BOOK AND DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: 'Page One' Documentary, Book Raise More Questions Than They Answer About Future of Print Newspapers: And That's A Good Thing!

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK AND DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: 'Page One' Documentary, Book Raise  More Questions Than They Answer About Future of Print Newspapers: And That's A Good Thing!
David Carr, a streetwise, gravelly voiced media reporter for The New York Times,  has been making the rounds of the talkerati promoting a documentary, "Page One: Inside The New York Times" (Magnolia Pictures, 88 minutes, Rated R for language (a few F-bombs), released last month in limited markets as are all documentaries, Gross box office from 17 screens: $87,330  as of June, 26, 2011, according to iMDb). 



Carr's clearly the star of the documentary, which is worth seeking out, despite the miserable distribution system for films of this type; they ought to be released initially on DVD, since a needle in a haystack is easy to find compared to locating a documentary screening. (Here's the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2736758041/). I viewed the documentary several times via a DVD screener graciously lent to me (I reluctantly returned it, as instructed) by Magnolia Pictures.
BOOK AND DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: 'Page One' Documentary, Book Raise  More Questions Than They Answer About Future of Print Newspapers: And That's A Good Thing!


I saw Carr the other night on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" but the former crack cocaine addict from the Twin Cities didn't get as much air time as he did in the documentary directed by Andrew Rossi and produced and written by Rossi and Kate Novack. Carr is one of a group of reporters supervised by Media Desk Editor Brian Headlam. The unit was created in 2008, as the newspaper was otherwise cutting its 1,250 member news staff -- by far the largest of any American newspaper. Carr was also on "The Colbert Report" recently  where Stephen Colbert asked him which was more harmful for society, being a crack addict or a reporter for The New York Times. The Colbert  clip appears in the documentary.


The book "inspired" by the documentary, "Page One: Inside The New York Times And The Future of Journalism" (edited by David Folkenflik, a Participant Media Guide, PublicAffairs paperback, 208 pages, index,  $15.99) is an excellent standalone look at print and online media today, especially for the non-journalist. You don't have to see the documentary to appreciate the book or vice versa, but they work wonderfully well as a package to comprehend the crisis facing American metropolitan newspapers.


Maybe "non-journalist" is the wrong phrase from this reviewer, who spent 34 years, from January 1966 to February 2000 as a staffer on  five daily newspapers, including two metropolitan ones, The Milwaukee Sentinel (10 years) and the Los Angeles Times (more than 14 years), and who is now  active in online journalism.
BOOK AND DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: 'Page One' Documentary, Book Raise  More Questions Than They Answer About Future of Print Newspapers: And That's A Good Thing!


 A chapter in a book I just reviewed, "The Declaration of Independents" (PublicAffairs) -- ( see  my review at: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/5574) -- makes the point that just about anyone can be a journalist -- and  just about everyone is. Chapter 8 in the book by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch is titled "We The Media." It deals with people from other fields practicing journalism without a license...not that a license is requirement in the U.S. as it is, believe it or not, in many other countries. Even lawyers can become journalists in this country and I personally know a few journalists who've gone to law school -- over to the "dark side" --  and are practicing lawyers, making a lot more money than reporters or editors.


Folkenflik, the media critic of National Public Radio,  rounds up the usual suspects, plus some unusual ones, to examine the future of journalism. He even includes an excerpt from James O'Shea's "The Deal From Hell" (another title from PublicAffairs, see my review at: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/5349) , a look at the 2000 merger of The Tribune Company of Chicago and Times Mirror Co. of Los Angeles and its subsequent acquisition by Chicago income property multi-millionaire Sam Zell. The title comes from Zell himself, after he realized what a poor investment he made.


 "Page One" the documentary covers the strange case of  former Tribune CEO Randy Michaels,  with Carr doing most of the reporting. The story, based on interviews with more than 20 current and former Tribune employees, charged that Michaels had encouraged sexual innuendo, profanity, poker parties and other bawdy behavior since he joined the company in 2007 as an executive vice president in charge of broadcast and interactive. He was promoted to CEO in December, 2009. Carr's reporting also dealt with an alleged sexual impropriety by Tribune CEO Randy Michaels, who resigned on  October 23, 2010,  two weeks after the story ran.  Michaels was replaced by a four-member Executive Council, which will oversee the company as it deals with the bankruptcy. In the documentary, Carr makes the point that behavior like that allowed by Michaels may have been acceptable in 1977 but "this is 2010."


