Film and TV

Six best journalists -- in the movies, at least

The Stop the Presses series at the Alamo Drafthouse, which celebrates the media in movies with screenings of such classics as Sweet Smell of Success and All the President's Men, has inspired a lot of conversation about the relationship between journalists and the movies that portray them. With barely enough titles to qualify as a subgenre, films about the news can serve as indelible documents of the time and place that created them, going on to win Academy Awards and inspire future generations of filmmakers and reporters alike. However, many films about the news tend to gloss over the un-cinematic tedium of the work itself -- which is understandable given how much of a journalist's life is spent sitting at a keyboard. The qualities that make a movie character dramatically compelling are often totally at odds with the qualities that make a good journalist, so when a truly entertaining movie about an admirable journalist gets made, it deserves some attention. The following list celebrates movies about journalists -- both real and fictional -- who live up to the highest ideals of their profession.

See also: Alamo Drafthouse celebrates the news, from All the President's Men tonight through Newsies

6) Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck

Though he divided his screen time between frothy celebrity interviews and his more serious-minded CBS Evening News broadcast, Edward R. Murrow will probably be best remembered for his feud with Senator Joseph McCarthy. The 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck dramatizes that feud, while paying tribute to the highest ideals of the profession at the dawn of TV newscasts. Murrow (David Strathairn) not only risks being labelled a communist when he confronts the absurdity of McCarthy's HUAC investigative hearings, but also fights network pressure to produce a more superficially objective show. The film, which was directed by George Clooney, was surprisingly topical in an era when journalists were afraid to criticize the disastrous policies of the Bush administration; it continues to offer a primer on Murrow and demonstrate why he's so widely admired.

5) Aaron Altman in Broadcast News

While Broadcast News is often remembered for the workplace romance between protagonist Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) and her lunkheaded love interest, anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt), the film also focuses on the struggle to maintain journalistic integrity in the face of consumer demand. Accordingly, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) the one character who lives according to his principles, delivers hard-hitting reportage and shirks his profession's gradual slide into shallow infotainment. Though he's partially motivated by romantic jealousy, when Altman uncovers some editing trickery that Grunick employs to appear more sympathetic, his commitment to his field is unquestionable. Still, contemporary viewers will likely find Altman's insistence that broadcast journalism ought to remain above cheap manipulations and fallacious logic rather quaint.

4) April O'Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Admittedly, the 1990 film adaptation of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was less concerned with portraying a strong female reporter than it was with bringing the adventures of the world's most fearsome fighting team to the big screen for a generation of Ritalin-addled Turtle fans. Unfortunately for this list, most lady journalist movie characters are involved in romantic entanglements that are unprofessional at best (Rosalind Russell was married to editor Cary Grant in His Girl Friday) and borderline unethical at worst (see Sally Field and suspected murderer Paul Newman in Absence of Malice). April O'Neil (Judith Hoag), despite being a supporting character, demonstrates many admirable qualities as an onscreen reporter for Channel 3 news. She follows her story about an urban crime wave to absurd ends, uncovering a secret world of reptile martial artists and enduring several attacks from their ninja enemies in the process. She also protects her sources, inviting Splinter and the Turtles into her home after their subterranean lair is crashed by the Foot Clan, and she stands up to her producer in the name of truth -- and ends up getting fired for her efforts.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham

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