Two friends of mine do not use email. One is a synagogue rabbi and one is a school principal. Both are in the twilight of their careers and they see no need to update their familiarity with new modes of communication. If people want to contact them, there is always the telephone. To be sure, they are not philosophically opposed to progress; they just don’t feel at ease with the computer or the Blackberry and are reluctant to make the leap into today’s world of technology. I never had that aversion to technology. My late wife was a math teacher at my school and she introduced computer literacy into the curriculum many years ago. She and my kids kept me abreast of the latest technological advances and I was able to use them throughout my career, enabling me to communicate with people efficiently and quickly. The more techie stuff I used, the more productive I became. Years ago, I had a secretary who wrote drafts of my letters; now, without a secretary, I could do my own correspondence with Microsoft Word and respond to my constituency faster than ever before.
This perspective gave me an appreciation for Page One: Inside the New York Times, an engaging documentary giving an insider’s view of the state of print journalism today. The key factoid is that the advertising revenue that was central to a newspaper’s success is no longer present. Newspaper classifieds have given way to Monster.com and CraigsList and a myriad of internet alternatives to get out the word about a business, a job, or any new initiative. This leaves the paper in crisis mode, trying to survive in the face of decreasing revenues. There are scenes of layoffs, of columnists trying to learn new skills, and of media people justifying the uniqueness of what the New York Times does on the total informational landscape.
What emerges are intimate portraits of talented, mostly older, people coming to grips with radical change in their industry. It is a cliché that change is the only constant in life, and that is clearly what happens in Page One. The question is how we deal with unavoidable change. Does it crush us or does it create new opportunities for us?
A passage in the Talmud is instructive: “Who is a wise man? He who sees a future development.” Similarly, Ecclesiastes writes “the wise man has eyes in his head.” The Sages say that this means that at the beginning of something, the wise man foresees what will be in the end. This approach does not relate only to one’s career but to life itself. For successful living, we must be open to change and look beyond the immediate consequences of our actions.
David Carr, a New York Times journalist, is the film’s main character. His own history dramatically illustrates the ability to change. At a critical point in his life, he realizes that to see a different ending to his life, there must be a new beginning. Although the film does not deal with his past, Carr mentions that he was a single parent and former crack addict who left his wasteful life behind and reinvented himself as a reporter. No longer afraid of new challenges, he possesses the sobriety and wisdom to deal with failure. He understands that he has to change in order to survive and prosper. Indeed, the film shows him learning to navigate the latest social media craze “Twitter” with the goal of becoming adept at gleaning news and information from this public forum.
Watching Page One may help us get to page two of our own lives.