Journalists in the Movies

I am closing on my last few semesters as a graduate student in the Digital Journalism and Design program at USF. This semester, I took a fascinating course called "Journalists in the Movies". From the ten movies watched this semester, the overall impression of how journalists were portrayed is balanced. Some movies, such as "Spotlight" and "All The President's Men" portray journalism as a career meant for those with only the purest of intentions, those of sterling character. Conversely, movies such as "Nightcrawler" and "Absence of Malice" portray the darker side of journalism: if one were to only view these two movies about reporters, a person could easily see how their impression of the press would be jaded and suspicious.

In truth, our professor did an excellent job of curating a collection of films that represent the varied personality types and ethical temperatures of a complex and storied group of people such as journalists. Journalism, much like anything in life, is made up of a melting pot of different intentions, agendas and belief systems. Historically, I think journalists have enjoyed an elevated position in the minds of the general public (much of it due to movies such as "All the President's Men"); however, it seems as though with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and the internet age, most people are more cynical now toward the institution of journalism, citing such issues as bias reporting, fake news, and press pandering to one political party or another. Movies about journalism seem to represent rather fairly the wide range of people that inhabit these reporter roles. When journalism-based movies are viewed together as a whole, somehow, Hollywood seems to have gotten it right this time. Journalists are people, and people are human. The human condition exists throughout all time and through all occupations.

Now for a lighter perspective: the Seth Meyer's spoof on reporters had me laughing out of my seat. One thing that drove me crazy through most of the movies was the incessant cacophony of typewriter keys for scenes in the newsroom. I think the spoof is more a funny peek into the composition techniques and shot sequences that filmmakers use when filming journalist movies more than it speaks about journalism itself. Filmmakers enjoy using tried and true shot sequences when filming (and for good reason - because they work) and journalism movies are no exception. The dirty styrofoam cups, the threadbare reporter's apartment, and the long pregnant pauses from the editor are done to death but for good reason: they are painting a picture, a mood and a feeling about the landscape of news. They are taking the viewer somewhere they have never been and most likely never will go, which is what filmmaking is about. I think although some elements of the films are trite, for the most part they are harmless and are fairly accurate representations of a place and a moment in time.