Critical Journalism – Textual Analysis

Question: Brian McNair (2010) claims that ‘film-makers absorb changing moods and anxieties and reflect them back to their audiences’ (p. 4). Write a critical essay that demonstrates how films and/or TV shows have represented the profession of journalism in this way. Your answer should include an in-depth examination of a minimum of 2 films/TV shows.

In the beginning of True Story (2015) journalism is represented through a depiction of real events as a disgraced Journalist from The New York Times, Michael Finkel, breaks the IPSO Editor’s Code of Practice, despite this being a UK code of conduct policy, the injustice translates. Specifically breaking the accuracy agreement which states “A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.” As a result of this he was fired. This correlation between real life and the films reenactment reflects the changing mood of the publics perception of the journalism and news industry as this distortion of the truth is rarely made public on this scale. Journalism plays a key role in the shaping of culture and society, as George Eliot said “Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult”.

The modern day investigatory journalists/memoirists like Finkel  are held in higher respects to celebrity or gossip journalists. Finkel slips down through the ranks as he loses his employability and reputation as he used interviews multiple people to create a composite protagonist, during trying to get another front cover article for the New York Times questioning the African Slave Trade.

Todorov’s theory of equilibrium explains this through allowing the audience to see how the change in mood disrupts the natural order of the story so far. However, upon closer inspection of the film it is clear Levi Strauss’s theory of binary opposites (good vs evil) is being represented as well, as the journalistic profession becomes an enigma of uncertainty. This is also different as the disrupted equilibrium makes it more personal to audiences regarding who they believe to be the good guy or the bad guy. The unlikelihood of the binary oppositions interchanging between the two main characters creates an imbalance of trust and possibly reflects the characters own inner turmoils.

As distrust from the public of journalism as a profession changes, there is a reflection of this in True Story as Finkel is branded a disgrace, maybe reflecting the audiences distrust in all journalists. Finkel’s mistake was to try and cater to an audiences ever increasing appetite for news as audiences are now active participants instead of passive spectators. As audiences expectations change, film makers add-apt to the supply and demand of psychologically challenging enigma.

‘Just as the industry of journalism is evolving, so is the portrayal of the media. In the 1930s, screwball comedies like It Happened One Night and Meet John Doe featured newspaper reporters who run into moral slip-ups but emerge as heroes in the end.” This quote from Matthew Ehrlich explains how through new technological advances, journalists now struggle more with keeping in line and following Editors Codes and Laws. The increase in gatekeeping throughout the technological era is supportive of the IPSO Editors Code as it requires journalists to always be honest when publishing information. As would always have been expected, this code is in high regards to journalists as a bible if you will of what you can and must not do. Unlike the time of Call Northside 777, journalists of this time could have written some morally questionable articles throughout the time, but this is presumed unlikely as the corporate greed and hunger for fame and riches was no where near what it is today.

Call Northside 777 (1948) features one of the times most influential actors of the 40’s and 50’s, James Stewart, (P.J. McNeil). Set in the golden age of journalism the contrast with today projects how the lack of trust and belief in journalism has changed, negatively. McNeil is characterised as a journalist and now detective, this heroic switch from his profession to his new found belief that an inmate has been a victim of miscarriage of justice. At first uninterested in the story believing it lacks newsworthiness, he changes his attitude as he finds out more facts.

Technological advances mean that there is a decrease in the amount of people publishing news content that have studied journalism. McNeil, as a journalist in the 40’s, on the brink of another war and during the prohibition, he is more in demand to write articles for the people and tell the complete truth than others today that simply run a blog. Journalism as a profession was at this time in higher demand as news travelled widely and internationally through print articles and newspapers, meaning that faults weren’t pointed out or resolved in ways that they are today.

However, McNeil faces other challenges as he himself is nearly disgraced by Chicago court attorneys as he investigates more into the murder case. The court believes that McNeil is trying to damage the reputation of the lawyers and prosecutors involved and ask that he stops investigating the case as to avoid embarrassing the administration. McNeil meets increased resistance from the police and the state attorney’s office, who are unwilling to be proved wrong. This is quickly followed by political pressure from the state capital, where politicians are eager to end the story.

Reflecting on the world outside of cinema it is clear that McNeils attempt to prove Franks innocence is good willed as he began the story being somewhat skeptical. In the pursuit of the truth, McNeil faces challenges being involved with professionals from many sides of the case, his story comes across as an attack and possibly an attempt to disgrace them. Much like a media conglomerate, the government also has immense power. Reputation is everything and journalists need to keep theres in tact with the public and government or working officials in order to stand a chance being perceived as a reliable source.

In aid to this is the idea that journalism plays a role in the shaping of culture and society, the films are summarised by both journalists trying to free men facing murder charges, only one however is seen as a hero. Through mine en scene and long, dragged out shots, McNeil is shown as a hero, very different to how Finkel is portrayed in True Story. The fast paced editing of True Story, consisting of two shots and un-natural camera angles, is purposely shot this way to make a viewer feel on edge and slightly uncomfortable about the idea that Finkel simply decided to lie in print to millions of people and if it wasn’t for the IPSO Editors Code this may not have been proven a lie and continued in circulation.

Movies have, therefore, always conveyed journalists in a way that reflects the attitudes of the society of the time. Both films show how the evolution of the relationship between journalism and its audience has been altered throughout the years and is now criticised in ways far different from what it was originally. As media bias changes so does the engagement between journalists and the public as more security is given to those who inspire the stories and maybe a bit less for those writing them. However I believe that there is a common portrayal of journalists in modern film especially in comparison with older films. Overall various theories show how ‘film-makers absorb changing moods and anxieties and reflect them back to their audiences’ through attitudes of the surrounding world at the time of their release.

Submitted for coursework October 2017, 17/11/17 marked

Any constructive criticism on this would be much appreciated

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