Saturday, July 02, 2011

"Page One: Inside the New York Times": did bloggers undermine legacy media with the "everything is free" notion?

I recall the day in 1994, while on vacation in Colorado, that I decided formally that I would write my first book (while I was in a family diner and caught a rogue story on gays in the military in a local paper). That would lead to my developing and maintaining a “news presence” on the Web, in the good old dialup days of Web 1.0 when simple HTML files were the first to get searched and make what you have to say get known.
In time, we would hear that anyone could become a publisher – a fact somewhat obscured today by social networking sites.  But by 2000 or so I already suspected that all of this – people like me in the aggregate – could have a profound economic effect on the old fashioned newspaper industry.

To some extent, that’s the premise of the new documentary from director Andrew Rossi  and Magnolia Pictures/Participant, “Page One: Inside the New York Times”.  Much of the film focuses on the story of lead business columnist David Carr, who relates his ragged personal beginnings in Minneapolis (with some effective shots of Hennepin Ave, like the Pantages – a reminding me that Minneapolis crept into “The Tree of Life”, too).  The film also traces a new reporter Tim Arango, who works with Andrew Ross Sorkin (both are rather “cute”), and eventually volunteers to put his feet on the ground in Baghdad.

The documentary covers the recent layoffs (aka outright firings although there are buyouts and retirements, too) at the Times, and the erection of an online “paywall”, and the newspapers saying that it can no longer offer everything to readers online free and have a sustainable business model.

The “self-publishing” revolution does ride on the back of traditional legacy media, and needs it for source. Ordinary bloggers can’t go to Afghanistan or wildfire zones to get original stories.  Does it really compete with legacy media? To some extent, and the “revolution” has certainly fed the mistaken belief that “information is free”.  In the past, the “power structures” controlled the flow of information, and the “revolution” is part  of our “Spring” of democracy.  This might not have been so if Congress hadn’t provided Section 230 in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a downstream liability shield for service providers now under attack because of “online reputation” issues.  (Just listen to Michael Fertik of Reputation Defender – his operation could make for another Participant film.)  Also the DMCA Safe Harbor, in the copyright area, figures into the downstream liability protection issue.  The recent litigation brought by Righthaven and other copyright trolls could also provide a threat to the new personal speech paradigm.  Finally, remember that self-publication (of personal perspectives on issues) and social networking are overlapping but still different experiences.

The film does cover the idea that a legacy newspaper should hire a new-media person, with the story of Brian Stelter.  It also has interviews with Jimmy Wales and Carl Bernstein and covered many other stories, such as that of Judith Miller and the Jayson Blair integrity scandal. 

The official site is called “Take Part” and is here

YouTube video from FilmMaker, the Magazine of Independent Film:


I saw this film at the AMC  Shirlington in Arlington (Stubs car included), with a moderately sized audience at the 7:30 show Friday night. 

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