Black and White and Dead All Over

Synopsis

Black and White and Dead All Over is an in-depth look at the newspaper industry as it struggles to remain financially viable and to keep the presses rolling. Through the voices of prominent journalists including Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and David Carr of the New York Times, we reveal an industry in the midst of a financial death spiral, as readers abandon print for online news sources. We see publishers and editors desperately trying to create a sustainable business model for their dying papers.

The film examines the importance journalism has on our society by following two fearless investigators into the badlands of North Philadelphia. With the economic crisis in the newsroom threatening to shutter their struggling tabloid, these courageous women bring down a dangerous and corrupt narcotics squad.

If the American newspaper dies, who will conduct investigative journalism, who will hold public officials accountable?

For more information on the film please visit blackandwhiteanddeadallover.net

Interview with Producer Lenny Feinberg and Director Chris Foster

How did you come up with an idea for the project? What motivated you to get started?

Lenny: Like my previous film, The Art of the Steal, I want to tell untold local stories that have universal meaning. The local story of what was happening to Philadelphia newspapers fit that role. The entire industry was and is going through a transformation.

Chris: Right around the time that the two major newspapers in Philadelphia were sold for I believe the 4th time in only a few years, Lenny Feinberg approached me with the idea of doing a film that addressed the impact the economic recession in the US economy was having on the ability of daily metro newsrooms to conduct investigative journalism.

How did the story of the journalist women came about? Where did you meet them?

Chris: Since the Philadelphia papers were a prime example of struggling newspapers, we started looking for local prominent journalists to interview. Also since the Philadelphia Inquirer had long been given the lion's share of resources at the two newspapers, we turned our attention to their scrappy tabloid sister the Daily News. The Daily News' recent Pulitzer Prize winning reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker seemed like the best place to start looking for our story.

Lenny: I met Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman on the floor of The Daily News. Once we realized how dynamic they were we asked for an interview. We followed up for more interviews that grew into following them around the news floor and eventually out on the street while they did their jobs. Their commitment to the job made us realize what impact losing reporters to layoffs will have on us.

How do you see the future of American newspapers?

Lenny: The future of newspapers will have to be on line. I don't see any way the model of the printed paper can be resuscitated. How many people under 40 or even 50 years old physically read a printed paper? Not many and the number continues to dwindle.

Chris: It seems to me to be a grim future for newspapers. Small market papers may find a way to survive, because local news is still only available through local newspapers. So I believe they can still attract local. But small local papers are not the life blood of investigative journalism. Prominent investigative journalism has traditionally been undertaken by the large daily metro newspapers. There is no current business model that will sustain daily metro newspapers. Investigative journalism is expensive. And newsrooms are less likely to take on projects that can take months, even years when they are struggling to create stories for tomorrow paper.

Do you see internet/digital media as a replacement for newspaper? Why or why not?

Lenny: I don't think the printed paper will ever flourish again. The advertising and paid circulation just won't be there. The internet is producing digital representations of the printed papers along with blogs that specialize either politically or in certain areas.

Chris: Society is always going to have an appetite for news. And news gathers are always going to be needed. But the day to day news, the plane crash, the fire, the human interest story, these aren't the kind of reporting that Black and White and Dead All Over is concerned with. Our film is concerned with what is happening to watchdog journalism? Who is going to keep the people in power honest if newspapers can not afford to do investigations?

Non-profit news organizations such as ProPublica do a fine job of investigative reporting, but currently these organizations do not have a guaranteed sustainable future either. They exist at the whim of philanthropists and donors. Other online journalistic vehicles and citizen bloggers can never generate the critical mass needed to give a news story national traction. For example, the atrocious conditions of the army's Walter Reed Hospital were reported in Slate online for months without generating much national interest, and slate is well funded with a very large following for an online publication. As soon as the Washington Post picked up the story and delivered it to hundreds of thousands of readers it sparked an immediate national debate. Online reporting will never be able to generate a critical mass of so many people reading the same story at the same time with the same collective outrage. Only a newspaper can do this. And as a country we are losing newspapers.

What is the direction of your future work? What projects do you have in mind?

Lenny: I am working on a new film about Father Divine a powerful evangelist from the early half of the last century. He was a visionary in may ways and his one million followers are now down to a handful.

Chris: Currently Lenny and I are collaborating on a film that looks inside the Peace Mission Movement which was founded by M.J. Father Divine nearly 100 years ago.

As his remaining faithful followers try to create a future for the movement we examine what remains of this mysterious and often misunderstood religion. Lost by the passage of time the story of Father Divine, whom his followers consider to be God, is a fascinating ride. He was a man who lived in a beautiful mansion, dressed in expensive suits and was chauffeured around in limousines, yet never had a penny to his name. A forerunner of racial integration and gender equality he was hounded by sexual and financial and scandals for decades. The twists and turns of Father Divine's life story may make him a figure larger than life, but it is the legacy of his last few followers, their beliefs and their sacrifices for their God that is the true story.
Produced by MAJ Productions. Distributed by Educational Film Network.