Required Watch List for News Junkies
Films About the News
If you’re a news junkie, or you are heading that direction, this list of films about the newspaper business should interest you. These films capture the essence of what Americans – rightly or wrongly – believe about the role and function of journalism in American life. Whether you realize it or not, these films have helped to condition the way you – and everyone else around you -thinks and feels about the newspaper business, so it behooves you to keep these cliches in mind when you think about how journalism affects society.
Unfortunately, many of these films are not available free of charge, but you may be able to get them from your local library on DVD. Getting access to information is one of the most important parts of the newspaper business, and this is a perfect example of how frustrating
This HBO series was one of the best depictions of a television news operation that you will ever see. Watch it carefully and pay attention to the ethical issues under discussion. Available on HBO but you may find it free at your local library.
The Front Page
The 1931 film is a serio-comic look at the inner workings of the newspaper business. The 1974 version was a hit for best friends Jack Lemmon and Walter Mattau. Watch both films to learn something about the changing attitude toward the newspaper business, and take note of the idea that the newspaper business destroys families, homes, and relationships, which has now become part of newspaper mythology. (Technological changes have made the news business far less demanding than it once was.)
Your education as a journalism junkie requires that you see Network. This is the film an out of control and thoroughly insane anchor man, Peter Finch, tells his audience that he’s mad as hell and is not going to take it any more and demands that they throw open their windows and shout the same thing into the street. This 1976 film won four Oscars, including a Best Actor nod to Peter Finch, who died before he could collect the award, but it’s dark serio-comic premise of an out-of-control, ratings challenged network putting a madman on the air to pump up ratings is, if anything, too close to the truth today. It is interesting to contrast this film against The Newsroom. Pay attention to the dramatic changes the internet and social media have imposed on the news gathering process. (Full disclosure: I studied playwriting with the film’s author, Oscar winner Paddy Chayefsky, long before he wrote this film.)
All the President’s Men
This 1974 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward is crucial because it was made with the close cooperation of Woodward and Bernstein and was adapted from their book about the Watergate break-in, the bizarre event that brought down President Richard Nixon. If you want to understand the power of journalism, this film is crucial. It’s also a damned good film, but all of these films fit into that category.
Call Northside 777
This now mostly forgotten film is the first depiction of how journalists literally save lives. Based on the life of Chicago reporter James McGuire, this 1948 Jimmy Stewart film is the first in which a crusading journalist saves a man from execution. That sounds like a cliche, but this is the film that invented the cliche. Made in 1948, it’s star, Jimmy Stewart, was an authentic war hero and was by that time a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserves, probably the only time a general ever played a leading role in a movie.
Ace in the Hole
This 1951 Billy Wilder film staring Kurt Douglas is the polar opposite of Call Northside 777 because it depicts how an unscrupulous reporter can milk a story for its sensationalism while playing up the public’s taste for pain and suffering. The film focuses on a dead beat reporter, Chuck Tatum, who manipulates the rescue effort aimed freeing a man trapped by a mine cave-in. The film was considered a failure at the time, but it is worth looking at again.
Good Night and Good Luck
This 2005 film depicts the war of words between Senator Joseph McCarthy and journalism legend Edward R. Murrow, and is especially relevant in the current political climate because it depicts the power of the media to redress grievances with the political establishment.
The Fifth Estate
In France, before the French Revolution, French intellectuals divided France in to three “estates:” the clergy, the nobility and the common people. In 1837, a fourth estate was added to the first three: the press, meaning the news media. The 2013 film, The Fifth Estate, covers the process that The Guardian, a highly respected British newspaper with a global audience, went through as it vetted the documents released by Wikileaks found Julian Assange.
Spotlight covers the in-depth reporting that The Boston Globe did to uncover the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Required watching for anyone who wants to see journalism in action. Pay attention to how journalism, politics and religion become meshed together.
FOR EXTRA CREDIT READ:
The Boston Globe Special Report on the story behind the film Spotlight
This special report on the film “Spotlight” goes into great depth about how The Globe covered the priestly sex abuse story. This special report is unique because it is an in-depth compilation of the articles that led to the film, so it is a report by a newspaper about a movie that reports on a series of events reported by the newspaper, which received a Pulitzer Prize of its expose of the issue.
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