ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The last few years have been a rough patch for print journalism. They've been marked by layoffs and technology-induced growing pains. And that makes a vivid backdrop for the new documentary "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times."

Movie critic Bob Mondello has our review.

BOB MONDELLO: We've all heard the litany: newsprint is expensive, circulation is down, ad revenues are declining and bloggers can do everything faster and cheaper. Dead-tree journalism, in short, is on its last legs. Except somehow, it staggers on, inspiring the likes of young New York Times reporter Tim Arango to do what generations of reporters have done before him.

(Soundbite of movie, "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times")

Mr. TIM ARANGO (Reporter, The New York Times): A lot of the people in the Baghdad bureau were moving to Kabul. And they asked if there was anybody who wanted to volunteer for Baghdad. So, I'm going to Iraq.

MONDELLO: Okay, that's a youthful take on old-school. Here's the new wave, teen-blogger-turned-Times reporter Brian Stelter.

(Soundbite of movie, "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times")

Mr. BRIAN STELTER (Reporter, The New York Times): It drives me nuts when I'll hear about it. And I'll hear my colleagues talking about a story at noon, and I read it on twitter on midnight. I'm thinking to myself: Why is that allowed? You know, why are we - why are we not on top of the news? It's 2010.

Mr. DAVID CARR (Media Reporter): I still can't get over the feeling that Brian Stelter was a robot assembled in the basement of the New York Times to come and destroy me.

MONDELLO: That growl is media reporter David Carr, the cranky, battered, and downright hammy star of Andrew Rossi's documentary. Carr, who, full disclosure, years ago was my editor at Washington City Paper, is the audience's dyspeptic guide to what the director has fashioned as a kind of New York Times reality show.

2010 would have offered drama anywhere in journalism, but at the Times, where more than a hundred news staffers were laid off or bought out, editor Bill Keller concedes it went beyond drama to something closer to carnage.

(Soundbite of film, "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times")

Mr. BILL KELLER (Editor, New York Times): I feel some days that, you know, we should be symbolically wearing, you know, bloody butcher smocks or something around the newsroom. It's such a grim undertaking.

Unidentified Person: (Unintelligible). I've overstayed that by 20 years.

MONDELLO: The other side of the story is the paper's aggressive attempt to stay in a game it once dominated. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg needed the New York Times to get the Pentagon Papers out to the public. Forty years later, Julian Assange's WikiLeaks doesn't. So in the film, The Times tries to hitch a ride on the story, rather than being the story, by interviewing Assange about his process.

(Soundbite of film, "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times")

Mr. STELTER: Hi, it's Brian Stelter calling from The Times. There's a traditional definition of journalism that is objective, never breaking the law to obtain content. Do you view yourself as trying to achieve that definition?

Mr. JULIAN ASSANGE (Founder, WikiLeaks): The journalism is just a tool. You can use a tool to get some result.

Mr. STELTER: And tell me what the goal is.

MONDELLO: As an editor notes, it's two worlds colliding: the old world of expertise, information, and privacy and a new world intent on exploding that model. Director Andrew Rossi finds lots of ways to illustrate that collision: following David Carr as he showboats and snarls that The Old Grey Lady still sets the news agenda and scolds a few Internet interlopers who sneer at the media rules the Times helped invent.

"Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times" is an insider's view. It isn't raking up any muck, but it's not a love-letter either, more a portrait of an institution at a moment of transition, when page-one space still qualifies as precious real estate and the question of whether it'll hang onto that value is, at least for old-school journalists, disconcertingly up in the air.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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