Journalists in Film

Journalists in Film: Heroes and Villains

Brian McNair
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r210w
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Journalists in Film
    Book Description:

    We both love and hate our journalists. They are perceived as sexy and glamorous on the one hand, despicable and sleazy on the other. Opinion polls regularly indicate that we experience a kind of cultural schizophrenia in our relationship to journalists and the news media: sometimes they are viewed as heroes, at other times villains. From Watergate to the fabrication scandals of the 2000s, journalists have risen and fallen in public esteem.In this book, leading journalism studies scholar Brian McNair explores how journalists have been represented through the prism of one of our key cultural forms, cinema. Drawing on the history of cinema since the 1930s, and with a focus on the period 1997-2008, McNair explores how journalists have been portrayed in film, and what these images tell us about the role of the journalist in liberal democratic societies. Separate chapters are devoted to the subject of female journalists in film, foreign correspondents, investigative reporters and other categories of news maker who have featured regularly in cinema. The book also discusses the representation of public relations professionals in film.Illustrated throughout and written in an accessible and lively style suitable for academic and lay readers alike, Journalists in Film will be essential reading for students and teachers of journalism, and for all those concerned about the role of the journalist in contemporary society, not least journalists themselves. An appendix contains mini-essays on every film about journalism released in the cinema between 1997 and 2008.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3448-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface and acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Brian McNair
  5. Part I: Introductions and overviews
    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-8)

      I have been researching, teaching and writing about journalism for more than two decades. I have also written some 200 pieces of journalism of my own – mainly feature articles, travel pieces and commentary columns for the print and online media.¹ Throughout that time I have been fascinated by feature films in which journalism is the subject, or is a central element of the narrative. In my teaching and research work I have found movies a useful, engaging, sometimes inspirational source of knowledge about how, as members of liberal democratic societies in which journalism is highly valued, we view journalists. More...

    • CHAPTER 2 A good tradition of love and hate
      (pp. 9-22)

      ‘People love to hate the journalist’, wrote Lynda Ghiglione in 1990,¹ identifying one strand of a long-standing cultural schizophrenia in public attitudes to the modern day heirs of Edmund Burke’s Fourth Estate.² The journalist is a hate figure, on the one hand, held responsible by many for the debasement of public discourse and the coarsening of society in general. The journalist is commonly referred to in these contexts as a hack, a reptile, a sleaze merchant revelling in other’s miseries, a purveyor of cultural trash. The outspoken Tory MP and diarist, the late Alan Clark, typified this attitude when he...

    • CHAPTER 3 Heroes and villains – an overview of journalism on film
      (pp. 23-38)

      Richard R. Ness filmography of journalism in the movies lists some 2,166 US-, and around eighty UK-produced films made between the early years of the silent cinema and 1996. In many of these films journalism is present only as a bit player, part of the backdrop to a story which is not really ‘about’ journalism, but in which journalists are involved to a greater or less extent. In some – the many Superman movies, for example, in which Clark Kent’s mild-mannered reporter is the mask behind which a superhero resides – a character’s journalistic status is a convenient plot device, a vehicle...

    • CHAPTER 4 Journalism in Film: 1997–2008
      (pp. 39-54)

      In the period from 1997 to 2008 seventy-one films were made about journalism for cinema release in the UK¹ (see Table 1). As noted in the previous chapter, by films ‘about’ journalism I refer to films in which one or more of the main characters is a journalist. Within this category there will be primary and secondary representations, depending on whether the role of the journalist is instrumental or incidental.

      If that distinction is clear enough, let me note that, given the blurred nature of the contemporary media environment, deciding who is and who is not a journalist is less...

  6. Part II: Heroes
    • CHAPTER 5 Watchdogs
      (pp. 57-74)

      In the real world, as in the cinema, the idea of the journalist-as-hero finds its purest, most noble expression in the figure of the watchdog. Since a recognisably modern form of journalism first developed in the seventeenth century¹ fuelled by the English civil war and other anti-feudal movements in Europe and north America (culminating in the American War of Independence of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789), the journalist in liberal democratic societies has been expected to occupy the social and cultural space between governing elite and governed non-elite; to act as a buffer, or bridge, between those who...

