An insightful documentary on the New York Times, directed by Andrew Rossi, gives a truthful look at the newspaper as a business and exposes practical problems that new social media is causing for the survival of the New York Times. Narrated by David Carr, it shows how close the newspaper came to bankruptcy, especially since other American daily newspapers, such as The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News began to fall.
The film also explores how the paper picks and publishes it stories, why certain stories get front page coverage, and the impact this has on other newspapers and their stories.
Carr, a journalist who is thriving in his professional life after being a crack addict and a single parent, presents The New York Times with a truthful insight into the workings of the newspaper. His straight-forward attitude to life and work, means he gets to the point of all discussions quickly, but in a friendly manner – a necessary skill for a journalist.
Carr’s own personal story and position in the newspaper pulled the documentary together as it explored different areas of the paper and other people’s backgrounds. The main theme that runs through the film is ‘The New York Times‘ doomsday clock’. In other words, The New York Times is limited, like any newspaper in the continuously changing industry as it tries to keep up with the technological revolution.
As the days count down for the paper format, the paper set up a Media Desk to follow changes in the media that would affect the life of future publications – it also monitors changes at The New York Times itself. This is the department in which David Carr works.
The documentary showed how Carr’s nature has lead him into a very privileged position in the newsroom. Media Desk Editor, Bruce Headlam, allows him to take as much time as necessary to research and write his stories when other writers are put on time limits.
It becomes clear throughout the film that new social media are becoming especially important for newspapers and news organisations alike as it allows headlines to be published immediately and they can find out what the public thinks about its next moves and stories.
The film shows how technology is making life difficult for newspapers, as more people access news online for free, less people buy the newspaper in its paper format and the business runs low. The New York Times has tackled this problem by charging for full use of it’s website, but the film ends with a statement: “Readers and publishers are still debating how journalism can sustain itself.” Editors continue to wonder how the online revolution will continue to make money, something which is anyone’s guess, as nobody expected the internet to expand so fast.
The documentary isn’t all doom and gloom though, it covers the story of Brian Stelter, a media writer for The New York Times, who started his journalistic life at the newspaper in 2007. He was the first journalist to be employed into the company with only a blog as background experience. His Blog, TWNewser, was sold to MediaBistro in 2004, but luckily his work landed him a job in one of the most established newspapers in the world. This is living proof that blogs can make you successful!
Rossi’s documentary shows the newspaper from an interesting angle and shows how things have changed in the newsroom, for example using shorthand to take notes from a telephone call seems to be a thing of the past already, and typing seems much more convenient. It shows that newspapers really have suffered due to the intense digital age we now live in.
Everyone who worked at the paper were sent letters asking if they would like to volunteer to leave their job, just because the newspaper didn’t want to have to fire people as a result of the decline in business. Executive Editor the time of filming, Bill Keller, described it as “throwing bodies overboard”, a crass way to describe the action the paper was forced to take.
Although it’s primarily about the inevitable end of the newspaper, the 90 minute film has a positive attitude, with Carr, Stelter, Headlam and Keller, all positive about the future of the Times. Carr admitted when he was asked about the future of The New York Times: “I’m afraid of guns, and i’m afraid of bats, i’m really not afraid of anything else.”
The general outlook is that The New York Times has significant sustainability and that it won’t be moving off the newstand for at least a few more years to come.
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