emerges as the documentary's hero. A former addict and single father (if you haven't read his utterly compelling memoir, The Night of the Gun, pick it up), Carr is a natural character. He is the type of journalist who would fit in equally in the present and in the era when reporters wore fedoras with press passes sticking in the brim. Carr came to the Times late in his career, so he has "an immigrant's love for the place," meaning he is willing and ready to squash any dissent about the Times' inherent greatness.

"Page One's" biggest misstep is that it does not focus fully on Carr.

Focus is a problem for Rossi. A year inside the most venerable media institution in the country is a tall order. It's impossible to catch it all, despite Rossi's attempts, flitting in and out of the newsroom. It's a valiant effort but it means "Page One" lacks a coherent theme. Is this about the inner workings of the media desk? Or is it about the New York Times' evolving place in the media alongside uppity websites like the Huffington Post and Newser?

"Page One" also makes it look as if there are only a handful of women on the Times' comparatively large staff. And many of those women are only brought into the discussion because they are taking buyouts and leaving the paper.

Ultimately, "Page One" is a love letter to the Grey Lady. In times of stormy prognostications all around the news industry, "Page One" is a reminder of what a newspaper can do, and hopefully will continue doing in the future.


Page One: Inside the New York Times

Directed by Andrew Rossi. With David Carr. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 28 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for language including some sexual references).