Reviews

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times

Page One focuses on the Times' journalists worrying about how they're handling the digital landscape.

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times

Director: Andrew Rossi
Cast: David Carr, Bruce Headlam, Brian Stelter, Bill Keller
Rated: R
Studio: Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media
Year: 2011
US date: 2010-06-24 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-09-11 (General release)
Website
Trailer
I'm sorry to leave the Times.

-- Katherine Bouton, former Theater and Books editor

"We're a perfect example of a culture that is having what we do completely ripped open," says Bruce Headlam. "So, it's… " And before he can finish his thought, the phone rings. This is what it's like, you guess, being the media editor at the New York Times, always taking a call, always making a decision.

Even if not every call has to do with the new sense of siege at the paper, the abrupt end to this interview suggests that Andrew Rossi's documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times, captures daily life for employees. Those featured here describe the changing mood at the office: as the film shows the newspaper-making machines producing each day's product, sleek white-on-white common spaces or cluttered editors' offices, the institution appears simultaneously old-fashioned and new-new-new. Reporters stare into computer screens or speak into phones, their fingers tap-tapping as they nod and listen.

As work goes on, the movie contends, workers worry. They're concerned that the nature of what they do is changing. "There's been a death watch on the New York Times as long as I've been covering media," says Sarah Ellison (formerly of the Wall Street Journal). "It hasn’t come and it hasn’t come, but that doesn’t lessen people's certainty that it will come." That certainty is a function of the changing industry, the speedy evolution of the internet as a delivery system and the loss of ad revenues. The role and expectations of journalists have also changed. No longer are they regarded as trained or expert workers; as New York University's Clay Shirky puts it, "Reporting has become something that literally every connected citizen has access to."

The film considers ramifications of such changes for the profession, with the Times as the last, best example of what that profession used to look like. And so the problem is built into each interview, as journalists see themselves trying both to preserve and adjust their practices. Exhibit A might be Brian Stelter, since 2007 employed at the Times to write about television and the web; before then, the film notes, he founded TVNewser, which made his name as it "became this kind of must-read for the Brian Williamses of the world." That is, Stelter is the kind of journalist that old school Times types worry about: he's an aggregator.

David Carr is not. That's not to say he hasn't come, as he says several ways here, to see the "real value" of Twitter (namely, "listening to a wired collective voice," as he wrote his famous New Year's Day 2010 op-ed piece). But Carr is also keenly aware of what comprises that voice. Taking on Newser founder Michael Wolff during a panel discussion, he holds up a paper version of the website's front page with stories from the "mainstream media content" cut out, and yes, most every story is gone. It's a great visual and makes the point, that for all the attention to how news is delivered and consumed, the question of who actually produces stories worth reading is left by the wayside.

The problem is at least three-pronged. First, as the film observes, the process of journalism is changing, with aggregate sites like The Drudge Report or the Huffington Post constituting the present. These sites of course, depend -- for now -- on writers, some "citizen bloggers" and other unpaid workers, and also writers paid by other venues, like the Times. And when this model shifted, the Times didn't keep up; as Carr puts it, "there was just this sort of decades of organizational hubris about our own excellence and our own dominance" before reporters and editors realized they now have to work differently.

Another prong has with public trust in those writers and editors. If the stereotype of bloggers is that they're cynical and undertrained, some Times employees, supposedly adhering to a higher standard, have been exposed as not. The film notes a couple of high profile scandals, namely Jayson Blair and Judy Miller. Both undermined the paper's credibility -- and further, raised questions about how any daily newspaper handles its high pressures, makes arrangements with sources or monitors and edits employees over time.

The film offers precious little contemplation of what happened in these cases, but they speak to a broader problem, that the proliferation of sources and speed of doing business have reshaped how news works. That's not to say that plagiarism or other sorts of corruption in the writing process haven't always existed: it is to say that exposing these problems is now something of a business in itself.

A third prong concerns journalism's relationship to news, decisions about what stories to tell and how to gain or keep access to them. And WikiLeaks is one sensational example. The film underscores the difference between the Pentagon Papers and Julian Assange's operation, as Times executive editor Bill Keller sums up, "The bottom line is WikiLeaks doesn’t need us. Daniel Ellsberg did." And this introduces another set of questions -- how is journalism a "fourth estate" anymore, if it depends on people in power for access to information? Assange tells Stelter he aligns himself with the "values of activism, which struggle toward justice, other than the values of journalism, which is a bit more muddled." But if the paper is no longer necessary even as a means of delivery, it has to sort out what purpose it does serve.

That sorting out will take place after this movie, which ends with a cryptic, if true enough, epigraph ("Readers and publishers are still debating how journalism can sustain itself"). But it involves yet another component the movie does not address out loud: the roles played by women and people of color at the Times. Since the film's production, Keller, a self-proclaimed old schooler, has been replaced by Jill Abramson.

It may be telling that Abramson spent six months at the paper's website before taking the new job. And it's worth noting that she was the first woman to be managing editor and now, executive editor. Page One focuses on the Times' male writers and editors worrying about how they're handling the fast-expanding digital landscape. They don't talk about how they've handled being males in what remains a male-dominated industry.

5

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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