Page 1: Inside the New York Times

The film adroitly summarized by Sara as “a series of loosely connected clips of smart people saying smart things”. The film segued through several major news cycles, loosely following the core of their media-reporting cadre. It did not attempt to critically engage with their views, except through selective editing, and it presented not so much a narrative as a theme of the excellence of the paper.

There were lots of things I liked about this documentary. First and foremost, it allowed the material in the documentary to speak for itself: there was no voice-over carefully explaining things to you. There was no attempt to control or define a narrative. The documentary picked up on incidents and situations, and then moved on: there was barely any repetition or returning to previously covered ground. As a result, it flowed extremely well, never pausing, never becoming tedious. And so I’d like to add to Sara’s summary “for smart people”. There was no significant explanatory framework: just the smart people saying smart things.

This very strength though, is something of a weakness, because while it obliquely raised questions, there was a lack of depth throughout the presentation. You could leave this documentary feeling unsatisfied, feeling that you knew nothing of substance that was unknown at the start. The didactic purpose was lost. I would like instead to think about this as an invitation to find out more yourself, and so however inclined someone might be to describe this as a fluff piece, it has actually prompted me to think about my relationship with news media: it is literally thought inviting.

In general, I glean news from what are effectively news commentaries. I do read original journalism occasionally, but I tend to get my news second-hand at best. I dip into and out of Gordon Campbell’s column on Scoop, No Right Turn, and the NY Times website; I also read news stories which are forwarded on to me, which is surprisingly frequently. More generally though, I get news from dipping into Media Watch, The Daily Show & The Bugle. I find it a lot more interesting to peruse news material inside the context of analysis of that news than the raw item.

But then again, perhaps that is because almost all of my experience with newspaper news locally has been myopic at best and my experience with TV news has been charitably described as “infotainment”. Perhaps if I still had cable and could watch BBC or CNN.

So I guess ultimately what this documentary has coalesced in my mind to represent is a statement about what news should aspire to, which is an eerie echo of a long-forgotten villain’s closing speech from Remington Steele, that news was cold, and hard, and most of all complex.

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