Page One: Inside The New York Times has been generating an extraordinary amount of press---because it's a documentary about the Grey Lady, the most respected newspaper in the world, at a time of great change. And while one of its media department subjects David Carr wisely dodged filmmaker Andrew Rossi's offer to center the film on him, the NYT columnist and expert social mediaite nonetheless is risking James Franco levels of overexposure.
Of course Carr and distributor Magnolia want the doc to do well--and the movie puts the paper in a positive light, even as executive editor Bill Keller is exiting the scene, partly due to the strains and challenges presented by the transition to digital. But Carr's press tour is also generating media scrutiny that sends folks to the Film Society at Lincoln Center's new Film Center, but also makes things dicey inside the paper itself.
But celebrity can be a double-edged sword. A high-visibility employee with too many Twitter followers and press attention risks becoming a backlash target. See the NYT's own assigned review, by outsider and ex-Slate editor Michael Kinsley, who compares the film's method to the often-parodied direct-to-camera style shown in sitcoms like The Office. According to Kinsley, the film is incomprehensible:
“Like a shopper at the supermarket without a shopping list, Page One careers around the aisles picking up this item and that one, ultimately coming home with three jars of peanut butter and no 2-percent milk.” Kinsley’s full-tilt rant concludes, “The Times deserves a better movie, and so do you. See His Girl Friday again.”
The movie is lucky to have Carr in it. I am one of his many admirers, not only of his media column and reporting and writing skills but his canny understanding of new media--which as this movie reveals, is mixed with a healthy respect for the NYT and old media. The section on how Carr goes after Chicago Tribune Media is particularly intense and revealing of why society needs reporters with his integrity and zeal.
When I moderated a Sundance panel with Carr and Rossi, Carr was snappy, erudite and enlightening, while Rossi was a tad dry, earnest and pedantic. Thus Carr is the character that most brings this movie to life--and serves as its best promoter. “The killer app on the web is, and always has been news,” he said on the panel. "You can’t just put some topspin on what someone else said and expect to make a living. We have 1,100 people in the newsroom. It’s very expensive, but it can be very lucrative as well...I have this nice, personal brand, but the fact that it’s stapled to this huge megaphone is what makes it important.”
[Maggie Lange contributed to this article. Photo of David Carr by Ray Pride, Movie City News.]