Mn journalist focus of NYT film

Production line
A scene from "Page One" which examines a year inside the New York Times
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

A new critically acclaimed documentary examining the rapidly changing media landscape through the eyes of a former Minnesota journalist

Opening this weekend in the Twin Cities is "Page One: Inside the New York Times." The film started off as a profile of media columnist David Carr - but then became a much bigger story.

When Andrew Rossi approached David Carr with his idea for a film, the Minneapolis native reacted in a very Midwestern way.

"He said 'I'd like to film sort of media meltdown over your shoulder' and I thought 'That's a really good idea, and I want absolutely nothing to do with it.'"

So Carr, a one-time reporter for the Twin Cities Reader who battled both drug addiction and cancer before getting back on the rails at the Times, came up with a plan.

"I said, 'Why don't you just step upstairs and talk to my bosses who are just such a fan of openness and transparency, and certainly would want the New York Times to be represented by a wheezy-voiced former crackhead," Carr remembers, his voice infused with irony. "I thought it was over. I thought 'OK I've taken care of that.'"

But Rossi got the go-ahead and began rolling his camera on a tumultuous year at the Times witnessing of soaring costs. plunging revenues and mounting internet competition.

Carr and Rossi
David Carr (right) says he initially didn't like the idea of being the center of a movie about the New York Times, when Andrew Rossi (left) pitched the idea. However time and events changed that.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

In "Page One" there is triumph as reporters break big stories. There's sadness as the Times lays off 100 newsroom staff. And there's confusion as the first of the Wikileaks stories breaks and the Times staff try to work out not just how to report the story, but also the implications for journalism.

Rossi says what started out as a profile of one person became an examination of whole industries, all in crisis.

"We are focusing on a handful of reporters who cover the media, and through those stories that they are covering we are getting a broader sense of the music industry, the film industry, the television industry, what's happening on the internet."

As cameraman and director Andrew Rossi was right there as it played out.

"When I started shooting you could cut the tension with a knife in the air. Really the atmosphere was just remarkably dark and intense, which is such a cinematic backdrop."

In the center is David Carr.

"It's so hilarious in a way," Carr said. "because my whole early media career was attacking the Star Tribune, attacking the Washington Post, attacking the New York Times. You know, the alternative media critic and just a big bag of rocks, and just fling them over and over. And here I am, I've become what I assailed."

Newsmeeting
The NYT newsroom staff meets in a scene from "Page One."
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

In fact he has become an aggressive defender of the Times and its brand of journalism. He's particularly critical of new media outlets which simply rewrite and recast information which has originated from old-fashioned reporting at places like the Times.

"All we've got to do is aggregate what is out there and add a little secret sauce and everyone will be better informed. I have no patience for that," he says. "It's the pilot fish looking at the whale and wishing that the whale would die."

Repeatedly in Page One Carr confronts people running news websites and challenges them to do their own reporting.

"My daughter Erin said after the movie, 'Dad you are always yelling at people. You shouldn't be such a thug when you are on film.'"

Recently both the Times and the Wall Street Journal reported increased circulations. Yet the challenges facing modern journalism remain. Andrew Rossi says he hopes his film will get people thinking about the value of the media in their lives.

"There's not an 'aha' moment per se. But there is a lot of emotionally transmitted insight about things we hear all the time: that newspapers are dying, and that the blogosphere has a lot of information that can't be trusted and we fear for the future of media."

Rossi says he doesn't expect Page One to solve the crisis, but he does hope it will encourage people to devote more mental energy and money for media in the future.

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