November 15, 2010
(Newseum collection)
 (Newseum collection)

Reporters on a (Film) Roll: Journalism in Motion Pictures

News reporters have been part of movie storylines since the silent film era. Whether portraying fedora-wearing, notebook-carrying cub reporters of the 1930s or Blackberry- obsessed bloggers of the new millennium, movies about the Fourth Estate often reflect the times in which we live and reveal how much the press has been embedded in society.

In 1931, the popular screwball comedy “The Front Page” allowed audiences a brief escape from reality during the Great Depression. The movie influenced others during the 1930s where journalists were often portrayed as wisecracking, fun-loving crusaders.

After World War II, Hollywood entered the noir period, where bad reporters who compromised their principles for a good story was the norm. Even films with upstanding reporters had not-so-happy endings. With the Cold War in progress, these movies tried to stress the importance of American values in reporting.

In the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, conspiracy films were box-office hits. “All the President’s Men” and “The Parallax View” featured journalists going up against secretive political and business forces.

Some contemporary movies have been biographical and tell the stories of real-life journalists or media events. Movies such as “State of Play” and “The Soloist” reveal the economic hardships that have hit the industry and the contrast between traditional newsgathering and the new media style of reporting.

In its continuing effort to provide a forum for discussing the role of the press in a democratic society, the Newseum kicks off the 2010-2011 season of “Reel Journalism with Nick Clooney” on Dec. 9 with the 1993 thriller “The Pelican Brief.” Fox News political analyst Juan Williams is the guest.

Based on the best-selling novel by John Grisham, “The Pelican Brief” involves a law student, portrayed by Julia Roberts, and an investigative reporter, portrayed by Denzel Washington, who join forces to solve the murders of two Supreme Court justices.

"Reel Journalism" is supported by a generous gift to the Newseum from Adrienne Arsht. Proceeds from "Reel Journalism" support the education programs of the Newseum. 

For more information on Hollywood’s fascination with the Fourth Estate through the decades, “Hollywood: Fact or Fiction?” a seven-minute, Newseum-produced video narrated by Jack Lemmon and Ron Howard, is shown daily in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

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