Journalism, an anonymous quote reads, is the first rough draft of history.
As such, the profession referred to as the fourth estate has occasionally been revered in art.
Even in the the world of superhero comics, some journalists persist.
Superman’s secret identity, Clark Kent is a journalist, while the Toby Maguire version of Spiderman was a [struggling] cameraman. These two superheroes probably were, before the influx of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of the most beloved.
It is thus not a surprise that journalists have been portrayed not just in novels and comics, but also on the silver screen.
Here, we try to suggest a list of some of the movies about journalism that are a must see.
The list is in no way exhaustive.
All the President’s Men
Director: Alan J Pakula
Stars: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards
The go to movie for journalism, the 1976 movie is adapted from the book of similar title written by two journalists who probably landed the scoop of the century.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the writers of a series of articles on the Washington Post that exposed US President Richard Nixon’s underhand tactics. With President Nixon eventually resigning amid impeachment pressure, this was truly journalism with impact.
The movie though does skip over many parts of the book and does take leeway for dramatisation, but it does retain some of the inspiring tenets of journalism.
Scathing editors comments, painstaking research, meeting sources in dark alleys, writing and rewriting, verifying facts and seeking a right of reply are all portrayed realistically.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci
“How do you say no to god?” utters one sexual abuse victim while retelling his story to
Another movie based on a true story, it brings to film the endeavours of the spotlight team of the Boston Globethat uncovered the depths to which the highest Catholic Church official in the US state of Boston had knowledge of pedophilia actions by priests.
Like All the President’s Men, Spotlight is also realistic and even shows the dilemma facing the journalists as they battle going to church (and for one, living with a former pedophilic priest) all the while keeping secret the details of their investigative article.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall
The 1976 movie lays a prophecy — through satire — of the future of TV.
Ratings supplant content when a news anchor threatens to commit suicide on live TV during the next news bulletin. The station executives decide to fire him, but some argue the ratings were good and he is kept on. From there, things go downhill.
The film also portrays a spate of immorality among media men (and women).
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaall, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo
Focusing on a newspaper cartoonist who turns into a detective, the film details the long ardous search for the zodiac serial killer, who used to send coded puzzles to the media before his murders. The zodiac killer was never caught.
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore
From this multiple Oscar winning movie, a media mogul’s final words catch the eye of newcasters, trying to figure out what he actually meant.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks
Steven Spielberg rushed this movie so that it comes out during the reign of Donald Trump. Centred on the decisions behind the Washington Post to publish news based on leaked government documents.
The Post’s dilemma is that the New York Times has already beaten them to the story — and has already been sanctioned against publishing the stories by the court.
“The only way to assert the right to publish is to publish.”
The Fifth Estate
Director: Bill Condon
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl
Julian Assange is in a lot of trouble, but a man like him does not become who he is by not courting controversy.
In the Fifth Estate, the Wikileaks founder is portrayed as futuristic, determined but also willing to bend the rules and lie to even his only employee.
For Kenyan fans, does feature a chilling assasination in Nairobi of activists who leaked information to Wikileaks during the contentious 2007 General Elections.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
For an ethical journalist, many scenes will make you turn away, as con man Louis Bloom goes to every extreme to get footage of accidents and deaths which he sells to a news station at a high fee.
Journalism ethics questioned here goes as far as whether to call the police when a crime is going on or whether to film it for news. And in one instance, Bloom goes too far when he lets the camera roll through a death.
Director: Billy Ray
Stars: Hayden Christensen, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson, Peter Sarsgaard
Interesting to see how a journalist can be successful from making up loads of stories from thin air, the audacity growing every time he gets away with it.
Anchorman 1 & 2
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner
Anchorman is a comedy — and features one of the most nonsensical lines ever said on film.
“They’ve done studies you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.”
But it is through comedy that it does portray the changing attitudes within journalism, first tackling sexism (and romance in the newsroom) and then relevance amid new technologies.
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