Page One: Inside the New York Times

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Before leaving the house on Sunday I caught a fragment of the HBO documentary A Matter of Taste.

It follows in entertaining detail the opening of a new restaurant in the Tribeca section of Manhattan.

The few minutes that stuck with me center on the chef's and owner's obsession with what critic Frank Bruni would say about their creation in the New York Times.

They track down intelligence on Bruni's likes and dislikes -- the fake names he uses to make reservations around the city.

They watch for him, and when he does come in to eat, they make sure somebody follows him into the mens room to neaten up.

In the end, Bruni gives the restaurant and its chef, Paul Liebrandt, a nice review and three stars. Everyone's very relieved. The restaurant will survive.

This scene – confirming the power of the New York Times -- was in my head as I made my way into the Landmark Theatres on Pico for a screening of Page One, a new documentary about the paper.

The message of that film is that the Times is losing its influence as the paper of record -- in the face of new competition from online aggregators, bloggers and YouTube.

As the Times is being usurped in the news culture, it's also in a fight for its financial life, due to the loss of advertising.

Tearful editors are shown leaving their careers prematurely due to buyouts and layoffs.

There's much handwringing about the weakening of the paper, the dilution of its power to shape the news agenda.

We see the tension on the faces of editor Bill Keller and his deputies as they come to grips with the realities of a changing news world that includes WikiLeaks and Twitter.

But the greater message, I think, is that we DO see them adapting.

The takeaway from the restaurant documentary on HBO is that the New York Times still does very much matter.

And in Page One, we get a sense that the New York Times is on the way to figuring out how to be a successful newspaper for the digital age.

Able to serve an audience that more and more wants its news online and on demand, while still strong enough to cover wars and stand up to enormous pressures from governments and corporations.

Media reporters David Carr and Brian Stelter are the stars. They're shown breaking stories online, on the non-stop schedule that web readers want -- while also doing the painstaking double checks with sources that help elevate good journalism.

In a scene with resonance for followers of the Los Angeles Times, we watch Carr put in a call to the Tribune Corporation's PR person.

Carr tells the flack about an investigative story on the frat house culture that took over at Tribune with the arrival of Sam Zell and his radio boys. Does Tribune care to comment?

It's an authentic newsroom scene that most readers never get to see.

The film travels freely in the Times' sunlit, clean and massive newsroom, and shows us the front page deliberations.

If you believe in the role of journalism, as I do, it's reassuring to see that an institution like the New York Times is figuring it out.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.