Romanticising print journalism

I was treated last night to a preview of the new journalism thriller, State of Play, starring Russell Crowe. It is actually quite a good film despite the plethora of free tickets (clearly if I got one) and the casting of Crowe. It presents a number of interesting issues worthy of further consideration. Warning minor spolier alert.

The film centres on the uncovering of a political scandal involving a prominent congressman, a powerful arms-for-hire firm and American national security. It pits the wisened print journo Crowe against Rachael McAdams, the paper’s political blogger. There are some fabulous lines, including ‘I love her, she files copy every hour,’ by editor Helen Mirren about McAdams character. It also suggests the online media more so than print (through the story choices of Crowe and McAdams) is obssessed by tabloid news values and is more likely to publish stories proven to be incorrect because of its need for immediacy – both valid issues that I think the Australian media industry is grappling with.

But it also presents a completely romanticised view of print journalism. When the story is deemed real and big enough (aka it points to political corruption), four (yes that’s right four) journalists are given, what appears in movieland time to be several days, to work exclusively on the story. Wouldn’t we all wish for that! Then our online afficiondo McAdams declares at the end, the story is so good that punters will want print ink on their hands when they read it. Finally, if that isn’t enough, we are treated to closing credits of the agonisingly long time that the paper takes to be published from the film through to it being stacked on the truck at the door.

Ok, so while that might be a nice vision of journalism – it just isn’t going to happen – no matter how hard we wish or long for it. Firstly, given the dramatic unveiling of the last twist in the scandal, every other media organisation in the town would be onto the story – including TV, radio and online – who could get the story out quicker. Secondly, gone are the days when one scoop is enough to boost a paper’s circulation. Just look at The Bulletin (yes a magazine so different) but it regularly broke massive poltical stories and set news agendas, but that wasn’t enough to save it. And finally, not all stories are best told in print – the first one that jumps to mind is John Silvester’s story on Peter Dupas.

So State of Play is good fun, but will probably only envoke a nostalgia that really just isn’t worthy of spending more time lamenting over.

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