STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A new documentary is out today, about a newspaper that once set the news agenda for America and the world, and still to some extent does. "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times" finds that paper struggling to get a footing in the new media landscape.
Beginning in 2009, filmmaker Andrew Rossi spent over a year, deep inside the newsroom of The Times, and nearly every day brought bad news for the business of news.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Once, after a hundred staffers got pink slips, The Times' executive editor says to the camera: We should be wearing bloody butcher smocks. One media columnist ends up being the star of film, David Carr - easily the most colorful character at the daily, long known as the Gray Lady. Some years ago, he penned a memoir of his former life as a drug addict and ne'er-do-well who still managed to write brilliantly.
David Carr and Andrew Rossi joined us to talk about "Page One."
Mr. ANDREW ROSSI (Filmmaker): We're looking at The New York Times, really, through a sort of keyhole, which is the media desk. It's comprised of 14 journalists, all writing on various different aspects of the media landscape. I thought that it would make for a fantastic, sort of, play within a play.
MONTAGNE: Which meant that you followed - there are many characters - but basically for from the media desk. David Carr is one of them, and you're this enormously creative writer, but you have had, you know, quite a different history, I think than one that most candidates who were being hired by The New York Times have.
Mr. DAVID CARR (Media Journalist): Yeah, I think drug addiction usually isn't featured prominently on people's resume. I know that The Times was aware of that and aware that I had done a few things since then; that I'd raised twin girls by myself, I had read newspapers and I seem to be a fairly stable candidate for employment. But the fact that I used to be a crack addict is not the only thing about me, but it's probably the most interesting thing about me.
MONTAGNE: David Carr, in the film you are extremely devoted to The New York Times. Let's play a clip of you representing The Times at a debate about the value of old media.
(Soundbite of movie, "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times")
Mr. CARR: We have 17 million people that come to our web site. We put on a hundred videos every month. We have 80 blogs. We are fully engaged in the revolution. The New York Times has dozens of bureaus all over the world, and we're going to toss that out and kick back and see what Facebook turns up?
(Soundbite of laughter and applause)
Mr. CARR: I don't think so.
Well, I do have sort of an immigrant's love of the place. Yeah, I ended up being a little bit of moany(ph) about it. And sometimes, because I'm the media columnists, I end up on these panels and I get sort of excited. My daughter saw the film and she said, Dad, you're always yelling at people - you should stop yelling at people. And I said why should work be any different than home, honey?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: Well, it is a feature of the film, and I think it is a feature of life now, for people representing newspapers that there are these panels, talking about will it be irrelevant in the very near future.
And, Andrew Rossi, I wonder if you thought you were making a depressing documentary - or at least one that's bittersweet?
Mr. ROSSI: I think that the mood has changed a lot. When I first started shooting, it was just a couple of weeks before about a hundred people were eliminated from The New York Times newsroom. I think the arc of the film finds The Times at a place at the end that's a lot more stable and hopeful about the future.
This is a period in which WikiLeaks became such a huge story. You know, it's just there's momentous things happening and the stakes are really high, because journalism, as being practiced in places where the mandate is original reporting, is really at risk.
MONTAGNE: The more shocking media stories and one most people probably wouldn't have known about, if they hadn't read The New York Times, was the collapse of the newspaper giant the Tribune Company.
Here's a clip from the movie of the Tribune Company's Chairman Sam Zell, telling an audience about what he thinks about those who bemoan the demise of mainstream, traditional journalism.
Mr. SAM ZELL (Chairman, Tribune Company): When you're reading The New York Times today, in the business section, you will see that the obituary of the newspaper industry. Jesus, what a bunch of (Beep).
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ZELL: I'm not a newspaper guy. I'm a businessman.
MONTAGNE: I'm a businessman, and this is a man who controls several of the best traditional newspapers in the country.
Mr. CARR: It's sort of indicative of the broader disrespect of journalism as it is practiced. Again and again, we have these saviors from outside coming in saying, you guys don't get it - here's how it's going to happen. And in Sam Zell's case, they acted as if it was one more commodity and they drove the company into bankruptcy. And meanwhile, made it a terrible place for the 20,000 men and women who work there. And on top of it, diminish the reporting of papers all across the country.
And the fact that they got away with it over and over again, is an indication that there's - in Chicago and elsewhere - there just isn't the kind of journalism going on that there once was.
And one of the cool things about the movie is it shows me talking with my editor, figuring out what the story is. And I've talked to other reporters and they say, and then you said you're going to take a couple weeks to write it. And that in this day and age is such a luxury and I try not to forget that; that I can just turn and say, look - yes, I'm going to blog. Yes, I'll be tweeting out. Yes. Yes. Yes. But for this longer site, it's going to take me a couple of weeks to get it together. Never would have happened if I didn't work at the paper that I do.
MONTAGNE: In the end, Andrew Rossi, did you come away feeling that the New York Times was part of the larger picture, the troubled picture of newspapers, traditional media? Or did that it would pull it off?
Mr. ROSSI: My sense is that this is really a moving target. The last lines of the film discuss the facts that The New York Times has implemented a pay wall, a metered model to have people pay for news online. And readers and publishers are both continuing to debate how journalism can sustain itself.
Ultimately, I think it's for viewers to decide whether a place like The New York Times is worth keeping alive.
MONTAGNE: Filmmaker Andrew Rossi and New York Times media columnist David Carr.
The documentary "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times" is out today.
INSKEEP: And from NPR News, it's MORNING EDITION. With Renee Montagne, Im Steve Inskeep.