To understand state of today's newspapers, see Page One: Inside the New York Times
One thing I'd never seen in many years of writing about TV and pop culture was a compelling portrayal of the often-tedious, sometimes-exhilarating work that goes into writing a really impactful newspaper story.
Until I watched the amazing new documentary film Page One: Inside the New York Times.
If you're reading these words, I'm assuming you care about newspapers, at least a little bit. And if you love them like those of us who make them daily, you will marvel at how much director Andrew Rossi captured by following the New York Times' media desk through a tumultuous year of change.
While the reporters chase stories on WikiLeaks, the iPad, the crumbling of Chicago Tribune owner Tribune Co. and the purchase of a controlling interest in NBC by Comcast, they live through cost-cutting and downsizing in their own shop, along with widespread speculation the company itself might go out of business in short order.
Several reporters get attention, but the light falls most often on media columnist David Carr, an eccentric, insightful, egotistical, pithy and sometime profane former crack addict turned widely regarded journalist.
In one moment, he's challenging the muckety-muck at a hip New York magazine, asking bluntly, "What the f--- are you doing working with CNN?" The next, he's slapping down the guy verbally for suggesting he captured more explicit action in his trips to Africa than Carr's own employer.
He is, in fact, a compelling embodiment of the New York Times' arrogance, competence and tolerance for capable oddballs all rolled into one.
"For those of us who work in media, life is a drumbeat of goodbye speeches with sheet cake and cheap, sparkling wine," he says in one voice-over, his ragged voice and knowing turns of phrase providing much of the film's flavor.
There are problems: The film flits across topics and there is a still-surprising lack of gender and racial diversity among the flood of staffers and talking heads featured (except in one place: All the people shown leaving the paper during downsizing are middle-aged women).
But forget about the whiny, inside baseball reviews which pan the film, mostly as an excuse to take a sideways swipe at the newspaper many media mavens love to hate. The New York Times itself, in the kind of exquisite spasm of ethical masochism that only print journalists try indulging anymore, had a onetime competitor, ex-L.A. Times opinion editor Michael Kinsley, write their review of the documentary about itself (to no one's surprise, he found it "a mess.")
Still, the film will debut at the Tampa Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday (see listings here for future showtimes), and you should see it when it does.
There may be no better parable for the beautiful mess that is the modern newspaper's struggle to stay relevant and profitable on film today.