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During the most tumultuous time for media in generations, filmmaker Andrew Rossi gains unprecedented access to the newsroom at The New York Times. For a year or more (2009/10), he follows journalists on the paper's Media Desk, a department created to cover the transformation of the media industry. Through this prism, a complex view emerges of a media landscape fraught with both peril and opportunity, especially at the Times itself.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The confluence of falling ad revenues for daily newspapers with the explosion in free online news and information sources has already killed several major US dailies. The New York Times, to many observers, is on death row. But to many, that is a potentially dreadful scenario.

Andrew Rossi takes his camera into this still functioning media giant, especially to its newly established (2008) Media department, which is charting the world of media - old and new - and how digital developments are shaping newspapers. 'Stop press' has an altogether new and darker connotation ...

Media Desk Editor Mark Headlam points out how the internet makes it not just possible but so easy to 'get it out there'; whether it's WikiLeaks or an ordinary citizen with a video they can upload to YouTube, the dissemination of information has broken old boundaries and fences. There are less filters, though, and less fact checking.

We are in on an interview of Julian Assange by Media Desk writer Brian Stelter, in which Assange asserts that the role of journalism is justice. He goes on to say that yes, he sees himself as a journalist, but also as an activist. It's a thought provoking self-image, especially when he says if he had to choose, he would plump for activist, whose goals are to pursue justice, whereas the role of a journalist "is a bit more muddled'. This brief exchange is illuminating as part of the broader debate about the kinds of material published through a filtering media organisation like the NYT and a personally controlled website, say. It underlines the big issue: old media is not competing with new media as such, but with activism, at various levels. In other words, there is news and there's propaganda (for good or ill).

The question is, how can a media organisation make money out of genuine, serious, expensively researched journalism, where one single major story (eg David Carr's explosive 5,600 word piece on the Tribune Co) can take two weeks to research and another week to write?

Which is one theme that underlies a lot of the discussion Rossi covers about the value, prestige and reliability of the NYT. It's a fascinating insight into the changing media landscape from the POV of one of the great media institutions. If such an institution can not claim trust, who can? This and other questions litter this fascinating doco - fascinating for anyone with a curious mind, and especially for anyone with an interest in how society is kept informed. And how mainstream media is being written off by some who champion new media as the 'better' news source.

As Carl Bernstein of the Watergate reporting says, "We need institutions that have the ability both financially and culturally to bring news that other institutions and individuals cannot."

But perhaps surprisingly, Rossi also manages to personalise much of the information so that it isn't just about a media giant but about the unique individuals who make it.

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(US, 2011)

CAST: Documentary featuring Carl Bernstein, David Carr, Tim Arango, Brian Stelter, Bruce Headlam, Bill Keller and others

PRODUCER: Josh Braun, David Hand, Alan Oxman, Adam Schlesinger

DIRECTOR: Andrew Rossi

SCRIPT: Andrew Rossi, Kate Novack


EDITOR: Chad Beck, Christopher Branca, Sarah Devorkin

MUSIC: Paul Brill

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: NSW, Qld, ACT: September 15, 2011

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