“Page One” and the two kinds of authenticity in print news

“Page One: Inside The New York Times” certainly holds true to its title. From the very first scene, it thrusts viewers literally inside the physical production and distribution process of the paper, while the rest of the movie shows the inside of the production of content. The documentary follows arguably the most iconic figure The New York Times has ever seen, giving an intimate look at the people behind the headlines.

David Carr is a force of nature. Following him around The New York Times office, hearing him speak to people over the phone or in person when he’s trying to track down information, is an incredible journey. It shows a type of journalism that deserves a loftier platform than Google searches and hyperlinks can provide—and the underlying message in “Page One” is that this is recognized.

Of course, this does not mean The New York Times has not experienced setbacks. As most great newspapers and magazines have taken to doing, The New York Times embraced the digital world. They started to charge for web content. They had employee cutbacks. As Carr recognized, in an age in which the World Wide Web allows information to be accessible to everyone, there will be people turning down newspapers like The New York Times in favor of free versions of the same information. But, like Carr states multiple times in the documentary, there will also be people who believe in a certain legitimacy of papers like The New York Times that other sources, specifically free websites, do not have.

Still, if it is not authenticity in the content that keeps people loyal to The New York Times, it is authenticity in the final product. At times in “Page One,” it seems that even David Carr, as much as he loves print news and The New York Times in particular, believes in the eventual death of the physical paper. In fact, he says at one point that he believes Steve Jobs to be saving the media industry. But ultimately, he comes back to the idea of print news as a piece of everyday life that people will never truly let vanish. There will always be people vying for the physical object of a newspaper to pick up and read: in an airport, Starbucks, hotel lobby, train station, diner, office, or their own kitchens, over pancakes and the sound of cartoons in the background on Sunday morning. If record players—the feeling of pulling a vinyl record out of its sleeve, positing the needle exactly in the right place, hearing the slight gravely sound underneath the audio and when the record ends—can live on after the death of much more practical boomboxes and during the peak of even more practical iPods, there is still enough American nostalgia to keep print news alive.

Just because one platform becomes more popular does not mean it will swallow the other whole. The New York Times still represents a certain old-school Americana that doesn’t translate as well digitally. David Carr recognized that. Other people recognize that as well. The type of nitty-gritty journalism that deserves a print paper also represents this America: one in which news was still reliable. For a long time from now, people will recognize that, too.