The journalism films you should watch if you want to be a journalist (Part II)

The other day, I went through the five films I thought would be good for journalism students to watch. Today, we go through what the Hivemind had to say about which journalism films you should watch and why. Here are ten more films to consider:

All the President’s Men (1976) – Let’s talk about the 200,000-pound elephant in the room. This one popped up on everyone else’s list, and for good reason. It’s the gold standard of journalism and film, it showcases how a newspaper brought down a president and it inspired generations of writers to do more reporting and less stenography when it came to covering famous people. The story behind this movie is important, valuable and incredible as a turning point in American and journalistic history.

It didn’t show up on my list for three reasons:

  1. At 2 hours and 18 minutes, it’s a hell of a slog and it literally typifies almost everything that Meyers talks about when it comes to movie cliches. Sure, ATPM did it first and it was real, so calling it cliche in retrospect is unfair but it goes back to the third point on my rationale list. I have personally found myself drifting off watching this thing and I know I shouldn’t. Every year or so, this movie becomes a point of debate among a bunch of us on a college media listserv, so I know both sides have their supporters here.
  2. The piece lacks historical perspective for a lot of students in today’s day and age. Watergate is just as relevant as Washington crossing the Delaware in their lives. People over 50 remember Watergate happening, so it’s relevant to them, but many students are barely old enough to remember the 9/11 attacks and they weren’t even born when Nixon died. Because the film was made in 1976, it doesn’t include the “backstory” elements that current retrospectives do. In 1976, everyone KNEW the outcome because Watergate happened four years before the movie came out, so it was more about the story behind the story. That approach leaves the current generation a bit lost.
  3. OK, this is a cheap shot, but it lost the Academy Award for “Best Picture” that year to “Rocky.”

Still, overall, if you want to really dig in and watch this, go for it. I’d recommend it the same way I recommend eating vegetables: It’s good for you, but it’s not as fun as some other things you could do. Like watching “Rocky.”

The Post (2017) – This takes a look back before the Watergate scandal and showcases another huge story the Washington Post covered: The Pentagon Papers. Truth be told, the main reason it didn’t make my list was that I haven’t seen this yet. Everyone in the Hivemind who saw it thought it was perfect in its approach and its historical value, while still setting the stage well enough for people in this generation who didn’t live through it. It might be a top-five for me once I eventually find time to see it a couple times.

The Insider (1999) – Another great story of a journalist and a big story. Russell Crowe is a whistleblower in the case against Big Tobacco and Al Pacino is journalist Lowell Bergman, who is determined to make sure the story gets told.  As one of my colleagues noted it “is a great primer on the reporter-source relationship.”

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)This is another look back at an important clash in history between the government and journalism. David Strathairn stars as journalist Edward R. Murrow, who takes on Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s “Red Scare.” The work Murrow and producer Fred Friendly do to push back against a seemingly invincible opponent at a time of heightened nationwide fears was incredible. The use of news footage featuring McCarthy, as opposed to an actor playing him, adds realism and provides an even greater sense of what these journalists faced. What you are willing to do when you see nothing but risk all around you is a valuable question at the core of this film.

The Front Page (1931) – I hadn’t heard of this one, but it was suggested to me by a colleague who teaches a history of journalism as well as a “lit and film” journalism class. A comedy film, the piece looks at journalism in ways that are still relevant: Investigative reporter Hildy Johnson plans to leave his job at a tabloid to get a better-paying advertising gig when he comes across the scoop of a lifetime. A convicted killer escapes and Johnson pays off someone to get the story. Later, he comes across the killer on the lam and Johnson hides him in the newsroom until he can get the story from him. A 1974 remake starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon is also out there if you’re interested.

Almost Famous (2000) – This is a great film, even though I never really thought of it as a journalism movie. That said, two others in the Hivemind posted it, so here we go. The semi-autobiographical tale of a young Cameron Crowe, “Almost Famous” sends a 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) on tour in the 1970s with the band Stillwater so he can write a piece for Rolling Stone. It’s a fun movie, runs a little long and is more of a character study than anything else, in my mind. However, it does contain the world’s greatest lead for a band profile: “I’m flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi with America’s hottest band and we’re all about to die.”

I Am Jane Doe (2017) – A film that combines the “I haven’t seen it” and “I hadn’t thought of it as a journalism movie” issues discussed earlier. The story is about sex-trafficking and the website Backpage.com. The question it asks in the trailer is “How can it be legal to advertise children online for sex?” The answer sits at the core of something called Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act of 1996, which has broad implications for journalism. I trust the faculty colleague who recommended this one.

Network (1976) –  This is a great, great movie, but it just didn’t make the cut for my five. (In retrospect, it probably should have, but I don’t know what to cut, and don’t you dare suggest “The Paper.”) Veteran news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) finds his ratings falling as younger journalists and “catchier” stories undercut his traditionalism. When he finds he is about to be fired, he says that he’ll kill himself on the air one week from now. This announcement leads to a ratings spike, the network’s decision to ride the story and perhaps one of the best-known moments in journalism-movie history:

Even all these years later, this piece is SO on the money in terms of where we are today with reality TV, media quality, corporatization of news and more that it essentially made a comeback when Aaron Sorkin did his version of it with “Studio 60” in 2006:

Or even when Sorkin did it again in “The Newsroom” in 2012:

 

As one person in the Hivemind called it it is “a favorite and works well with discussions about media dependency, conglomeration, reality TV…” It’s a real keeper. (Oddly enough, this lost out on the “Best Picture” Oscar to “Rocky” as well… “Why this fighter of such limited ability has gained such popularity is such a mystery…”)

His Girl Friday (1940) I have a love of Howard Hawks films, due in large part to his rapid-paced dialogue and his desire to just bang out the story. Of course, my favorite Hawks movie was “Rio Bravo,” which has nothing to do with journalism, but does include John Wayne. Watching everyone else working in “Hawks speed” while Wayne is still lumbering along at his own pace of dialogue is incredible. In any case, “His Girl Friday” showcases Cary Grant as a newspaper editor trying to get his ex-wife and top reporter, Rosalind Russell, from leaving the paper and getting remarried. The movie doesn’t age well, particularly in terms of sexism, but it is still a classic film worthy of a look if you can look past some of the historical failings it contains.

The Killing Fields (1984) – Another one I need to add to my NetFlix list. Sam Watterson plays a New York Times journalist who goes to Cambodia in search of a story during Pol Pot’s “ethnic cleansing” of the country.  One of the Hivemind called it “excellent for discussion of US reporters covering war, use of local sources/handlers and ethics.” 

So, what else did we miss? Feel free to drop us a comment below.

 

2 thoughts on “The journalism films you should watch if you want to be a journalist (Part II)

  1. Broadcast News? Definitely formed my ideas about what working in television would be like, and when I actually got there a few years later, I found myself working for one of the producers that a character in the movie was based off of.

    • vffilak says:

      It’s funny, but I really liked that one in a lot of ways. Someone did mention it as an interesting look at how TV works. It probably should have made the list. You are right

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