Nine Best Movies About Newspapers And Journalists

As Steven Spielberg’s The Post starts to go into wider release this weekend, we’re taking a look back at some of the great films of the past that have centered on newspaper reporters and the jobs they do, for better or worse.

Absence of Malice

Reporter Sally Fields learns that there is a difference between accuracy and truth the hard way when a story of hers taints an innocent man in the form of Paul Newman as the target of an investigation of the death of a Miami longshoreman’s union leader. It is Fields’ character’s ambition that allows her to be used as an unwitting pawn by a federal prosecutor (the always reliable Bob Balaban), who wants to pressure Newman for information on estranged family members who do have ties to organized crime. Fields rightly earns a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her role, as does Melinda Dillon’s Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as a friend of Newman’s who can’t help clear his name without revealing a dark secret of her own. But Wilfred Brimley steals the picture out from under everyone as an Assistant US Attorney General who is called in to straighten out the whole mess. The flip side to All The President’s Men released a decade earlier, Absence Of Malice is a cautionary tale about the need to temper ambition and desire to break a story with a modicum of caution and prudence. – Rich Drees

Ace In The Hole

There’s a fine line between reporting the news and exploiting the news, and Billy Wilder’s biting Ace In The Hole shows what happens when you jump wildly across that line. Kirk Douglas is Chuck Tatum, a reporter who was once at the top of his field, but whose ambition caused him to fall and fall hard. Finding himself broke and working at a small paper in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tatum sees a way back up when a local man becomes trapped underground following a partial cave collapse. When the story turns out to be one that captures the public’s imagination, he milks it for all he can, even at the expense of the trapped man. Its excesses were once thought implausible, but now feels sadly all too probable. – RD

All The President’s Men

When you think of one of the greatest political scandals in America’s history, one of the first that comes to mind is the Watergate Scandal. Well, this is the subject of All The President’s Men from 1976. Two journalists for the Washington Post investigate what was suppose to be a simple burglary at the Democratic National Committee complex, which turned into the now infamous cover up by Richard Nixon. This film is the apex of journalism in film, taking it’s subject seriously, but still keeping the thrill alive for the audience. Despite you knowing how it ends, you still clamor for the puzzle to keep going. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford give superb performances and you truly sit there wishing you could work alongside them. It is no wonder that the American Film Institute has this film on their 100 Greatest Films of All Time list. – Natasha Bogutzki

Call Northside-777

Coming in the middle of a wave of films based on true stories from studio 20th Century Fox, Call Northside-777 tells the tale of an investigative newspaper reporter looking into the conviction of a purported cop killer found guilty eleven years earlier. Never mind the cosmetic changes – Jimmy Stewart’s reporter character is a composite of two actual Chicago Times journos who cracked the case and Lee J Cobb’s crusty city editor was actually a woman. It is the quasi-documentary felling given to the investigation from its beginning in a small item in the classified section to the uncovering of evidence using the then-latest technology in photography that moves the film along. Location shooting in Chicago at purportedly some of the same places where the dramatized events actually happened help lend an air of verisimilitude. This is a film about the process of investigation and as such serves as a prototype for the rash of procedural crime dramas on television today. Stewart provides the film’s human core as the reporter who didn’t believe in the imprisoned man’s innocence at first but slowly changes his mind as he digs into the case further. – RD

Chicago

If you see something in the news, it must (or at least should) be true. This is what shapes public opinion, and whilst it is not the main subject of Best Picture Academy Award winner Chicago, it is still one of its defining factors. Our main characters Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart have the face of a porcelain doll, but put a gun in their hands and they become murderers. How do you serve that to the public? You hire a sleazy attorney to come up with a “pushover” story. And then you feed it to a reporter who is willing to believe and print anything she knows will sell. How does it help Roxie’s case? It makes our femme fatale look like an angel, and taints the jury pool because everyone is now exposed to it. In a city where “murder is a form of entertainment,” and murderers themselves become celebrities, you need a story good enough to stand out among all the rest. In this story, it’s all about the show, and even a show needs publicity. – NB

Deadline USA

Deadline USA Bogart

Faced with the imminent buyout and closure of the newspaper he has given his life to, crusading editor-in-chief Ed Hutcheson (Humphrey Bogart) decides to go down swinging. With the deadline for the sale of the New York Day just a few days away, he sets his staff (which includes the likes of Ed Begley Sr. and Jim Backus) to the task of bringing down a local mobster. As befitting his background, former newspaperman-turned-writer/director Richard Brooks’ script is smartly observant of the process of news gathering and reporting as well as a wry celebration of the job. As Bogart’s Hutchenson dryly remarks to a young college grad who shows up at the newspaper’s office looking for a job on the day their closure is announced, “It may not be the oldest profession, but its the best.” Brooks patterned this story on the 1950 buyout of the New York Sun by the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, where it was promptly absorbed into the World-Telegram. Bogart’s impassioned speech arguing against media consolidation in the film’s climax is unfortunately even more relevant today, 65 years after the film’s release. – RD

Spotlight

When it comes to stories that people need to know but don’t necessarily want to know, look no further than any film dealing with religion. For that we turn to the 2015 winner for Best Picture, Spotlight. A group of long term investigative journalists for the Boston Globe uncover the child sex scandal inside the Catholic Church; blowing it wide open and sparking a fire across the world to hold this powerful institution accountable. The story itself isn’t what makes this film memorable, but the moral conundrums brought to the journalists and the audience alike, as well as how the delicate material is to be handled. This film handles the subject with integrity and without malice, so much so that the Vatican Radio itself called the film, “honest” and “compelling.” That alone is high praise coming from the institution that is portrayed as villian to the masses, accepting it faults and understand their need to atone. This film may not be a blockbuster of the highest degree, but in the years to come, it would not be surprising if it were to end up on the National Film Registry. – NB

While The City Sleeps

The 1950s are known as a time when the rise of television threatened the movie business, as potential ticket buyers could stay at home and get entertainment delivered right into their living rooms for free. But the immediacy of TV also threatened the newspaper business with its ability to break news to the public while their print counterpart is still scrambling to get the story from a reporter’s typewriter to the printing press. While The City Sleeps is perhaps the first film to portray a media conglomerate. When the owner of Kyne, Inc. dies, his dilettante son (played by Vincent Price, naturally) he pits the heads of the company’s newspaper, wire service and television divisions against each to crack the mystery of a serial killer dubbed “the Lipstick Killer” terrorizing the city with the winner being promoted to the head the whole company. One of Lang’s last Hollywood films, While The City Sleeps crackles with drama and packs a lot of story into its 100 minute run time, even if the film’s depiction of the killer being a “Mama’s boy,” i.e. self-loathing homosexual, is a bit problematic today. – RD

Zodiac

Serial killers have always been a source of interest to the public, and even more so to the media that covers them. If the media is contacted by the killer directly, the media itself has unwittingly become a central character in the story that they are telling. No better was this shown than in Zodiac. Based around true events, this film chronicles the alliance of two San Francisco Chronicle reporters and the detective in charge of the case. The Zodiac Killer terrorized California during the 1960s into the 1970s and claimed to have killed thirty-seven people, five of those who were confirmed. He then started sending the Chronicle letters and ciphers. To this day, the killer’s identity has not been confirmed. Director David Fincher takes his time with this slow burn, making certain that the moments sink in, and keep us on the end of our seat. As the reporters investigate, we the audience feel compelled to ask, “What’s the next clue? Where do we go from here?” – NB

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