Search This Blog

Monday, September 26, 2011

Good Times, Bad Times, the New York Times Have Had Their Share.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but Bill Keller feels fine.

At the end of Page One: Inside the New York Times, the former Times Executive Editor (he stepped down earlier this month), addresses his staff from a makeshift podium on the staircase in the middle of a full newsroom. It’s a powerful image: one stoic man in a sea of frantic faces.

Picutre from here.

The newspaper industry is not as stable as it once was, and the Times staff know it.  But when their leader tells his people, “Journalism is alive and well and feisty, especially at the New York Times,” the crowd roars with approval. You can't help but feel reassured.

The film did not start out on such a positive note.

On Friday, myself and 70ish other eager communications students crammed into the snug Cinematheque theatre to watch a screening of Page One. The atmosphere was vibrant. We were there to see a film about the field we all hoped to enter. We were there to watch our future.

The energy changed, however, as we watched as the first few scenes of the film.  We saw empty newsrooms and weeping journalists, embracing each other on their last day at the office.  We saw news reports declare the death of many major American newspapers, and we felt slightly less secure about our futures.

Such images did not inspire confidence in a room full of kids hoping to find a career in this industry. I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but I was starting to feel anxious.

The decline of print media is nothing new. I certainly wasn’t shocked by the stats that Page One threw at me from the opening credits, but they were still upsetting.  Being a journalist is no longer a steady career. To paraphrase David Carr, Times reporter and key player in the film, seasoned journalists have less to worry about than those just starting out. For Carr and his contemporaries, a comfortable retirement is just around the corner. For beginners like Brian Stelter, things are direr.

Stelter, however, represents a new breed of journalism. He got his start as a blogger and completely embraces social media.  “I don’t know why anybody who’s a reporter isn’t on Twitter,” he tells a room full of media hopefuls in one scene. The film often shows him at his desk, his laptop in front of his desktop computer, and his smart phone in one hand as he dials the office line with the other. A small TV sits on the corner of his desk amid stacks of paper.

If Stelter is the new face of journalism, then the industry has nothing to fear.

Brain Stelter. Picture from Business Insider.

Times are constantly changing. In my first few weeks of school I’ve been overwhelmed by the flood of social media pouring into my brand new smart phone.  With the pace at which new media is created, however, who’s to say these technologies will still be relevant when I graduate? Will there be room for me in the industry two years from now, or will a new species of pre-programmed media cyborgs make me obsolete?

Should I try to make a crack at this business? Or, just give up now and run off to a shack in the woods to spend the rest of my days taming woodland creatures? Sounds pretty tempting.

We may be witnessing the decline of print media, but the New York Times remains optimistic. The Times welcome change and adopt digital media. The industry is changing, but if a 160 year-old newspaper can change with it, I’m sure I can too.

The New York Times is not giving up, but another giant of American culture called it quits last week. REM announced their breakup on September 21, putting an end to a 30 year career. As I left the theatre Friday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of this tune.


  1. I like your optimistic view of the future of "legacy" news media.

  2. That's great, it starts with an earthquake...