The Paper 2007
Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Aaron Matthews and the Independent Television Service
DVD, color, 88 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Date Entered: 04/10/2008Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University
The Daily Collegian is one of the rare daily college newspapers published in the U.S. It’s the student paper of Penn State University but it’s independently operated and is dependent on its advertising and readership to survive. This documentary follows various staff members for an intimate look at the operation of the paper over the course of a school year.
The program starts with editor-in-chief James Young anxiously trying to address a decline in readership. At one time The Collegian had a circulation that averaged 20,000 per issue but a steady erosion of readership, including an 8% drop the previous year, left it hovering around 15,000 so the staff start looking to become more creative and daring in hopes of regaining some of the lost market share. Among the staff members featured prominently are the managing editor, a rookie reporter, a sports reporter, a features writer, and the faculty advisor.
Several of the issues that crop up are undoubtedly representative of what happens at all newspapers. There are charges made against the editors about insensitivity toward ethnic and sexual identity topics. A female sports writer’s access to the football team, usually the biggest story on campus, seems to be restricted based on her gender. There are also internal differences over how coverage of sensitive stories such as sexual assault is handled. Amidst all this the awareness of the dwindling circulation looms over the staff and intensifies each situation. Ironically the biggest news story of the year was about the paper itself. By printing a hateful homophobic letter-to-the-editor the paper attracted the local TV news as well as national attention. Though it instigated a campus-wide dialogue on tolerance and gave the paper its much needed boost in circulation, the fact that the incident became a story illustrates the gulf between the operation of a student newspaper and a more professional organization.
The above-mentioned are all serious topics but there is some levity in the video. It’s entertaining to watch as the writers and editors struggle to become professionals while balancing the demands of school work, socializing, and flirting.
The production standards of the video are high and the development of the story and the characters is well executed. Overall my recommendation of this program is mitigated by its price. The likely viewers of this video will be journalism students so for medium to large academic institutions with journalism departments and healthy acquisitions budgets this is a highly recommended choice. Otherwise it should be considered an optional selection.