The documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times” by Andrew Rossi chronicles a year at the newspaper from behind the Media desk. The year is 2010, just after the collapse of the newspaper print advertising market. Newspapers across the country are beginning to fold. The NYT is in the process of laying-off 100 people.
Jeff Jarvis (Author, What Would Google Do?) and Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation set the stage. Jarvis declares firmly the old newspaper model is dead but news is not dying, there are just many cheaper ways of disseminating it. Vanden Heuvel worries that it is a dangerous moment for journalism, but newsrooms have the benefit of journalists with accumulated experience. Jarvis asks if it’s too late for these institutions to adapt to new media.
Brian Stetler is a techno-savvy NYT Media reporter. He started a blog covering television news in 2004 as a freshman in college. He went to work for the NYT two months after he graduated. David Carr is an old-school Media reporter with a weekly column. Carr jokingly calls Stetler a “machine” put on this earth to destroy him. Stetler represents the NYT’s adaptation to the digital age.
It is a remarkable coincidence that Rossi happened to be filming Stetler and Media editor Bruce Headlam as the story of the initial WikiLeak’s YouTube release of classified Dept. of Defense (Afghan theater) video develops. It is almost unbelievable that Rossi had access to Stetler as he was interviewing his source, WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.
The NYT made a bold decision in allowing Rossi such unprecedented access to its inner workings at a time when new and successful media business models were emerging at a rapid pace. Perhaps the collaboration between Rossi and the Media dept. allowed the NYT to view the media industry as a whole in a more objective light.
It is through Carr that we see the NYT embracing new technology. To him, Steve Jobs invented the iPad solely to keep “mainstream media” afloat. We see Carr as a passionate advocate for the strength of NYT news-gathering assets and its full engagement in the multi-media revolution. Without main-stream media, news-repackagers like Gawker, or news-aggregators like Newser, couldn’t exist.
One of Carr’s writing styles is long-form, investigative journalism. The significant media story he is working on in the documentary is “At Sam Zell’s Tribune: Tales of a Bankrupt Culture.”
Tribune Company was sold to billionaire Sam Zell. Within a year, 4,200 employees lost their jobs and the company went into bankruptcy. Zell’s management team had little newspaper experience. The new Tribune corporate chief, Randy Michaels, hired 20 former radio associates. They rewrote the company handbook, basically condoning sexual harassment.
The innovative approach that Zell had promised would breathe life into the staid Tribune Company was not investment in innovative news technologies, but advertising gimmicks. The Tribune Company’s already dwindling audiences were offended.
The bankruptcy restructuring was unresolved while Carr was investigating the story.
“Despite the company’s problems, the managers have been rewarded handsomely. From May 2009 to February 2010, a total of $57.3 million in bonuses were paid to the current management with the approval of the judge overseeing the bankruptcy. In 2009, the top 10 managers received $5.9 million at a time when cash flow was plummeting.”
As to what the Tribune’s media story tells us about the threat to the newspaper industry, I would posit that in 2014 the first and foremost duty of print and on-line media is …another closing graf in progress!
FEEDBACK: Carr’s story forced resignations would be a good closing graph.