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Save The Journalist! Hollywood’s Newest Endangered Species

Now it’s really time to worry. Hollywood has started treating newspaper journalists with the same kind of anxious concern once reserved for polar bears, presenting them (us) as unpredictable but appealing creatures in serious danger of vanishing from the earth.

You need look no further than the current release The Soloist (a sort of Shine with a homeless African-American Unstable Brilliant Musician instead of a middle-class Australian-Jewish UBM) to see this sentiment in action. Robert Downey Jr. plays Steve Lopez, star columnist for the LA Times. The filmic Lopez is a disheveled workaholic with a messy car and house (mirroring his internal disorder), drinking problem, and commitment issues (the real Steve Lopez, I am told, is entirely sober, well-adjusted, and happily married). Unusually for this kind of film, Lopez is working a human interest story as opposed to uncovering skullduggery in high places.

Prize-winning Lopez is in no danger of losing his job but throughout the film there’s Levitra Online a constant background hum of editors talking about cuts, grim-faced journalists being called in to offices for chats, other journalists walking down the hall carrying cardboard boxes escorted by security guards, plus scenes of a melancholy leaving do.

Similarly, in last year’s State of Play, Russell Crowe plays a disheveled workaholic journalist with a drinking problem, commitment issues, and a messy car and house who is investigating skullduggery in high places. Editor Helen Mirren is constantly issuing warnings about imminent staff cutbacks and everyone labors under an ever-present threat of a takeover at best, closure at worst.

The granddaddy of the Endangered Journalist genre is, of course, Season 5 of The Wire, produced and often written by clearly-disgruntled former Baltimore Sun staffer David Simon. Simon depicts the upper editorial echelons of his erstwhile employer as prize-chasing, ax-wielding empty suits who wouldn’t know a decent story if it bit them in the deadline. Good reporters and editors attempting to expose skullduggery in high places are marginalized or banished to the boonies, Jayson Blair-like fantasists prosper, and the ubiquitous cardboard boxes make an appearance. No one, however, has a drinking problem, commitment issues or a messy apartment because those bases are already fully covered by Det. McNulty.

By chance I happened to see 1993’sThe Pelican Brief on TV the other night. Denzel Washington portrays a star reporter for the “Washington Herald” who helps law student/damsel-in-distress  Julia Roberts investigate skullduggery in high places. He dresses well, has a relatively neat domestic environment and car and no drinking problem. There are no scenes involving cardboard boxes, no dialogue involving cutbacks, and editor John Lithgoe is crusty but ultimately supportive. The unspoken hand-wringing that accompanies contemporary depictions of a newsroom is completely absent, but then 16 years ago no one was that worried about the polar bear either. It will be interesting to see which has a better chance of survival.

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