Hollywood has enjoyed a long romance with journalists and the (US) newsroom; it’s estimated that approximately 2,000 fictional films have been produced in the US with journalists as main and peripheral characters (the earliest may be Delivering Newspapers (Director unknown), produced in 1907. Another 43 followed before the archetype,1931’s The Front Page (dir. Lewis Milestone) introduced a cynical, boozy, gambling, competitive reporters, both too lazy to break out of the pack, and, whose desperate passion for a scoop would see them kill it.
Hollywood has enjoyed a long romance with journalists and the (US) newsroom; it’s estimated that approximately 2,000 fictional films have been produced in the US with journalists as main and peripheral characters (the earliest may be Delivering Newspapers (Director unknown), produced in 1907. Another 43 followed before the archetype,1931’s The Front Page (dir. Lewis Milestone) introduced a cynical, boozy, gambling, competitive reporters, both too lazy to break out of the pack, and, whose desperate passion for a scoop would see them kill it. It’s often referred to in journalism texts as, “the best known critique and cliché of American journalism”. The classic was updated in 1974 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and in 1940 with a gender switch (see His Girl Friday). The rant against the profession — “A journalist? Hell, what does that mean? Peeking through keyholes? Chasing after fire engines? Waking people up in the middle of the night to ask them what they think about Mussolini/Hitler….Stealing pictures off old ladies?” — spewed in some of the classics contrasts with others in which journalists were portrayed sympathetically as truth-seeking heroes.
Which ones are the best? J-Source editor-in-chief Janice Neil shares her top 10 picks. Anything we missed? Tell us in the comments section.
All the President’s Men (1976, dir. Alan J. Pakula) Handsome Robert Redford and charming Dustin Hoffman tell the true story of how the Washington Post broke the stories about President Nixon’s corruption, in what we know as the Watergate scandal. This film is said to be responsible for driving hundreds of idealistic boomers into journalism school.
Almost Famous (2000, dir. Cameron Crowe) The film is based on Cameron Crowe's early precocious life which saw him write rock music articles at age 16 for the Rolling Stone about following the Allman Brothers tour of 1973.
Broadcast News (1987, dir. James Brooks) A prescient film that eerily anticipated then critiqued the creep of entertainment values into television news. Hilarious scenes in editing suites and studio control rooms as well as a grimacing realistic ethical dilemma make this a favourite.
Citizen Kane (1941, dir. Orson Wells) Just like journalists in film are portrayed as heroes or scoundrels, or both, Citizen Kane is routinely sanctified as the World's Greatest Film and was a box-office flop. A character bracingly similar to newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Heart, celebrates journalism by staffing up his newsrooms, but uses them for his own powerfully corrupt ambitions.
His Girl Friday (1940, dir. Howard Hawks) A brilliant gender switch of The Front Page that takes the tension in scoundrel-ridden news bureau and comedically tops it up with a romantic love triangle. The dynamic between the fast-talking scoop-happy reporter and her cutthroat yet charming editor, who also happens to be her ex-husband, makes this a fun romp through ethical and professional challenges.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, dir. Terry Gilliam) If gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson inspired you to go into journalism school, you may not want to do a reality check with two psychedelic classics about his drug-crazed ‘reporting’ trips. Here, Benicio Del Toro trips across the American West, fueled by the drugs and booze in the car trunk. In Where the Buffalo Roam (2003, dir. Art Linson) Bill Murray plays Thompson as he attempts to cover the 1972 Presidential election and the Super Bowl.
Network (1976, dir. Sidney Lumet) If you think the angry plea, “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore” reflects a reporter’s disgust with his pay stub, you’d be…wrong. It’s Howard Beale’s desperate attempt to keep his anchorman job by injecting more trashy reality into TV news.
The Paper (1984, dir. Ron Howard) A morality tale about workaholic reporters facing a choice about working for the virtuous but financially-strapped truth-seeking newspaper and the free-spending tabloid. A sentimental – and therefore, unusual- portrayal of the pressures facing the publisher, editor, reporters and their colleagues-as spouses.
State of Play (2009, dir. Kevin Macdonald) A political/murder thriller that sees Russell Crowe’s ruthless editor forces him to investigate a murder connected to a friend and an ambitious US congressman. (See this J-Source article)
Shattered Glass (2003, dir. Billy Ray) The true story of Stephen Glass, who concocted sources, quotes and even entire events in 27 of the 41 stories published while he was a 20-something staff writer at The New Republic.
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