Is print in ashes? or have reports of its death been grossly exaggerated? Page One, a potent and provocative documentary from Andrew Rossi, looks at the carnage done to newsprint by the rise of the Internet, the plunging of ad revenues and circulation, and the firings that left blood on the walls of old media. Granted rare access for more than a year to the newspaper of record, the great Gray Lady called The New York Times, Rossi operates out of the media desk established in 2008. We see media editor Bruce Headlam confer with reporters, including new-media recruit Brian Stelter, Tim Arango and especially David Carr, the gravel-voiced exjunkie whose attack approach — backed up with scrupulous reporting — makes him the hottest print poster boy since Woodward and Bernstein. No one in the Green Lantern Corps can match Carr’s takedown of Vice magazine staffers who think they’re reporters, the hubris of Tribune Co. chairman Sam Zell and CEO Randy Michaels, or even the iPad (“You know what this reminds me of? A newspaper”).
Rossi lucked out by being around when Wikileaks whistle-blower Julian Assange brought the Times secret documents about the war in Afghanistan, recalling Daniel Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers to the Times in 1971. One difference, says executive editor Bill Keller: “Ellsberg needed us. Wikileaks doesn’t.” Rossi does tweak the Times for its arrogance and the internal- fraud scandals involving Jayson Blair and Judith Miller. But seeing the Times enter a future geared to compromise its standards is scarier than any horror film. For those of us who read — on smudgy paper or a battery-powered screen — Page One is a vital, indispensable hell-raiser.