great newsroom movies

In honor of Steven Spielberg‘s new newspaper drama The Post, we’ve combed through the archives, pounded the pavement, dusted off the typewriter and put together a list of some of the best newsroom movies fit to print. It’s a list comprised of both crusading, truth-seeking journalists and career opportunists willing to bend the truth as long as it makes for a great story. The connective tissue holding these films together is the ever-present newsroom, where typewriters sing and the truth lives or dies when a story goes to the presses.

The Post is in select theaters now and you should absolutely see it it. It’s a vital, important film – a tribute to and much-needed defense of the First Amendment and a free press. Is some of its messaging occasionally on-the-nose? Yes, but these are times, and this is a topic, that calls for bluntness rather than subtlety. Beyond the important messaging of Steven Spielberg’s film, The Post is another dip into one of my favorite sub-genres: the newspaper movie – those films about obsessive reporters working long hours around creaky typewriters and word processors, itching to break a big story. 

Perhaps I’m just overly nostalgic for a time gone by, or perhaps I just really like to see big dramatic scenes where people shout, “Stop the press!” All I know is, when a film is set within a newsroom, I can’t help but pay attention. In honor of the release of The Post, I’ve put together a list of some of the very best newsroom movies. Since The Post’s newsroom is that of a newspaper, only films set within the newspaper world are included here, but there are a ton of non-print newsroom films worth seeking out as well – particularly Broadcast News. There are also films about the printed word which don’t really bother to set foot in a newsroom – It Happened One Night and The Sweet Smell of Success are two stellar examples. The lack of heavy newsroom moments kept them off this list.   

So let’s dive into the world of clacking typewriter keys, ever-wringing phones, drop ceilings, and rumbling printing presses. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve arranged the the films in alphabetical order.

Absence of Malice

The late, great Sydney Pollack helmed this 1981 newspaper drama, starring Sally Field as a Miami Standard reporter who gets caught up in a leaked story that incriminates a liquor wholesaler, played by Paul Newman, for murder. Newman’s character has an airtight alibi, and things only get more complicated from there.

Here’s the thing: if you’re looking for a film that heralds investigative reporting, Absence of Malice isn’t it. Field’s reporter character is dangerously out of her depth, and while well-meaning, she makes a ton of huge blunders that would call into question a real journalists credibility almost instantly. But if you can get over that, you’ll find a well-crafted potboiler that’s very entertaining. Field’s character may not be great at her job, but Field’s performance is a treat, and Newman is predictably great as well. And despite all its journalistic sins, Absence of Malice still has that crackling feel of a good newspaper movie.

Ace in the Hole

There are two kinds of movie journalists: crusaders for the truth, and ruthless bloodsuckers who will do anything for a story. Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Ace in the Hole falls into the latter category. Douglas plays a hard-nosed New York City newspaper man who gets chased out of NYC for his bad habits. He ends up in a dead-end New Mexico town, working for a dead-end local newspaper, desperate for a killer story to help him get back on top.

The answer to Douglas’ journalist prayers comes when a local man gets trapped in a cave collapse. Rescuing the man would be fairly simple, but Douglas manages to manipulate nearly everyone in the town to keep the man trapped so he can turn the whole ordeal into a better story. Douglas’ unbeatable performance is full of tight-jawed, wise-cracking malevolence as he manipulates one event after another, always assuming everything is under his control – until it’s clear it’s not.

Ace in the Hole is clearly not a glowing endorsement of journalism, but it’s so goddamn good that it doesn’t matter. Besides, the film clearly is sympathetic towards Douglas’ rule-breaking journalist. If only he had standards, none of this would’ve happened.

All the President’s Men

The best journalism film ever made, director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman turn Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s real-life investigation into the Watergate burglary leading all the way up to President Richard Nixon into a slow-burn thriller, full of dark, inky shadows courtesy of cinematographer Gordon Willis.

All the President’s Men is filled with moments that seem almost quaint now – the various journalists in the film seem utterly shocked that members of the president’s administrations would be so blatantly corrupt; and when it comes time to dig into a story, they have to comb through phone books for names. The events of All the President’s Man would play out entirely differently had they happened in a modern age – something we’re learning in real-time.

All the President’s Men takes on the appearance of a great mystery, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman’s Woodward and Bernstein playing the parts of detectives. But the film is also a damn fine newspaper movie, where the pounding typewriter keys sound like gunshots, and someone is always pecking away in the background, cigarette burning. In the end, All the President’s Men is a testament to the power of good journalism – when done right, with determination and a commitment to nailing down the truth, no matter what the costs, good journalism can bring down the most powerful person in the country.

Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane has so much going on in it that if you’re not overly familiar with the film you might even forget that the newspaper business plays an huge role in the proceedings. But Kane’s newspaper angle is not about crusading journalists; rather, it’s about the power the printed word can have – and how easy it can be to manipulate that power for ill gotten gains.

Director Orson Welles was, of course, making a thinly-veiled portrait of American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, but Citizen Kane’s unsettling message of using the press for ill rather than good could easily reflect the empire of FOX tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

So powerful is Charles Foster Kane’s newspaper manipulation that he uses it to crush enemies, boost his mistress, and even start a war. “I don’t know how to run a newspaper,” Kane says “I just try everything I can think of.”

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