Andrew Rossi and Kate Novak’s investigation into the state of the newspaper industry, focusing on the venerable and acknowledged “paper of record”, The New York Times, seems about eight or nine years late.
Ironically, while the documentary and the Times itself is all about disseminating news in the most efficient ways possible, there’s nothing really newsy here. Online news gathering which allows us to be our own producer of our own news stream, has rocked the newspaper and TV news industries.
People just don’t buy papers anymore and they don’t watch TV news, at least the way they did in 2005. They get their news on their friendly computer screen, in feeds, syndication, emails, what have you.
They poke through several reports on the same story to see which one they most want to read. Ditto pictures and commentary. You can’t do much better than that, personalized news every day all day, virtually free (aside from computer costs) when you want, where you want and without commercial breaks (mostly) and anchor chatter.
There was a time years ago that the Times experimented with paid online news service, but stories were soon accessible free. And the paper’s answer to death by online? Charge people to read online stories. It defies reason.
The film is a kind of roundup of stories of newspaper chains shutting down, the proliferation of blogs as real service sites, how competition from other newspaper chains changed and evolved – or devolved. And it’s all from the Times’ point of view, personified by the people of its Media pages.
David Carr an outspoken defender of the Times is an odd mixture of old fashioned ethics and new world realism. A former crack addict he hit the big time becoming a columnist for the Times and the paper and its relevance is his passion. He chats it up in seminars around the US. He’s a pioneer and a veteran and as colorful as the myths of those old time newsmen.
It captures the paper in the uncomfortable days of change, a sea change that could spell the end for the paper which has published without a break since 1851 and won 106 Pulitzer Prizes. It’s like the introduction of reading devices which may supplant books – after their glorious millennia long run. But they’re over too.
So, let’s put things into perspective. Everything is changing, especially the media. There are citizen journalists, blogs, instant Tweets, Facebook posts, all of which can be considered news.
No longer must news come from between the sheets of a newspaper or from the TV dial. Things are tough for people and institutions that won’t change. Like one of the guys in the movie says we live in “interesting times”.
The problem once again is that this is all old news. Had the film been put together and released even a couple of years ago, it would have been timely and shocking. The Times partners with Wikileaks? Big deal! ! An anonymous blogger becomes a big deal at the Times? And? Papers Tweet now! So? So do I! And so does the guy who accidentally let it slip that the US was attacking Bin Laden’s secret home in Afghanistan! You see? Too little too late.
The film could also have looked at television’s precipitous decline as victims of online superiority but it didn’t – I hope that’s not a future doco – it’s already happened folks and we all know that sad story too.
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Written by Kate Novak, Andrew Rossi
Directed by Andrew Rossi
In theatres now
Runtime 88 minutes
MPAA: Rated R for language including some sexual references