By Mary Brodbin
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Page One: Inside the New York Times

This article is over 10 years, 11 months old
Issue 361

Are newspapers on their last legs? After all, newsprint is expensive, circulation is down, advertising revenues are plummeting and the internet provides everything faster and cheaper.

Page One: Inside the New York Times is a fly on the wall documentary about a venerable daily newspaper that has been around since 1851. It has a circulation near a million – but the question this film asks is, could the Times go bust?
This is the newspaper that despite threats and injunctions published the Pentagon Papers back in 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg leaked top secret documents exposing the government lies in promoting the Vietnam War.

Back then Ellsberg needed the Times to get the Pentagon Papers out to the public. But 40 years later when the Times for nine days in a row publishes the Wikileaks revelations Bill Keller, the Times executive editor, admits that,”we needed Assange but he doesn’t need us”.

So a newspaper that at times is bravely groundbreaking must be cherished. However, we are also reminded by a group of young bloggers at a media conference that the Times, with its reporter Judith Miller, helped cheerlead the way to the war in Iraq. She hyped false stories that Iraq was on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb. Her front-page “scoops” for the Times were cited on virtually every TV channel and by the Bush administration as evidence that Saddam needed to be taken out and Iraq invaded.

Old-style investigative reporter David Carr is the star of the film and he is riveting to watch – a stooped and snappy ex crack addict delighted to have been reborn as a Times reporter. Director Rossi trails him as he painstakingly compiles a 5,000-word exposé of the takeover by Sam Zell of the Tribune Company, the biggest media giant in the US.

Less than a year after Zell, a real estate tycoon, bought the company, it went into bankruptcy, but not before his cronies had helped themselves to $100 million in incentive bonuses. As Carr says to a Zell executive, “You could call that incentive, or you could call it looting.” More than 4,200 people lost their jobs.

During the film the Times makes 100 of its own reporters redundant. Remaining staff take a 5 percent pay cut and start work sharing.

This film is a very entertaining watch. Here’s hoping that the New York Times doesn’t appear in the obituary columns any time soon.

Page One: Inside the New York Times is directed by Andrew Rossi and released on 23 September

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