My favorite five: Movies about print journalism (true stories)

I set out this week to list my favorite five journalism movies. I soon realized I would have to change five to 25. So, I parsed the list. Then I parsed it again. As a result, this list includes only movies that depict print journalism (no broadcast) and are based on actual events. Not “we all know who that character really is,” but depicting historical events using real names. It’s judged on a proprietary mix of journalistic accuracy, cinematic quality, and acting.

You’ll see fictional print next week, then mixed broadcast the week after that. I may do a combined top 25. We’ll see. Oh, and after that, we can’t forget about television shows.

1. Spotlight

Yes, I have heard of the other journalism movie. But this Oscar winner for best picture is just as accurate in terms of how newspaper reporters operate and the journalism — uncovering the systematic coverup of pedophile Catholic priests — was more emotionally wrenching and had just as big a global impact.


2. All the President’s men

This is the movie most of you thought should be No. 1. If there’s a journalism student who didn’t have to watch this to get your degree, raise your hand, then explain yourself. It’s the two most well-known newspapermen in the world doing the thing they are known for — taking down a corrupt White House with Ben Bradlee cursing at them.


3. Zodiac

This movie has been praised for its accuracy in depicting how a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist tracked the Zodiac Killer, who has still not been caught after toying with the press via mailed letters. And the acting is beyond superb, with a star-studded cast anchored by Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo.

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4. Shattered Glass

This film was probably overlooked by the causal movie-going crowd, as it had a limited theatrical release. But a generation of journalists who were in J-school around 2003 certainly know it’s superb telling of Stephen Glass’ fabulism at The New Republic magazine. The fact that it is fourth on this list of five speaks more to the quality of 1 through 3.


5. The Post

This was a solid newspaper movie. However, it really wanted to be an All the President’s Men for a new generation but tackled the less compelling story. Or it chose the wrong paper, since the Times actually got the Pentagon Papers scoop (that movie needs to be made). And Tom Hanks is not as good a Ben Bradlee. Yeah, I said it.


HM. Kill the Messenger

This came close to supplanting The Post, but in the end, I had to dock points for bending over backward to underplay Webb’s sloppiness — though he got the broad strokes right. It did accurately show the intense rivalry and bitterness that can exist when a paper gets scooped, and Jeremy Renner’s acting was solid.

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