It’s not entirely true to say there are no women in Page One: Inside the New York Times, the new documentary that spends a year following the NYT media desk as they cover an imploding industry in which their paper plays a major role.
There are three female New York Times employees with speaking roles. Three who have been caught up in the layoffs that swept the NYT newsroom in 2009 — they are the only laid off reporters featured in the film, one of whom is weeping — and Susan Chira, the NYT foreign editor.
In addition, both former WSJ-er Sarah EIlison and The Nation‘s Katrina vanden Heuval are featured in talking head roles.
But the absence of female voice in the main narrative of the film is notable — which stars David Carr, Brian Stelter, Tim Arango, Bill Keller, and media editor Bruce Headlam — particularly considering this month’s news that Jill Abramson will be taking over as the paper’s first female executive editor.
This is (obviously, I hope) not to say the above-mentioned men are not deserving of the attention.
The documentary reportedly started out as one about Carr — who, according to Keller, decided he wasn’t comfortable with all the attention and looped in the paper as a whole — and is deserving of the accolades that have followed him. As is Stelter, who has basically single-handedly created the role of the serious journalist in the new media age. And media editor Headlam is just plain awesome.
However, a 88-minute documentary about the most important paper in the world during, arguably, the most important period the industry has ever undergone, that features no women power players at the paper of record does get tedious.
(On a related note, something else that gets tedious is hearing NYT devotees declare they are doing important work. With the amount of resources Page One shows them having have at their disposal — copy editors, for one! — especially compared to the bare bones blogosphere, one hopes the work they do is “important.”)
(While we’re on the subject of tedious, it’s worth noting Bill Keller comes across in Page One as a patient and admirable leader, probably a much fairer depiction than his own recent columns have inspired among readers of late.)
Anyway, turns out we women have no one to blame but ourselves.
During the Q&A following last night’s screening at the TimesCenter NYT executive editor Bill Keller listed the amount of women editors currently employed at the Times (14) and asked director Andrew Rossi why they that ratio was not represented in the film.
Update: A spokesperson for the NYT clarifies Keller’s remark: “At the event, Bill Keller named several women who run major parts of the paper (Michele McNally, photo editor, Susan Chira, foreign editor, Ann Derry, video editor, etc). His intent was not to name every female editor at the paper. We do not give out exact numbers but I can tell you that 40% per cent of the 1,100 New York Times newsroom employees are female which includes editors, reporters, photographers and producers.” Ed. note: That 40% of the NYT newsroom is women actually makes their absence in this documentary all the more frustrating.
According to Rossi, the two women who work on the NYT media desk (out of a total of 14) declined to participate.
As did incoming executive editor Jill Abramson, who only appears on the sidelines of film during the daily front page meetings. Rossi later told me Abramson had also declined to participate in the one-on-one interviews.
Which is a shame, since while Page One stands as a great document to a tumultuous, and historical, and important time in media, the viewer gets zero sense of the important role important women played in shaping it. Again, in this particular case it seems we only have ourselves to blame.
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