Black and White and Dead All Over
Last weekend, we headed down to the Newseum for a new documentary, BLACK AND WHITE AND DEAD ALL OVER.
Having attended Silverdocs (a film festival that exclusively shows documentaries) last year, and having watched dozens of them on our own, outside of the festival, we have become something of documentary snobs. We talk a lot about whether the subject is worth the investment of time, whether the story is told in interesting ways, whether new facts were illuminated, whether the movie itself was enjoyable as a movie. We have pretty strong opinions — and sometimes they differ from the critics’.
BAWADAO got a solid B from us.
It is subtitled “A Film About the End of American Newspapers”. As a unifying features, it shows a map of the United States, with dots placed to show cities where newspapers have been severely curtailed or, in some cases, shut down forever. The film cites various statistics, including the average age of readers (55, and growing older).
But that’s not really what the film is about.
BAWADAO is about the death of *investigative journalism*. It’s about those reporters who invest months — sometimes a year or more — in developing a story, ferreting out injustice, exposing bad government. Investigative journalism is very expensive for newspapers; it requires fronting salaries for months, along with the costs of the actual investigations. It is the very opposite of tweets and Facebook and other social media news.
BAWADAO tracks two investigative journalists from the Philadelphia Daily News, telling their story — both the Pulitzer-Prize-winning series that they wrote and their precarious job position. The film spends a *lot* of time talking about Philly papers, about how they’ve been bought and sold five times in six years, about how hedge fund managers make lousy publishers.
These are all part and parcel of the problem. But ultimately, the film claims too much when it says it’s about the (absolute) end of (all) American newspapers.
The Newseum welcomed us to the screening, handing out totebags with the slogan from the movie (“Democracy dies in darkness”.) The bags also contained a copy of that day’s Washington Post, a bottle of water, and a bag of SmartFood popcorn (you know, so we could enjoy popcorn and a drink at the movies.)
In fact, we’d already read that day’s Post (even though we’re younger than the 55-average-age.) How about you? When was the last time that you read a print paper? How about a mainstream paper, online? From where do you get your news?