A Fiction Writer’s Take on Page One

I never really wanted to be a journalist. I just wanted to write. Mainly fiction. But historically few of us story tellers have made our cheddar doing what we love: sure Chekhov was a doctor and Kafka sold insurance, but most of us did journalism to make our rent and put food on our table. Hemingway’s work at the Kansas City Star gave the master his minimalism and his rigorous English. Steinbeck was sent to Vietnam for Newsday. It’s just part of the fiction writer’s reality.

So last night’s opening night feature was not necessarily about people whose lives I envied; it was about people whose lives I greatly appreciate. Director Andrew Rossi has given us a very telling documentary about the shortsightedness of daily paper gloom and doomers, and about the true and real value of a newspaper like the Times.

I understand many were turned off by the film’s treatment of Wikileaks and the Times involvement in making the diplomatic cables public last fall. I even heard that some said it was ‘disrespectful to the troops’ or something like that. In my opinion it was anything but that. There are arguments to be made in other places about the value of Wikileaks, ones which claim Wikileaks to be a great service to US troops but not to the US government. And there is a distinction to be made there.

But I digress. The relationship between the Times and Wikileaks, as presented by Rossi, shows nothing if not the importance of the Times, and its place in a world where Wikileaks can simply drop things online but instead pursues an institution like the Times to do what newspapers do, or should do, best: separate the news from the noise.

The film focuses on David Carr and Brian Stelter’s tasks of reporting on the changing media landscape, from the financial demise of the Tribune Company to media underdogs Gawker and Vice (the later of which Carr makes look like a bunch of junior varsity hacks ‘with safari hats’). And to watch them is to watch two very different journalists at work on what is undoubtedly the most important subject in modern times.

Brian, Andrew and David stuck around for a Q&A after the film which was well-attended, though I admit I had to slip out due to other journalistic responsibilities. But I had the pleasure of speaking with Carr briefly and with Stetler at mugh greater length later in the night. A report from the night will be forthcoming in our June issue of the magazine.

I can tell you now that they are charming, sharp as all hell and a real pleasure to listen to as they wax philosophic. Personally, as a fiction writer interested in making sense of a really confusing world, it’s nice to have people like Brian and David with their ears to the ground. They are paying attention. And so should we to them.

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