In still images from the documentary, Editor-in-Chief Jimmy Young looks over the day’s paper.(Courtesy Prince Spells/Centre Daily Times/MCT)
Like many Americans, Aaron Matthews said he was feeling let down by the media. He tested his lack of faith by putting a campus newspaper in the spotlight of his latest documentary, The Paper, which had its first airing April 7 at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The film is slated for a national airing on PBS as part of its Independent Lens series that begins in October.
Matthews’ film focuses on the staff of Penn State’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. It highlights the frustrations and difficulties the staff faces in simply getting the story.
Although the Collegian rivals many campus newspapers, it, like many media outlets, faces declining circulation and disappointment from readers. On a day-to-day basis, its up-and-coming rookie journalists test their morals and beliefs against what is newsworthy, all the while trying to beat the many obstacles that stand in the way of their information.
“Post-9/11 especially, I was frustrated by a lack of information and the feeling that news organizations weren’t providing me with the news I needed to be an informed citizen,” Matthews said.
Matthews, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native and graduate of Wesleyan University, said he got the idea for The Paper after reading a magazine article about a man who was revisiting his high school newspaper. Matthews said he was excited about the idea of going back to where journalists begin their careers.
“It’s the training ground for future newsmakers,” he said. “All the essential questions of our time are being played out there.”
During filming of The Paper, Collegian staff members find themselves embroiled in controversies on campus, struggling with differences within the newsroom and finding their morale slipping as they face difficulties in getting the information for their stories.
The range of issues is part of the appeal of the film, Matthews said.
“There are issues in the film that affect many Americans. The issues the young Collegian reporters face are issues that a lot of people care about.
“They are dealing with social issues that go beyond just the frame of news media,” he said.
“The idea of doing a film on young journalists just struck me as really fresh and new because they are struggling with these issues for the first time,” Matthews said. “A film on the New York Times wouldn’t have been as interesting. They are hardened journalists who had already confronted these things. It would have seemed too predictable.”
Matthews said the film offers people a chance to look at the media in a new light.
“The structure of the film—having young people confront these questions—forces viewers to become reporters themselves,” he said.
“How we, as a country, deal with the issue of declining circulation I think is of paramount importance. It’s really important to our democracy.
“Do we give the readers what they want or what they need?” In “The Paper,” the subjects struggle with issues such as their role in the community.
For more information on the Philadelphia Film Festival, visit www.phillyfests.com. After Philadelphia, the film will be viewed at film festivals along the East Coast.
For more information regarding the documentary, including updates on screenings and broadcasts, visit www.thepaperdocumentary.com.