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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student


Journalists change the world, as seen in the movies


I had a meeting with a non-media school professor the other day who opened the Zoom call by asking, “are you seriously a journalism major?” 

After I presumptively answered the affirmative, they responded with “how did you decide to do that in today’s world?”  

I doubt they had any ill intent, but I really don’t know what they were implying by asking that. Was she concerned for my future because we are apparently losing our jobs? Or was it because there is a certain consensus the general public hates the press?  

The more I interact with students outside of the little IU Media School community, the more I have become aware people don’t care for the news like I do or even have a generally negative perception of journalists altogether. It surprises me because I have always been fascinated with reporters — they’re some of my favorite characters in movies.  

So, to answer their question, I must say, I was first inspired by the movies. 

The 2005 “13 Going on 30” is a classic romantic comedy. Jenna Rink, played by Jennifer Garner, wishes on her birthday in 1987 that she was “thirty, flirty and thriving.” She wakes up and miraculously time traveled 17 years to where she is indeed 30 years old, living in New York City as an editor at her favorite magazine “Poise.” While she seemed to be living the life she had always dreamed of, Rink soon realized her 30-year-old self was a terrible person. Fortunately, it wasn’t too late for her to change her ways and almost save the magazine, all while experiencing the glamorous New York fashion journalist lifestyle.  

Andie Anderson, played by Kate Hudson in the 2003 film “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” is a writer at the magazine “Composure.” Working on the “How to” beat, Anderson pitches a column on “How to lose a guy in 10 days” where she plans to mimic her coworker’s toxic behaviors. The man she chooses to pursue also has intentions of his own. Benjamin Barry, played by Matthew McConaughey, is challenged in a bet by his coworkers that he can’t make a girl fall in love with him in 10 days.  

The two do fall in love, but the experiment gives Anderson the motivation to pursue her real dreams and quit her job at “Composure” to write what she actually wants to as she says, “politics, foreign affairs and the environment.” 

Yes, these are two stories of women living cushiony lives in New York City – going to NBA games, wearing designer dresses and attending elegant galas — but they also give legitimacy to the career of lifestyle journalists and their intentions altogether.  

One could argue it even portrays the mold female journalists were put in for some time. There are writers out there who do care about issues greater than, in the words of Andie Anderson, “Do blondes like really have more fun?” Rink and Anderson made efforts to change the quality of the publications they worked for. It shows the power of having the right person behind the right keyboard.  

Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, played by Emma Stone in “The Help,” was the only one of her childhood friends to actually graduate from Ole Miss, studying journalism and English. After graduation she returns to her hometown, Jackson, MS, which is in the height of extreme segregation and Jim Crow laws. She gets a job at the Jackson Journal on the “Miss Myrna” housekeeping advice column. Phelan has little knowledge of housekeeping, so she begins speaking to “the help” — what the housekeepers were referred to locally — which in 1960s - Jackson, were women of color. The more she spoke to her friend Elizabeth Leefolt’s maid Aibileen, played by Viola Davis, the better she understood the horrendous inequity and discrimination in the social system. She set her sights on writing a book, interviewing maids in Jackson as to give them a voice where they had little to none.  

The publishing of “The Help” changed those women's lives: motivating them to leave their abusive husbands and quit their abusive jobs. It exposed the tragedies of life for people of color in Jackson, MS and the actions of the oppressive antagonists. This is what real journalism is about: giving voices to the unheard, making a difference.  

But film journalists aren’t always fictitious either. Many movies have been made inspired by the stories of real journalists too.  

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” depicts the true 1971 story of journalists from The Washington Post attempting to publish classified documents regarding the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War — the Pentagon Papers. More than just that, it is the story of a female newspaper owner and publisher Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and the fight for free press. After the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, The New York Times and The Washington Post go to the Supreme Court to challenge its constitutionality. The story is a win for the press everywhere. 

“Spotlight” tells the 2001 story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into a pattern of and cover up of sexual assaults amongst Catholic priests in Massachusetts. “Bombshell” is the true story of female journalists exposing their network’s CEO for sexual harassment.  

These are true stories of journalists investigating and exposing societal issues that are so often neglected. These are defining moments in society and journalists are often the ones behind them.  

All this to be said, journalists play some of our favorite characters in some of the best movies of our generation. I grew up watching movies where journalists change the world, tackling issues both big and small. For some time, my only impression of what a newsroom would look like was the Daily Bugle in the Spider-Man series (you can imagine I was disappointed once I stepped into a real newsroom).  

Watching the work of the sometimes-fictitious press in film inspired me at a young age to pay more attention to the journalists out in the field really making a difference. They were the ones to inspire me next.

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