The Top Journalism Films of all Time

Time for a bit of biographical information on myself.  I try my best to consciously avoid this; I feel it is ultimately distracting.  However, this is a little different, because on the surface, the inspiration for this article would make no sense.  On Monday, I will be starting my masters program in journalism. I wanted to examine which films may help me avoid certain pratfalls and mistakes; I also want to see which ones can show me what can be achieved.  Anyone else who wishes to take this path, have a gander at this list.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy- This film captures the basic essence of what it is like to be a newscaster in today’s age.  Yes, I know that the film takes place in the 1970s.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame did not take place in the 19th century but was still about the power the church held at that time.  Ron Burgundy today would fit right into the Fox News format.  He is warm and inviting at first, but turns into a demented being with no provocation.  Furthermore, Burgundy is hardly a journalist; more of a commentator than anything else. Yet that is a perfect example of what most do today anyway; it has been some time since I have seen anyone on television perform an act of hard hitting journalism. With a few wrong steps, we can all turn into Ron Burgundy, the same as any rock band can turn into Spinal Tap or any author can be turned into a Stephanie Meyer.  This film is perfect in showing everyone what happens down the road far to often taken.
Good Night and Good Luck- Very few youths today probably even know who Edward R. Murrow is. This is a travesty.  Murrow is the man all young journalists should aspire to be, from his erudite commentary to his knowledge of morality.  This is one of the finest journalism films because it remains so positive about the impact of Murrow.  He was one of the few people (at first) to openly criticize Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt, which very quickly went from sensible (there were spies in the U.S. government) to downright paranoid and maniacal.  Murrow never backed down from exposing McCarthy, and history has rewarded Murrow. View this film to see a time in which journalists did not care about ratings (the word is never mentioned) or fame, but about serving the public.

Man Bites Dog/ Behind the Mask: The Rise and Fall of Leslie Vernon –Again, these are not technically films about journalism.  This also may be cheating to include both films. However, one technically is a remake of the other (not shot for shot, but certainly thematically and stylistically).  They are also both about what journalism has really become. In the quest for sensationalism, many follow deranged psychopaths who are looking for nothing more than attention. It is the news that causes more acts of mass murder than any other – losers with no hope for attention figure out exactly how to become famous.  And most news outlets fall for it, every time. These two films show exactly why journalists fall for their tactics, and how these loathsome figures can use the media as their puppets. Sometimes, it is best to just ignore them; hopefully, that will help the problem go away.

All the President’s Men-As with Good Night and Good Luck, this film shows the power journalists can have if they do their jobs correctly.  Based on the Watergate scandal that was exposed by Woodward and Bernstein, the journalists show what can happen if they serve the public good.  I am sure that I do not have to explain the Watergate Scandal – there are plenty of books and articles on that for those who seem to forget everything about that seedy little D.C. hotel. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman both give journalism the sort of sex appeal that, lets face it, doesn’t really exist. The ominous opening shots, that resonate in sound, show how powerful typing can be.  It’s all about empowerment – it just requires a lot of determination.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (yes, I am counting it)-Many would not consider this film a journalism film.  Those who consider it at all believe it to be some sort of midnight acid film with its appeal latched to its aesthetic design. It is that, certainly.  But it is also the film that takes a look at a dying attitude in journalism – that belief that journalists could help change the world.  In today’s cynical world, nobody trusts journalists the way they once were.  Even Hunter S. Thompson received a gargantuan amount of respect despite some of his….questionable practices. He still believed he was doing the right thing in exposing the modern culture and political corruption that had all but shattered the “American Dream.”   Of course, Thompson blamed everyone; those on the left who merely wanted to ingest drugs and those on the right who wanted to ban them.  There will never be another Hunter Thompson in the field; perhaps this is a sign that we need him now more than ever.

Network-It is possible to take my write up of Anchorman and replace the words “Ron Burgundy” with Howard Beale” and still get the point.  Yet that is far too simple.  Network focuses on the action behind the scenes, something very few films do.  Very few audience members probably do not know how to calculate a “share.”  Yet this is what drives today’s news networks, where it has become even more competitive in an effort to attract viewers.  Howard Beale is not a prophet, nor an example to follow (Glenn Beck’s bizarre lauding notwithstanding); he is the face of propaganda. When his sayings become increasingly disliked, he is eliminated from the schedule.  The news can (and has) destroyed people in the name of a scoop.  Network acts almost as a tribute to those fallen brethren who gave their lives to an audience.

Citizen Kane-Well, what did you expect?  Of course this one would be among the best journalism films of all time. It is not only the film that defined the grammar for all others, it exemplifies all of the qualities listed above, and then adds its own commentary.  There has been one scene that I have always enjoyed -it is the scene in which Kane is mailed his original mission statement, only to tear it to shreds and proclaim it an antique. I like to think that both Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch have had the exact same conversation earlier in their careers.  It is that scene that shows where it can all go wrong.  In  many ways, Kane was a very successful man.  But he still felt empty, trying to win love and affection long after he had abandoned any way to really gain it.  The last time he is shown writing anything is for the purpose of his own ego; his first act was one of defiance, showing the establishment he could successfully run a newspaper. And that is how to maintain one’s integrity – remembering why you wanted to be in that career to begin with.  Once that goes, so does everything else.

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