Over the past couple of weeks you haven’t been able to move without hearing about the scandalous News of the World phone hacking case, which, in turn, led to the closure of the world’s most widely read newspaper. This has led to journalists being amongst the most hated people in society today, more so than politicians and petty criminals (some would argue what’s the difference). Many people have forgotten about the valuable jobs that journalists can do and lately, because of this running news case, have labelled all reporters as dishonest, slimy and willing to kill their own Nan for a story. However, have we not seen from the film world that journalists can do great things, working long hours and risking their own lives for justice? There have been a number of reporters who sacrifice everything for the common good.
Many of the movies portraying journalists focus upon real life stories. The most famous of which is All the President’s Men, the story of the journalists who uncover the Watergate scandal and the corruption of Richard Nixon, leading to the first American President in history to resign from office. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) overcome their initial reluctance to work together and toil tirelessly, following leads, including Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) and bring the president to justice for his crimes. This was journalism at its finest; where the police fail the reporters see it through.
Other films that show a news office coming to life in a fight for justice include State of Play, where Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) investigates the suspicious death of a congressman’s mistress. There is also Zodiac, where a group of reporters attempt to bring down the serial killer in connection with the infamous Zodiac killer. One could also consider the brave journalists in George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck who helped the communists during the ruthless period of McCarthyism. A bit closer to home is Veronica Guerin, the story of the eponymous Irish reporter striving to uncover the drug trade in Ireland which ultimately leads to her tragic death. These inspiring stories are enough to persuade one to follow in the footsteps of the crusading journalist.
Not all films have the reporter risking their life for a story. One of the most underrated and under watched films of the last ten years, Shattered Glass, starring a Hayden Christensen a world away from Anakin shows editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) investigating the dubiously exceptional articles of one of his reporters Stephen Glass (Christensen) in The New Statesman magazine and risking his reputation and friends to seek the truth to uphold the dignity of the profession.
However, we will always have the somewhat more negative representation of journalists such as the profit driven newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) in Citizen Kane which seeks increased circulation above all else using sensationalist journalism while manipulating public opinion for political effect. There are also the relentless, rage induced, editor character such as the amazing J Jonah Jameson (J.K Simmons) in the Spiderman series who uses the power of the press to bring down the hero, Simmons plays it very well though and if they don’t get him back for the reboot it will be an absolute crime.
Negative stereotypes are usually reinforced by many films that will always show the scuttling hack with trench coat and hat in the clichéd representation from films of the past. There will always be those who are ruthless, corrupt or downright evil. Like the profession itself there are the good and bad journalists in film but after this destructive week for the industry it is encouraging to look back at the battling crusaders, sacrificing everything to bring about justice and help the community to install a sense of pride within a profession that has taken one hell of a beating in the last fortnight.