Last night, sitting on my couch, mindlessly munching on cookie dough, I flipped through my newly acquired Netflix live streaming. I’m not a big television watcher, but occasionally I want to soak up some cathode rays like the rest of my hazy-eyed compatriots. Though the pull of “Toddlers & Tiaras” was strong, I ended up making a more (seemingly) mind-enhancing choice: Page One: Inside the New York Times.
I’ll be honest, I started to nod off a bit toward the end. I don’t know what that says about the film or my age, but take that how you will.
The New York Times is, undeniably, a remarkable institution. Since the day it first opened its doors in the mid 1800s, it has pulled in more than 100 Pulitzers, pushed Nixon over the edge with the Pentagon Papers and even had a few scandals of its own (where exactly were those weapons of mass destruction, again?). The documentary was supposed to show how this iconic giant is incorporating new media– Twitter, YouTube, blogging and the Internet in general– into its massive foundation of print journalism. Granted, the film did mention Twitter about half a dozen times, but mostly I learned a lot about David Carr and his coke addiction, as well as how the world will plummet into the ninth circle of Hell if the Times goes under.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the paper. I want to see it survive the online takeover and emerge from its paper cocoon as something timeless, which supports the two most important virtues of journalism:
- Giving the public unbiased information that they can use to make well-informed decisions about the world around them, and
- Causing more good than harm.
But that is NOT what the plot summary on Netflix said this documentary was about. I was hoping to discover how this newspaper giant was transitioning into a multimedia giant. I wanted to learn how reporters remain accountable in the age of Twitter. I wanted to see how they meld the worlds between unbiased reporting and opinionated blogging. I wanted to learn how the Times is adapting to the new user interface, which comes along with a new user attention span.
The interviewees talked a lot about the depressing numbers facing print publications during this electronic revolution, but didn’t really talk about innovative ways to keep up. It was interesting, but somewhat alarmist, with no real solution presented. It didn’t really give you an understanding of how the newspaper industry can grow with the digital age, just simply how it struggles.
“Like a shopper at the supermarket without a shopping list, ‘Page One’ careers around the aisles picking up this item and that one, ultimately coming home with three jars of peanut butter and no 2-percent milk,” said Michael Kinsley, in his review of the documentary, oddly enough, in The New York Times.