And the Oscar goes to…

A friend of mine who’s teaching a journalism course for non-journalism majors asked me recently to recommend some movies he could show in class as conversation starters.  I offfered up a few from my list of favorites: All The President’s Men and Good Night and Good Luck, for starters. Then I started digging for more.

Academy Award time always brings out “best of” lists so I figured someone would have decided to share their top journalism movies this week. Sure enough, I found a “top 12” list that puts my two choices at #1 and #2.  But that’s not the only reason I like the suggestions from Dean Wright, the head of ethics and news standards for Reuters, on his Full Disclosure blog. His list reminded me of a few journalism movies I’d forgotten about or never seen. Among them:

  • Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, a reminder that journalists are people too.
  • Reds with Warren Beatty, a cautionary tale about crossing the line from reporter to activist.
  • Ace in the Hole with Kirk Douglas, about a journalist who will do anything for a story.

Paul Schindler’s list of journalism movies also has a few lesser known titles that he advises avoiding: total stinkers like I Love Trouble, S1MONE and Switching Channels, a lame remake of The Front Page.

The lists reminded me of how often Hollywood’s portrayal of journalists is unrealistic or unflattering.  But Matt Ehrlich, author of the book Journalism at the Movies, argues that most movies about journalism put the profession in a good light:

[They underscore the notion that] journalism is important, journalism has a central place in American life and in democracy, that journalism can and should be performed well. And if journalism somehow has lost its way – because of money pressures, sensationalism, television, sleaze – then one way or another it can find its way again, and journalists can do the right thing and make a difference.

Guess we can’t blame Hollywood for the public’s generally lukewarm opinion of journalists’ honesty and ethics.