This is NOT an IJPC paper, nor is it an academic paper. It is my impression of the relative importance of direct and incidental depictions of journalism in the creation of the image of journalists in popular culture. It was inspired by the movie Red Joan, which featured a relatively polite mid-70s horde of British journalists.
By Paul E. Schindler, Jr.
June 13, 2019 (ORINDA, Calif.)--The number of media portrayals of journalists as protagonists is vanishingly small compared to the number of incidental portrayals. My personal interest in this field is stories in which reporters are shown at work, in the newsroom and in the field, and in which this work is central to the plot. This is in part because I honestly believe that my avid interest in Superman comics during my youth, back when Clark Kent was a reporter for the Daily Planet, was one of the influences that lured me into a pleasant and successful journalism career. As least in my case, a deliberate and central depiction of journalism as noble influenced my image of journalists.
The IJPC project at USC, on the other hand, believes that every depiction, however incidental, accumulates in the public mind. In other words, 20 depictions of ravening press hordes in TV and movies trumps Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All The President’s Men (1976), or Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton in Spotlight (2015).
As a child, I believed journalists were a bulwark of our democracy, fighting to reveal the truth about politics and business while fighting venal police and venal newspaper publishers or broadcast station owners. I honestly believe that describes most portrayals of journalists in the 50s through the 70s. I believe the theory that journalists were depicted well in two eras: first, when many screenwriters were journalists interested in casting a good light on their former profession, and then when journalists were held in high esteem by society in general. The first era ended in the 50s, the second in the 70s, and the incidental depiction of journalists has never been the same.
I believe paying attention to deliberate depictions has helped me keep my positive view of the field—despite the fact that, literally, every journalism company I ever worked for is now defunct.
I don’t deny that the volume of incidental depictions makes them important—quite possibly more important—than central depictions. Still, I can’t wait for the next big journalism film, even if it is a more cynical version of Absence of Malice, as has been predicted.
Note: In my career, I worked for the Oregon Journal, United Press International and multiple publications owned by CMP Media. All of these outlets are defunct.