By Adrienne Fontaine, publicist
As publicists, we correspond with reporters and editors in various newsrooms on a daily basis. Part of being a publicist is keeping up with the daily news, whether by reading newspapers, watching TV news channels, or grabbing bites (or shall I say “bytes”) online. The newspaper newsroom has always fascinated me… reporters doing a walk-run down halls, editors following up on deadlines, publishers worrying about sales figures and budgets. It can be a high-pressure place and the stakes can be high, so it’s fun to settle in on the couch and just be a comfortable spectator to the whole endeavor. It also helps when fast-talking, charismatic actors take the lead (pun intended). Here are some of my favorite newspaper newsroom films (if you’re looking for TV, look no further than Network and Broadcast News):
His Girl Friday (1940)
Cary Grant plays an editor who tries to stop his ex-wife and ex-reporter “Hildy,” played by Rosalind Russell, from marrying a boring insurance salesman. To keep her around, he convinces her to cover one final story. Cary Grant pulls various hijinks in his attempt to sabotage Hildy’s engagement. What makes this film so great is the ping pong-like dialogue between Grant and Russell. He is charming as always, but Russell’s quick-witted, fiery personality is the perfect match for him.
The Front Page (1974)
This film is adapted from the 1928 Broadway play. Jack Lemmon plays another “Hildy,” an earnest reporter who’s just about to quit his job to marry his girlfriend (played by Susan Sarandon), when a falsely-convicted inmate escapes execution. Hildy’s editor, played by Walter Matthau, wants to keep him from leaving the paper, so he convinces him to cover the story. Carol Burnett plays a loud-mouth, saucy prostitute and friend of the convict. As always, Lemmon and Matthau entertain audiences with that perfect love-hate relationship made famous in The Odd Couple.
All the President’s Men (1976)
This film adaptation of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book tells the true story of how the two Washington Post reporters uncovered the Watergate scandal. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman give riveting performances in their respective roles as Woodward and Bernstein and the story plays out in a realistic yet thrilling way.
The Paper (1994)
This may be my favorite newsroom movie, because it follows the 24-hour time period it takes for a paper to go to print and it includes a cast of characters who lead far from perfect lives. Michael Keaton plays Henry, a disgruntled editor at a New York tabloid who has a hard time balancing his work life with his personal life. His publisher, played by Robert Duvall, is proof of the dangers of overwork. Glenn Close plays a tough-as-nails managing editor whose duty it is to make spending cuts at the struggling paper. Also in the film: Marisa Tomei as Henry’s wife and an ex-reporter; Randy Quaid, a sloppy irreverent columnist; and Jason Alexander as a pent-up government official.
This movie shows the whirlwind nature of tabloid journalism, reveals the financial hardships that many newspapers face, illuminates the havoc that work can wreak on personal lives, depicts the small-but-important stories that can make careers, and uncovers the complicated relationship between the press and governmental forces. The highlight of the movie, though, is the violent brawl between Glenn Close and Michael Keaton at the printing press when he realizes that she’s allowed the press to print the wrong headline. When the pen meets the sword…
Shattered Glass (2003)
This movie is based on the true story of Stephen Glass, a reporter who fabricated a multitude of stories at The New Republic in the 1990s. Hayden Christensen portrays Glass as an overly enthusiastic people-pleaser, qualities which are fairly suspicious in a newsroom setting. Hank Azaria plays editor Michael Kelly, who supports Glass until the scope of his lies are revealed and Peter Sarsgaard is fantastic in his depiction of Chuck Lane, a thorough and upstanding reporter who the rest of the staff mistakenly view as dull and overly serious. Other notable actors include Steve Zahn and Chloe Sevigny. This movie is so great because it accurately shows how difficult it can be gauge someone’s character and how slippery objectivity can be. It also points out how reporters at different media outlets can serve as checks and balances for each other. And Christensen does a phenomenal job acting as someone with delusions of grandeur.
Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)
This documentary film gives an inside scoop to the perils that The New York Times faced and continues to battle in the midst of the digital revolution. The filmmakers were given inside-the-newsroom access and interviews with star reporters such as David Carr. The Wikileaks saga occurred during the year they were filming the paper, providing an ideal opportunity to show the sticky wicket that is investigative journalism. This is a must-see for any aspiring journalist.