    • CHAPTER 6 Witnesses
      (pp. 75-93)

      Coming a close second to the watchdog in the hierarchy of cinematic heroism is the representation of the journalist as witness to events, a term which can be viewed as merely descriptive – the journalist monitors and surveys the environment, and thus inevitably witnesses events happening – or as a more symbolic statement of social function, connoting a particular kind of integrity and trustworthiness.

      To ‘bear witness’ is not just to see, but to provide evidence that something has happened, to testify on events in a way that carries conviction and credibility, because of the status of the witness, the scrutiny to...

    • CHAPTER 7 Heroines
      (pp. 94-113)

      Women journalists feature in several chapters of this book, as investigative reporters, foreign and war correspondents, editors, tabloid hacks (or hackesses, if such a term exists), producers and media executives. By devoting an entire chapter at this point to the representation of women in journalism, I have no desire to separate them off from the more general issues I am concerned with, or to ghettoise them. Such a chapter is justified simply because women themselves – as practitioners, scholarly observers and consumers of journalism – have for a long time discussed the place of their sex in the news media, often critically.¹...

    • CHAPTER 8 Artists
      (pp. 114-134)

      It is part of the mythology of journalism that every journalist secretly wishes to be a novelist, and has an unpublished typescript or two in his or her desk drawer. There is some truth in this notion, which arises from the fact that so many journalists perceive their profession to be in some sense less worthy than that of the true man or woman of letters, the genuine artist. Journalists often harbour inferiority complexes, and even those who have succeeded in rising to the upper ranks of the profession may see themselves as under-achievers who have missed their true calling...

  7. Part III: Villains
    • CHAPTER 9 Rogues, reptiles and repentant sinners
      (pp. 137-158)

      Journalists are heroes, their watchdog duties inscribed in the founding mythology of liberal democracy. They are also villains, when they fail to perform these duties adequately, or if they disregard or neglect their normative functions as watchdogs and witnesses to become, instead, manipulators of the truth, fabricators of the facts, abusers of the monitoring power which has been bestowed upon them. In this guise journalists are represented in cinema as, at best, lovable rogues; at worst, loathsome reptiles for whom death itself is not too severe a punishment. The chapters in Part III explore examples of each.

      At the outset,...

    • CHAPTER 10 Fabricators, fakers, fraudsters
      (pp. 159-173)

      If there is one thing deemed worse by journalism’s many critics than the cynical manipulation of reality in pursuit of the saleable news story it is, surely, the deliberate fabrication of the facts themselves – the invention of stories and sources, the presentation of lies as truth. Chuck Tatum in Ace in the Hole may have ‘manufactured’ problematic reality in a manner which is indefensible to any but the most cynically commercial of news editors but his story was at least founded on an actual event, in the reportage of which he then expended considerable newsgathering and reporting energy (albeit without...

    • CHAPTER 11 King-makers
      (pp. 174-198)

      News media are important cultural institutions, not least because it is perceived that they have the capacity to influence public opinion and political processes. Exactly how they do so, and with what consequences or effects, has always been a matter of debate,¹ but there is no doubt that the power of perception in itself means that the people and corporations who own news media and thus have final say on editorial policy, then the editors and journalists responsible for content and then, too, the communications specialists who aim to shape and manage that content for various purposes and ends, are...

    • CHAPTER 12 In closing
      (pp. 199-200)

      We have seen journalists portrayed in cinema as heroes and villains; as complex, richly drawn characters; and as crude stereotypes. We have seen lurid anti-tabloid revenge fantasies where journalists are exterminated like cockroaches; and poignant reconstructions of real-life tragedies in which the journalist is the victim, or the target. There are still stereotypes and caricatures of journalism on the screen, many of them crass and stupid. But there has been amongst film-makers a clear recognition of the importance and difficulty of the job journalists do in a modern democracy, particularly at a time of conflict. There were many heroic representations...

  8. APPENDIX Films about journalism, 1997–2008
    (pp. 201-252)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-256)
  10. Index
    (pp. 257-267)