This is a must-see (if somewhat unfocused) documentary for anyone interested in the future of the mainstream media. Page One covers a year in the life of the New York Times, a once mighty newspaper now reduced to mortgaging its own building and taking out costly loans from a Mexican telecommunications tycoon. The paper, which is a "legacy" media operation (i.e. very expensive to run) has been hit hard by the simultaneous collapse in advertising revenue and the rise of new media. The days when a story wasn't a story until it the New York Times are over. Or are they?
The giant may be wounded, but it's still a giant. Page One shows some of the negotiations with Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who provided material to the paper because he knew it was the best way to spread his message. Popular news aggregator sites are happy to link to, or rewrite, New York Times stories but don't want to pay for them.
So what does the paper do? Does it stop printing and focus only on digital delivery, does it put up a paywall to fend off the freeloaders, or does it continue trying to save costs (we see tearful farewells of people who have been fired) as it slowly bleeds away? Several other major U.S. newspapers have already folded while others are effectively in bankruptcy protection. Who cares who produces the news as long as it's out there?
Because this is a media story, Page One tells it largely through the eyes of the paper's media reporters. This is where the film starts to run into problems. Much of the film focuses on David Carr, the loud and opinionated media correspondent who used to be a violent drug addict until he turned his life around. Although Carr is certainly a character, and resolutely defends the traditional values of the paper at the many panels he speaks at, putting so much emphasis on one person means the audience starts to wonder whether the film is really about him or the Times or both or neither. The effect is confusing and we wander down a few dead-ends, such as the farewell party for a reporter heading off for Iraq. This is supposed to show that the Times does matter, that it is devoting a lot of resources to cover a difficult and important story. Yet the way it is slotted into the film makes it look almost like an afterthought.
That said, there's enough here to make it worthwhile, including some very funny moments (the bemused reaction of reporters and editors when NBC "announces" the pullout of the last U.S. troops from Iraq is worth the entry price alone) and many scenarios which will ring true for reporters in the audience.
Page One doesn't really answer any of the questions it poses, although it does seem to conclude the Times would be sorely missed if the paper went under. All in all, this is a flawed documentary, yet one well worth watching.