Following the calamitous financial meltdown of 2008, director Andrew Rossi scored unprecedented access to The New York Times’ Media Desk, attempting to fashion a movie that might cover the collapse of traditional media, asking questions about news aggregating websites, Twitter junkies, iPads and the death of print journalism. Page One is always about at least six subjects at once, firing like a scatter-gun and only selectively hitting its targets.
Sorry, but I live for this shit. Speaking as someone who has been writing for newspapers since before I could legally drink, the flighty, trend-chasing New Media archetype is here best expressed by Arianna Huffington (who recently fired a great deal of my friends, one of whom bellowed “the c-word” when she appeared onscreen) spouting off about “Citizen Journalism”—which is just another way of saying that she doesn’t have to pay her reporters. The Wire’s creator and former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon eventually takes her out to the woodshed for a magnificent verbal spanking that prompted applause at my screening.
Alas, too much of Page One is devoted to hand-wringing pronouncements about how the world would be so much poorer if The New York Times stopped setting the national agenda for daily news. Rossi is shamefully unfocused, and the movie lurches from topic to topic attempting to cover the end of an era without quite understanding where the next step will take us.
Of course, nobody does. But thank gawd for the brilliant Times reporter David Carr, who emerges from the picture as a full-fledged, foul-mouthed movie star. A tough-talking former crackhead with a nose for news and a way with words, Carr at once both undercuts and bulldozes over his Internet competitors at every turn. (Some of his verbal bitchslaps are astounding.)
But Page One doesn’t really find it’s groove until about the halfway mark. When Carr grabs onto a story about now-notorious Tribune Corp owner Sam Zell. Calmly observing the back-and-forth between editors and reporters, sourcing stories, kicking ass and taking names, the movie eventually settles down into a tribute to something much less flashy and more substantial. It’s called journalism.