Journalism Movies to Binge… and Skip

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If you, like your intrepid Alliance reporter here, have been properly social distancing, you’ve likely spent a lot of time with the TV on in the background or binging your comfort film favorites to get you through the past few months. And our time at home has not yet ended, so get ready to cozy up with some more of your favorite streaming services this fall.

To help you get through the next few months, I’ve watched some of the newer journalism films (and a couple older ones) so you don’t have to, and put together a list of some past favorites for when you need something familiar to get you through the day.

The Good

Marie Colvin is a hero to many women in the industry, and should be to so many more, so A Private War could have really gone either way. It could have been a hot mess, or it could have been a gripping look at a brave and spirited journalist. Thankfully, it’s the latter. I knew little about Colvin before the film came out, knowing instead her work rather than her personality and her life (I firmly believe in knowing little about my idols lest they disappoint as humans), but found her as fascinating as her work. For more amazing women, consider Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which I’m told very accurately recreates the experience of being a woman reporter in Afghanistan, and which manages humor without being a farce.

It may seem like the Iraq War is a topic already been done to death by Hollywood, but Official Secrets, about a British whistleblower who came forward about the NSA’s actions ahead of the 2003 Iraq invasion, is a fascinating look back at a time when it felt like there was only one story worth following. Focused on the leaker rather than the journalist, it’s an interesting way to understand a story – and a situation – we often see from our own POV. If you want more like this, watch The Whistleblower, Fair Game or Snowden.

The Bad

Most Wanted came out in July, when we all were desperate for some new films. Unfortunately, the based-on-a-true-story flick about a Canadian investigative reporter in the 1980s didn’t really live up to expectations. Star Josh Hartnett feels less like the star than his source, and the jumps in time between the investigation and the incidents being investigated make the film more complicated to follow than it should be. This is one to skip. If you’re jonesing for some investigative journalism, re-watch Spotlight or Kill the Messenger (which Most Wanted clearly wanted to replicate, but couldn’t).

Last winter, Richard Jewell got all the bad press it could ask for after screenings showed that it wrongly portrayed former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs in a less-than-favorable light. The AJC wrote about the failures of the film and the cruelty to Scruggs, who is no longer alive to defend herself against the film’s many flawed views of her. It hit theaters during the holiday season, and was quickly forgotten about once the pandemic hit, so if you missed this one, you’re in luck. In addition to perpetuating disgusting clichés about women reporters, it’s also just a boring film. While we can all stand to learn something from the way Jewell was treated – by law enforcement and the press – none of that can be learned from this fatally flawed film. If you want a movie about journalism gone wrong, go for Shattered Glass, the ultimate “bad journalist” movie, or Truth, the controversial and flawed – but still worth a re-watch – movie about some questionable fact-checking by some of the biggest names in journalism in the early 2000s.

The Familiar

The Newsroom got a lot of flack in its day for being too idealistic, too verbose, too… everything. But right now, with the world seemingly on fire, that idealism feels pretty nice. It feels good to sit back and watch a team of mostly young journalists get it mostly right, and to see their leaders supporting them as they struggle to figure it out. Because in real life, deadlines and bottom lines often get in the way. So why shouldn’t we indulge in some idealism in our downtime? Also consider watching The Bold Type for young women being idealistic magazine writers, and Murphy Brown (the original run, not the not-so-great revival season).

When asking my Twitter followers what movies they loved about journalism, The Paper was a hands-down winner. I mean, come on, the “stop the presses!” scene alone is worth re-watching 100 times a week. It’s news the way we all imagined it would be when we were growing up and heading to J-school. It’s about journalists caring and digging and somehow pulling it off at the 11th hour. And it’s about the sacrifices we make in the industry to do all those things. And it’s just thrilling. You know you love it. And if you don’t yet love it, you will. Just give it another watch. Or check out Broadcast News for the love-triangle broadcast version of the story.

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