By Marilee Devries
Sometimes they are nuisances, looking for a scoop; sometimes they’re heroes uncovering the truth. Either way, journalists crop up in films all the time. Hollywood has a tendency to either vilify or glorify the noble* profession of journalism. Film historian Steven J. Ross said in his book Movies and American Society that films are “partly a reflection of what audiences are. And what they are is no less influenced by what they see.” The public opinion of journalism is affected by fictional portrayals of the industry, as much as society’s perspective on any industry is in part a reflection of popular culture. Here are five movies featuring journalists that you should watch (because they’re accurate); check back this weekend for five you should avoid (because they’re not).
A reporter traces the life of newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane in this 1941 film that Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, and starred in. Kane’s past is revealed through flashbacks and interviews with those who knew him as the reporter who tries to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate’s dying word: “Rosebud.” Also, it’s often named the best movie ever made, so there’s that.
Few journalists are household names the way Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are. This 1976 film follows Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as better-looking versions of the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Watergate scandal. Maybe it’s a slightly romanticized portrayal of journalism, but the true story it’s based on brought down a president, so . . .
This 2005 film takes us back to 1959, when Truman Capote begins researching the brutal murder of a Kansas family for what eventually became his non-fiction book In Cold Blood. The book is an important (ifdisputed) piece of journalism, and Capote is a worthwhile watch for everyone—plus, it features a brilliant, Oscar-winning performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Based on the true story of former The New Republic reporter Stephen Glass, the film follows Glass’s downward spiral from journalistic Wunderkind to exposed fraud. (Glass fabricated sources and events for over half of hisarticles for the magazine.) The best quality of Shattered Glass is how it simultaneously portrays the worst and the best sides of journalism: on the one hand, the fabulist Glass (Hayden Christensen); on the other, his editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) shows the blend of integrity, trust and skepticism we hope for in the journalists whose work we read.
A smart, amusing and thoroughly ’80s look at the world of TV journalism, Broadcast News was also praised for its accurate portrayal of . . . well, broadcast news. It follows the story of a producer (Holly Hunter) and her new anchor (William Hurt), hired for his good looks and charisma. There is some sappy romance, but there are also brilliant moments showing the nature of the news beast, the reality of deadline pressures and that there really are people in the industry who care more about quality journalism than they do about ratings.
Honourable mentions: Network, Almost Famous, Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck, His Girl Friday
*On calling journalism “noble”: you’re on the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s website. Of course we hold the job in high esteem.
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About the author
Marilee Devries was the Head of Research for the Spring 2014 issue of Ryerson Review of Journalism.