Get to the Heart of the News With 'Page One: Inside The New York Times'

For more than a century The New York Times has been a daily chronicle of shifts in the way people think and act. Now for the first time, see how the stories get made.

Page One: Inside The New York Times

Director: Andrew Rossi
Cast: Gay Talese, Sarah Ellison, David Carr
Distributor: Magnolia
Rated: R
Release date: 2011-10-18

“If the world still existed, it would duly be recorded in The New York Times” says an excerpt from Gay Talese’s iconic 1969 book The Kingdom and the Power, a prelude of sorts, to the thrilling documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times. During the early '50s, Talese became an employee for what is arguably considered the most prestigious news source in the world. He began as a copyboy, then moved to sports reporting and eventually became one of the paper’s most famous writers, even gaining exclusive backstage access to the printing and editing process, on order to record it on his eventual bestseller.

Talese’s journey through The New York Times could encompass every journalist’s ideal path. To work their way through one of the most famous papers on Earth is the stuff little children’s dreams are made of. We are reminded of this by an image we see looming on the Media Editor’s office: a massive poster of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane which through a deconstruction of the American dream, chronicles the rise and fall of a media mogul.

Yet, what exactly is it that makes this newspaper so appealing? Why is all this prestige, enigma and fame so seductive? Why are so many willing to go down with it if they must? Most importantly, how is it that it has kept this reputation for more than a century?

The last few years have presented the printed media with a conundrum: news is still happening but daily papers have stopped being profitable. As the documentary begins we get a taste of how the world has been treating newspapers lately; forcing owners to sell, conduct massive layoffs, merge with alternative media outlets and in the worst cases, file for bankruptcy and stop operating altogether.

The New York Times has not remained immune to this phenomenon, but it has managed to survive. It's suggested that one of the main reasons this happened is because an entire department was created to keep up with the constant changes in media. The New York Times then, is reporting on one of its enemies and throughout the film we get tastes of how stories are created around the very things that threaten to destroy this institution.

Directed with a hawk’s eye by the remarkably impartial Andrew Rossi, Page One: Inside The New York Times feels like a perfect companion piece to cinematic journalism classics like Network and Good Night, and Good Luck, all of which have presented us with insight into what goes on at the very source of the news. Unlike its fiction counterparts, which seem to probe hard to obtain some sort of emotional resolution, this documentary mostly observes.

We attend meetings where writers’ works are made or destroyed (watching an editor do his job and tell the writer the truth about his misleading piece has rarely felt so heartbreaking), we eavesdrop on a phone interview with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange who confesses he likes to be called a journalist, and we see the controversial David Carr take on a group of hipster reporters with violent passion. What remains constantly surprising throughout the film is the urgency each action obtains. Even when we know that the filmmakers aren’t precisely bending truths around in order to achieve dramatic tension -- there’s not even the morbid need to go into the private lives of journalists -- we still feel there is a larger story to the way the stories are made.

Even if at no point are we showered with tabloidesque musings, this film certainly leaves us wanting more and fortunately, the DVD bonus features satisfy us. Among the many featurettes there is an insightful visit to the paper’s Baghdad office, a fascinating examination on how media mogul Rupert Murdoch has made it his mission to vanquish the paper’s existence (again with the Welles influence), deleted scenes where we see a bit more of the editorial process and a few speculative opinions on what the future might hold for this media giant.

Can it be that this newspaper, as Talese suggests, has become a sort of godlike tool that reminds us about our role in the world? “The old newspaper format is dying, news are not dying” says one of the interviewees, as if to reassure us that as long as societies exist, we will need someone to put together the pieces for us.

In spite of all its shortcomings, The New York Times has survived the great world wars, the nuclear nightmare and even the iPad (which it even covered with awe and dedication). “There’s been a death watch on The New York Times for as long as I’ve been covering media” says Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison. This documentary might not help to save the paper, but it certainly shows great respect for The New York Times and the part it plays in shaping history.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.