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Book and Movie Review: ‘Page One: Inside the New York Times’

When I first heard that there was going to be a documentary made about what it is like to work at the New York Times, I may have squealed. Loudly and repeatedly. Just maybe.

Although I’ve never wanted to work at the Times, that newspaper — for better or for worse — is the standard of journalism in the United States. During my first visit to New York for the Book Blogger Convention in 2010, I was one of those total dorks that took a photo in front of the New York Times building (well, Care took the photo, I just posed like a total fan girl).

Anyway, Page One: Inside the New York Times is documentary and supplementary essay collection that looks at the world inside the newspaper. As a pair, I think the movie and book work well together. Although I’m very familiar with the rise and fall and reinvention of contemporary journalism (thanks, MA program), I think the movie does a nice job outlining the current conflict for a person who hasn’t spent the last three years paying attention to the dramatic media landscape.

The movie centers on the NYT media desk, editor Bruce Headlam and reporters David Carr, Richard Pérez-Peña, Tim Arango, and Brian Stelter. They’re a fun group to watch, and I especially loved getting this insider look at how “expert reporters” go about doing their job. (In one of the special features, David Carr admits that making antagonizing cold calls to sources freaks him out — I’m SO GLAD it’s not just me!).

The conclusion of the documentary is one that I totally agree with: Good journalism isn’t going to disappear, but the way we get news is changing (in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse) and news organizations will need to address those changes in order to survive. I appreciated that the documentary isn’t alarmist, but it certainly doesn’t sugar coat the major problems news organizations face.

Page One, the book, is a collection of essays that work both as a supplement to the movie and on their own as a look at the state of contemporary journalism. I read the book before I saw the movie, so I can attest to the fact that it stands on its own as a book about the current state and challenges of journalism.

Like any essay collection, there are some that are better/more interesting than other (although that assessment is based a lot on what you look for in essays). My favorites were, predictably, those written by people within the Times, talking about their work and decision-making process during key news moments of the year. But overall, I think the collection has a nice balance of essays from inside and outside the Times to grab readers of different backgrounds.

One that I particuarly appreciated was “Beyond the Tyranny of the Recent” by Matt Thompson, a local news developer at NPR, where he points out the challenges to journalism in a sea of information and suggests some changes journalists can make to stand out from the noise. Part of it has to do with redefining what we think of as news and a new way of thinking about journalism:

In the future, whenever you encounter a news story, you should be presented with a straightforward pathway for acquiring the background information and context you need to process that story. You should also have the wherewithal to figure out how the fact of the story were acquired and verified. The story should tell you what it’s missing, what we don’t yet know. It should invite you to take part in following up and making it better. And it should give you the option of signing up for any updates or corrections to it.

In short, the future news story might look a lot like a Wikipedia entry.

That’s really provocative and interesting, right? Anyway, enough gushing about both the book and movie. If you want a primer about contemporary journalism, I’d suggest renting the documentary and settling in for an evening to watch. If you’re already familiar, or finished the movie and are looking for a little more, the book is an excellent companion that also stands on its own.

Updated to Add: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I rented a copy of the documentary via Netflix.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) February 10, 2012, 7:30 am

    The documentary sounds great! You’re right that good journalism won’t disappear. It’s been interesting watching how it reinvents itself.

    • Kim February 13, 2012, 10:58 am

      It’s fascinating to watch, especially the stumbles and recoveries as people try to figure out how to do good journalism in a time when there’s often too much information to deal with.

  • Meg February 10, 2012, 9:15 am

    It’s okay — I’m a total fangirl when it comes to things like the Times, too! I took a picture in front of the Chicago Tribune years ago. 🙂 This sounds like an interesting book and documentary, and yes — it’s definitely good to know even veteran news reporters hate having to cold call sources with tough questions!

    • Kim February 13, 2012, 11:00 am

      I have a picture in front of the Chicago Tribune too! Boyfriend and I went to Chicago for a date and got a photo with the building in the background.

      The little David Carr moment in the special features of the documentary might be my favorite thing about the movie (which says more about me than the quality of the film, I promise).

  • Care February 10, 2012, 11:37 am

    I remember that. And I think I snapped a photo of another Newspaper building on the train ride home but it was blurry. I now think of you ANY TIME I see a newspaper building!

    • Kim February 13, 2012, 11:00 am

      Ha, that’s funny! I remember you telling me about trying to get another photo… the Boston Globe, maybe?

      • Care February 13, 2012, 11:28 am

        Well, I *do* think of you when I see the Globe building, too. But the one from the train was east of Manhattan somewhere; could have been Connecticut, too. 🙂

  • Meg February 10, 2012, 10:20 pm

    I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch this. Being a J-school grad without a newspaper job has made it hard to see journalists at work. It makes me miss the hustle and bustle of the newsroom.

    I’ll work my way up to it, though. ; )

    • Kim February 13, 2012, 11:01 am

      Oh, yes, I can definitely see it being hard to watch in those circumstances. I think because I’ve never wanted to work at a huge newspaper like that, it’s easier to disconnect it from the day-to-day of what I’m doing.

  • Sheila (Book Journey) February 11, 2012, 10:18 am

    LOL – love the picture Kim! I have a similar one somewhere… I need to get this book!

    • Kim February 13, 2012, 11:02 am

      It’s such a nerdy thing to do, but I’m glad I have that picture 🙂

  • Andi February 12, 2012, 8:54 am

    I screeched a bit myself when I first saw the trailer for this documentary on Apple TV. I’m glad the two work well together. Will consider diving into these when I’m itching for non-fiction again.

    • Kim February 13, 2012, 11:03 am

      It’s a pretty slim book, and easy to dip in and out of because the essays cover some pretty different topics. I hope you’ll get a chance to read it!

  • Jennygirl February 17, 2012, 10:41 am

    Oh you’re not a geek! I would have done the same. NYT is synonymous with excellence and means a lot to you. i think it’s excellent. Cute pic btw 🙂

    • Kim February 22, 2012, 7:14 pm

      Yes, the NYT is sort of the crown jewel of American journalism. It’s hard not to geek out about that 🙂

  • Pam February 25, 2012, 9:28 am

    Sooooo cool! I may have to find a way to work this one in!

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 6:42 pm

      I hope you get a chance to read it!