To those who say newspapers, especially The New York Times, are more accurate and reliable than other nontraditional sites, I point to the cases of Judith Miller and her wildly inaccurate reporting that contributed to the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq. No less than Darth Vader himself -- former Vice President Dick Cheney -- said Miller's reporting on Saddam's "weapons of  mass destruction" led to the invasion go-ahead. Maybe, instead of focusing on  the apparently consensual sexual behavior  of aptly named Randy Michaels, Carr and his Media Desk colleagues could have examined the reporting of disgraced Times reporter Judith Miller, whose reporting contributed to our entry into another war. Just asking. (Miller retired from her Times post in November 2005).


 As anyone who hasn't been hiding under a rock knows, print media  is in crisis mode, as advertisers have switched to digital media and other forms of advertising. The bread and butter advertising income stream of print media, classified advertising -- what many people call the "want ads" -- has switched away from print to craigslist and other online sites. Or to shoppers or weekly free alternative publications like Chicago's Reader and the LA Weekly from Los Angeles; the Austin Chronicle in Texas's capital city; the Phoenix from Boston; Creative Loafing in Atlanta, Tampa and other cities;  The Village Voice from New York City and similar publications in just about every sizable city. All these publications can be read online: I just read an excellent review of O'Shea's "The Deal From Hell" in the Reader. I've bookmarked most of the sites on my Android tablet and my three Macs.


"Page One" the book has a chapter, "Print Is Dead: Long Live The New York Times" by Carr. It's autobiographical, as quirky as Carr and is wonderfully written. With more writers like Carr -- who surprisingly enough never worked at a daily newspaper until he was hired by The Times --  and fewer like Judith Miller and, of course, Jayson Blair, I see a brighter future for the Gray Lady, now in a new,  heavily mortgaged,  Renzo Piano designed landmark skyscraper on 8th Avenue that is prominently featured in the film. 


The paper has been the scene of unprecedented layoffs, captured in the film, and Mexico's richest man, telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim, has invested millions of dollars in the publicly traded media company that owns the newspaper and dozens of other papers (as far west as Santa Rosa and Petaluma, CA) and other assets I wasn't aware of: (I just read -- on my Android tablet, which, along with my computers, is where I get almost all of my news these days -- that  the NYT Co. plans to sell part of its share in the Boston Red Sox to raise more cash (Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/02/business/media/02times.html). The sale of part of its minority stake in the baseball team yielded $117 million and left the NYT with about a 7 percent stake in the ball club.


Both the documentary and the book explore perhaps the central dilemma facing journalism: Is the new digital revolution, symbolized by WikiLeaks, The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, The Daily Beast, Google News, The Drudge Report, Gawker, etc., etc. on the verge of replacing the good old reliable, professional journalism of The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and other newspapers. And if it is, is it a good thing or a catastrophe?


The book edited by Folkenflik -- who, I'm happy to report,  has a background in print journalism (see bio below) -- expands on the "Page One" documentary with chapters on new forms of journalism that will help both print and online journalism, like O'Shea's Chicago News Cooperative and a similar effort called Texas Tribune that provides news from the Lone Star State. Seeing as how many newspapers have shuttered their domestic bureaus (The Washington Post in late 2009 closed the last of its domestic bureaus --  in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago)   efforts like CNC and the Texas Tribune can only help journalism.


 Peter Osnos, who helped O'Shea with the founding of CNC and is also a founder and editor-at-large of PublicAffairs, writes about "The Surprising and Recurring Challenges to Public Radio," which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Public radio, especially National Public Radio and my local stations (in Corpus Christi and Victoria), South Texas Public Radio, will always be part of my news mix.


Both the book and the documentary delve into the New York Times' unique role as the decider of what's news for other newspapers and especially for television news. Will this continue or will other news sites supplement the newspaper or replace it as a gatekeeper? This has already been answered to some extent with WikiLeaks.



 By all means, try to view the documentary (hopefully it will be aired on TV and it should be available soon in DVD; maybe even NetFlix will have it) and read the book. It's an excellent overview of the news industry and is written in language a general reader can understand.



 For another view of the industry, by Chris Hedges, click on: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/gone_with_the_papers_20110627/



And for excellent coverage of journalism, my day isn't complete until I read Romenesko and the other news at www.poynter.org. The Poynter foundation owns the outstanding St. Petersburg (FL) Times newspaper, perhaps the ownership model for the nation's surviving non-chain-owned newspapers.


About the book's editor


David Folkenflik is NPR's award-winning media correspondent based in New York City. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines and shows, including All Things ConsideredMorning Edition, and Talk of the Nation. Before joining NPR in 2004, Folkenflik spent more than a decade at the Baltimore Sun, where he covered higher education, Congress, and the media. He started his career at the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun. In 1991, Folkenflik graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from Cornell University, where he served as editor-in-chief of The Cornell Daily Sun. He has served as a media analyst on CNN'sReliable Sources, ABC News' Nightline, Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

This column was previously published in O'Dwyer's PR Report and is reprinted by permission.


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