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‘Page One’: Filming a Year at the New York Times

Director Andrew Rossi lived a year at the New York Times for his new documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” He attached himself — and his camera — to the newly created “Media Desk,” at a time when newsroom staff cuts coincided with big stories like the unveiling of the iPad and the massive classified document dump from WikiLeaks.

Sometimes the Times’ media team was covering stories that would impact them directly, creating a compelling story arc in Rossi’s film. We talked to Rossi at the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, N.C.:

Rossi was partially inspired to delve into the newspaper world after reading Michael Hirschorn’s article “End Times” in The Atlantic Monthly. Where Hirschorn suggests that traditional journalism as we know it is dying, “Page One” is its counter argument, showing an establishment media powerhouse struggling to stay on the cutting edge.

The New York Times turns out about 350 stories a day, including blog posts, and also creates about 100 videos per month for its Web site.

Rather than a battle between traditional journalism and new media, the characters in “Page One” demonstrate a convergence. Flagship news outlets like the Times are producing more video, blogging, live streaming, and creating interactive graphics. In fact, Rossi’s subject, the Media Desk, was borne out of this new landscape — created at the New York Times to report on the issues that arise from the merging that took place as content became digitized.

Media Desk editor Bruce Headlam and his staff of writers reinforce this blending of worlds. One of the most compelling characters is David Carr, who could perhaps be called the most old-school of reporters on the desk — and also one of the most enthusiastic bloggers for the Times’ Media Decoder. Media writer Brian Stelter, on the other hand, was recruited by the Times after making his reputation as a reporter through blogging. Now he is among the youngest writers at the Times, and a vocal advocate for reporters to get on the Twitter bandwagon.

Headlam says that while reporters must adapt to this new world of rapid fire information, it by no means renders journalists obsolete. “The media still has a role to play, a pretty vital role. Most people are not going to read through that vast amount of information and we can still pull out the themes and stories,” he said.

At the same time, Rossi hopes that the message from the film is to always “consider the source,” whether you are reading a story from the New York Times or somewhere out in the blogosphere.

“Page One: Inside the New York Times” will open in New York theaters on June 17, 2011. Find more on some of the works shown at the Full Frame film festival over on Art Beat.

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