Documentary filmmaker chronicles a year from within the walls of The New York Times as it comes face to face with the pressures of the modern media age
This 90-minute documentary achieved a limited theatrical release back in 2011, and charts the fight for survival for one of America's most respected and beloved newspapers, The New York Times. Their problem is one facing thousands of papers across the globe: Why pay for a newspaper in a world where information is everywhere -- instantly -- and for free?
Much of the film follows a man called David Carr, a reformed drug addict who came to journalism at the age of 46, who now works for the paper. We see him run through a gamut of tasks and ruminate on the state of the industry whilst traveling through the city. This material is interspersed with high-profile and prominent talking heads imparting opinions and predictions. At times, the grave tones of some of the witnesses jar the viewer into shock (and awe) at the reality of the threat facing these once powerful institutions. This aspect is the film's undoubted strength. These are troubling times, make no mistake.
Also, there is a good reason for the bulk of the film to focus on Carr. He stands out as a passionate spokesperson for The New York Times and the traditional media. He is an engaging presence and has a charisma. Unfortunately, however, the film struggles to contain an impulse to melodramatically delve in and out of his back story and this diminishes the impact of the piece. Furthermore, you cannot help but feel that the filmmaker, Andrew Rossi, wants Carr to be all things at once. There is a sense that he wants him to pull the curtain back, Wizard of Oz-style, to reveal media practices, play the cynic to the changing tides of the modern era, then to find a solution to save the industry. He would also like him to push the documentary along like a thriller.
The film suffers as a result. It leaps about too frequently, covering too many bases. The focus is far too scatter-shot to engender a compelling snapshot of the modern newspaper. Consequently, much viewer empathy is lost, and momentum that could have built towards a rallying cry for public support is at least partially blown by Rossi's wandering eye. This should have been a channeled, and terrifying, testimony to the precarious future of the print industry, and you do get the feeling that there is a riveting documentary beneath the murk.
There is certainly an argument that with unsentimental editing, this could have been a 60-minute documentary. Then again, that would have made it ripe for television. And that would not have earned this New York Times-funded documentary anywhere near as much money. Perhaps cynicism is raising its ugly head once more.
Ultimately, although it stands as a fascinating insight into the day-to-day practices of a longstanding and famously influential printing giant, this film is, frustratingly, an opportunity missed.