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Movies | Documentary follows New York Times reporters over the course of a year

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

Print media is dying. Same goes for traditional journalism as consumers head to news aggregators, blogs, and social networks for information. This isn't news to anyone, but the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times does a decent job of infusing life into a tired conversation. Following a handful of Times journalists over the course of a year as they research stories, face layoffs, and struggle to remain relevant, the film (rated R for language, including sexual references) explores the decline of print journalism: If anyone with an internet connection can become a reporter, is there a place for traditional media? The documentary presents little in new insight, but as a portrait of the conflicts inside the newsroom, it's an occasionally compelling depiction.

The movie centers on the Times Media Desk, which (not without a sense of irony) reports on the change and demise of its own way of life. Columnist David Carr, the film's unlikely hero, represents the collision of old and new journalism. A grisly former drug addict, Carr speaks in the crusty cadence of a character from another era-a time when journalists worked in smoke-filled newsrooms and rushed to make the late edition deadline. Carr reads from his columns in voiceover throughout the movie, his sharp and easy prose establishing some of the film's best moments. His old school reporting counters Brian Stelter, a reporter who thrives in the world of Tweets and blogs. As breaking stories come and go, the chaos of newsroom activity and dramatic behind-the-scenes footage secures the film's place on every journalism student's syllabus.

Carr insists there will always be a need for seasoned journalists, and he's right. But is that insight really so revelatory? Yes, there was a time when leaking something to the press meant delivering a stack of secret documents by hand and yes, newspapers used to be where news got made. But, like the inky stains on your fingers after poring through the morning paper, this movie might already be a relic.

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