One of the most important jobs in a democracy is journalism. A highly complex industry that encompasses and influences politics, literature, law and entertainment, the depiction of journalism in film has been tricky to nail. After all, the newsroom contains people who type away on laptops, proofread and conduct interviews—a big contrast to action-heavy superhero movies, tearjerking romance films or the physical comedy of a slapstick piece.
Still, cinema has always held up a mirror to reflect life and the struggle to make sense of the truth of the world, and what is journalism if not the hunt for and exploration of truth? This aspect of journalism has made films written about it exciting, engaging and interesting.
In a time when press freedom is under attack, we turn to art to relieve us of the world’s problems. These movies serve as inspirations to the budding journalists and the honed professionals out there, reminding them that the Fourth Estate deals in the business of truth-telling and no government, dictator or diversionary tactic can stop that.
Known as one of the greatest films of all time, Orson Welles wrote, produced, directed and starred in this film about Charles Foster Kane, the newspaper magnate whose death becomes sensationalized news, with a reporter at the center trying to make sense of it all. The film is told through interviews with Kane’s colleagues and associates, chronicling his childhood, entry into the publishing industry and his pursuit of power.
The film also shows Kane’s descent into yellow journalism, relying on exaggerations and sensationalism in order to propel his career and personal agendas forward. The film is essentially a rags-to-riches story about how the American print industry can touch and change so many people’s lives—for better or for worse, you gotta watch the movie to find out.
Okay, this title sounds familiar but stay with me and give this film a shot. Celebrated filmmaker Mike de Leon’s “Citizen Jake” is the film that broke his almost 20-year hiatus. The film stars real-life journalist Atom Araullo playing the titular Jake Herrera who has to confront his family’s wrongdoings and skewed political ideologies while he investigates the murder of a student. This movie blends the question of the morality of participating in politics while also being socially conscious. It also deals with how difficult it is for a nation to learn from its past when history is being repeated right in front of their eyes.
“All The President’s Men”
When I was a young communications student learning about reportage, the Watergate scandal and subsequent reports by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was essentially the blueprint of any activity we had to do. The real-life events that led to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office shows the power of a network of journalists bent on exposing lies and corruption. The film is an examination of the process of investigative journalism while also being a political thriller that submerges the audience into paranoia and the high stakes that journalists face in the field. This film is a gold standard when it comes to movies about journalism and to this day, this film is a great introduction to the good that investigative journalism can do to the world.
Director Steven Spielberg partners with the top tier acting chops of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as they tackle the story of a team of journalists from The Washington Post who attempt to publish the Pentagon Papers, which are documents exposing the involvement of the US in the Vietnam War. This film tackles the great personal and professional sacrifices that journalists often make in the fight for the truth. It’s also chilling to see Meryl Streep play the part of Katharine Grahame, the US’ first female newspaper publisher, with ingenuity and strength.
“Tinta Roja (Red Ink)”
This film set in Peru is focused on Alfonso Ferrer, an aspiring writer who begins his career writing for the crime section of a tabloid newspaper. The film exposes Ferrer to the many ugly aspects of journalism and humanity in general. His team is sexist to his girlfriend Nadia, who writes for the entertainment section, and dismissive of him and his genuine interest in writing. It also tackles good leadership, or lack thereof, in the character of Faundez, a veteran crime reporter who antagonizes the naive and idealistic Ferrer.
This movie is something to watch when you’re concerned with misinformation, fake news and alternative facts. Based on the real story of New Republic reporter Stephen Glass, this film unravels the main character whose rise to fame is impeded when it’s revealed that he has been committing the number one offense against journalism: fabricating stories. This is a no-nonsense portrayal of the reporter, showing his greatness and downfall. If there’s one thing I learned from this film, it’s that integrity is a value that can make or break anyone, especially, the person whose job is to deal with truth.
“Smaller and Smaller Circles”
Based on F.H. Bacatan’s novel, the film introduces us to two priests who come face to face with a murder mystery. Taking into consideration the capabilities of Philippine law enforcement, the priests carry out the investigation of the serial killer only with the help of TV journalist Joanna. Joanna is a complicated character in the movie, she is vital to the investigation but she doesn’t seem to see the point in fighting for it, as the priests do. She’s the kind of character that’s been beaten down by a tough job—and that happens to the best of us. Aside from Joanna, the film is interesting because it shows you the way that politics, religion and media coexist and influence each other.
“Network” used to be a satire. Until of course, it predicted the state of things in the current political climate with the iconic “I’m mad as hell” scene. The film is a criticism of the lengths that TV networks would go to all in the name of ratings. After learning that he’s been fired, anchorman Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, goes on-air and announces his plans of dying by suicide on live, national TV. This announcement skyrockets the show’s ratings and show producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) takes this as the way to boost ratings even more by creating more outrageous programming. Contrary to the other films in this list, this film shows that journalism can become a tool used for selfish and personal gain, highlighting the importance of journalistic integrity in times of sensationalism and diversionary tactics.