Sunday, 6 November 2011
“Journalism is alive and well and feisty, especially at the New York Times.” Those were the upbeat words of journalist John Lloyd after a special screening of Page One: Inside the New York Times at Oxford’s Phoenix Picturehouse last week.
With the hacking scandal still unfolding and journalists universally unpopular, many critics would take issue with his view. But there’s no doubt that Page One shows journalism at its very best. Some have compared it to The September Issue, the brilliant film-documentary about Vogue – and I loved it just as much.
Film-maker Andrew Rossi followed journalists on the NYT’s media desk for a year and the hacks emerge as a sparky and determined crew, dedicated to getting their stories right. Two writers who stick in my mind are Brian Stelter, a go-getting young reporter who juggles phone, two computers and Twitter-feed at lightning speed, while the maverick David Carr, a gravelly-voiced ex-drug addict who’s been writing about the media for 25 years, comes across as a larger-than-life character devoted to his craft.
Several things were puzzling though. As Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times as well as director of journalism at Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, pointed out at the lively debate after the Phoenix screening, hacks in the UK would be astonished at the amount of time Carr gets to produce his reports. At one point he tells his boss that he’s got two more weeks of interviewing and research on a story he’s covering, followed by a week of writing it all up. That’s a luxury that doesn’t happen on this side of the Atlantic any more.
I was surprised, too, that none of the reporters seemed to use shorthand and that when they conducted phone interviews they typed their material straight on to their computers. Not a notebook in sight.
Set against a backdrop of the Wikileaks revelations, charging for news online and the demise of many fine newspapers, this is a movie that every journalist should see. But even if you aren’t a hack and you don’t even buy newspapers any more (shame) it’s definitely worth a look. You never know, it might even make you see journalists in a different light.
PS: Today is Day Six of NaBloPoMo - a fifth of the way there!