Monday, September 26, 2011

The New York Times documentary…where is journalism headed?

On Friday, my journalism class watched the documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times at the Cinematheque downtown. I really enjoyed the documentary because it discussed a lot of journalistic concerns while maintaining its entertainment value.

The most entertaining parts were supplied by New York Times journalist David Carr. One of my favorite parts of the film is when Carr is being shown how to view a newspaper article on the iPad. His colleague shows him how he can scroll the article up and down on this thin device by the simple flick of his index finger. Their conversation goes something like this:

Carr:  “Wow, now that’s a good read. You know what it reminds me of?”
Colleague:  “No, what?”
Carr:  “A newspaper.”

The sarcasm is hilarious. But Carr’s response raises an important issue.

The largest concern that the film raised for me is the future of printed press. Mainly, how it is dying. As the internet becomes the popular medium for news, countless newspapers are being shut down. We all know it may only be a matter of time before the Winnipeg Free Press follows suit. The documentary discussed this journalistic disaster in depth.

I am a studying Communications at college, and this printed press issue is conflicting with my studies. I've had to sign up for a lot of social media this year (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you name it). Although I enjoy participating in these various forms of social media, they are placing my love for written journalism in jeopardy. I go from advertising class to journalism class and although the practices are related in some ways, the direction of what they hold for the future is forked. It’s a war between paleontology and futurism.

The documentary made an interesting point, however. There is a possibility that top newspapers, such as The New York Times, will survive this technological sweep. This is because people trust established sources like the NY Times, and have done so for years. We face the question of  “what is a journalist?” Many argue that anyone who blogs or tweets information to an audience is a journalist. I completely disagree. I believe the word “journalist” has credibility attached to it. Yes, we’ve all heard the horror stories of devious journalistic reporting, but for the most part journalists are the people we count on. We rely on them to be informed, to stay informed, and even to get our opinions into the press via interviews. It is in this way that I believe they strengthen our global social conversation; they are our most credible medium for news. This is what separates them from anonymous bloggers and a cluttered Twitter feed of opinions.

We’re so used to everything being free to view on the internet. Many people are outraged once they discover a paywall when wanting to enter a site. The documentary discussed how The New York Times charges people to view all parts of their newspaper online. When I first heard this, my initial thought was that it was ridiculous. But, the more you think about it, how else are newspapers supposed to compete with the online world? They need to make money for continued operation somehow.

Overall I really enjoyed the film. I would highly recommend you watch it even if you're not studying Communications because the issues it talked about (especially about printed press) affect you and the information you're being fed.

Social media is not slowing down. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever. I think the direction we have to take is to try our best to keep up and, if it comes to it, pay for online newspapers in order to keep keep real journalism alive . Your physical copy of The New York Times might disappear, but at least real journalism won’t.