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The Top 10 Movies Every Journalist Needs To Watch… And Learn From!

I have always loved movies and documentaries. In fact, I’ve watched so many documentaries that every time I mention one that happens to come up in a conversation, my family now rolls their eyes! Haha!

But growing up, the movie “Broadcast News” is the news bug that bit me, as we say in the industry, I’ll explain why later, but these movies are ones I think young aspiring journalists should watch, just to learn how the business REALLY is. Yes, “Anchorman” is on there, but for good reason. Find out below and I promise… I don’t spoil any of the movies if you haven’t seen them!

1. Broadcast News – Buy/Rent

This is the best movie to get all the “basics” of working in television. You learn what an anchor, producer, and reporter are… all in one movie! Broadcast News takes two rival television reporters: one handsome, one talented, who are both male, and then adds one female producer to the mix.

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
You learn some very valuable lessons many of us learn in TV. The first being it’s a lot of hard work and many times, the behind the scenes people don’t get enough credit. You also learn how tough it is to get to that “main anchor spot.” In the movie, the reporter who gets all the stories – and is darn good at it – really wants to be an anchor. He fights and fights and fights just to become the weekend anchor. I won’t spoil the movie, but you’ll see what happens the very first time he anchors the weekend half hour newscast.

Finally, the #1 lesson you learn is that if you’re on-camera talent… THE NEWS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!! Again, won’t spoil the movie, but you realize that the executive producer – played by Holly Hunter – finds out one of the on-air talents she works with, who she thought was a genuine journalist that cared about his stories – is a complete sham.

 

2. State of Play – Buy/Rent

This is one of my all time favorite movies because I love movies that make you think the ENTIRE TIME! State of Play does just that! In the movie, a congressional aide is killed, and Washington D.C. journalist (Russell Crowe) starts investigating the case involving the congressman whom she worked for, who happens to be his old college friend (Ben Affleck).

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
This is the best movie to learn and realize in the world of journalism, never FULLY trust your sources, do the proper vetting, and of course, research and check the facts on your own. If you don’t… you just might miss a big key connection that could have helped you from the beginning! Also, it’s all politics and the games many involved in politics play. Mind you, this is before House of Cards, but it’s ironic to see Robin Wright – who plays Claire Underwood in HofC – play Ben Affleck’s wife.

3. Spotlight – Buy/Rent

Ahhh… investigative journalism at its finest! Spotlight is the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
Although it’s more print media rather than broadcast media, you still learn how real investigative journalism is done. It takes a lot of time, interviews, research, and digging deep across the board. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this was no matter how big the suspect is, you can’t be afraid to SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. I have seen many of my colleagues go up against the toughest players out there, and I will say… I not only know they were a little scared, but I was also scared for them! Whether it’s a police department, organization, college or university, or like what happened here – the Catholic Church – YOUR JOB as a journalist is to report the facts and keep those big players in check. That’s our job, and that’s why we are called “the fourth estate.”

4. Frost/Nixon – Buy/Rent

Future journalists out there… you better know your history, and you better know this story, because it’s one of the best underdog stories in our field! Frost/Nixon is the dramatic retelling of the post-Watergate television interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and former President Richard Nixon.

To give you a more in-depth synopsis, Nixon had just resigned and every media outlet was begging for an interview with the shamed President. Nixon didn’t want to be asked any of the tough questions surrounding the Watergate scandal, but knew one day would have to go in front of the cameras and be interviewed. So, enter David Frost, who was the typical “entertainment host” at the time. Nixon THOUGHT Frost would go easy on him, seeing that this would be his first BIG TIME interview, and that Frost would freeze up on the tough questions – no pun intended. Watch the movie to find out what happened…

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
This is the movie that made me realize that no one can talk down to you or make you feel “less than” as a journalist. Whether you are a morning anchor, the nightly news anchor, a reporter, or even a producer, no matter how big the interviewee… DON’T BE SCARED!

Also, never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. You see many times David Frost reflects on what he’s about to do – a REALLY tough interview – and you can see him start to doubt himself. You can’t. Even if you’re not confident… you have to be. So hey… fake it till you make it baby!

5. Get Me Roger Stone

Get Me Roger Stone is a fantastic documentary that explores the life and career of notorious Republican “dirty trickster” and longtime Donald Trump advisor, Roger Stone. You see throughout the documentary that Stone had a hand in helping create Trump’s political career.

This is a fantastic movie to watch as a journalist – especially if you LOVE politics like I do – because you learn how the famous “Super PAC’s” were born, and how Stone has truly changed the way politics are played today. You also learn the history of the election strategies from Nixon to today, the up’s and down’s seen by the Republican party, and the rise of what many call “the silent majority.”

What I really like about Get Me Roger Stone is that it really is unbiased. You have republicans, libertarians, democrats, and even some socialists weighing in on how elections can be won, it’s just that the documentary primarily focuses on Roger Stone’s tactics and “schemes” to win them.

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
Roger Stone knows how to play the media like a fiddle, and he was one of the firsts to figure out how. In the movie, it goes through “Stone’s Rules” like “Deny, Deny, Deny,” or “Attack, Attack, Attack, Never Defend!” Some of his rules are absolute genius looking at it from a journalists perspective, because you literally can see the political playbook many politicians go by nowadays.

I absolutely loved Get Me Roger Stone because it was like I was learning all the play-by-plays many use to dodge answering a questionl. The best offense is knowing your “opponents” defense.

Also as a journalist, you have to know your history, because often times, it does repeat itself! This is a great movie to learn a lot of political history in under 2-hours!

6. All The President’s Men – Buy/Rent

All The President’s Men details The Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and how they uncovered the details of the Watergate scandal that lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

This was the Spotlight in the 1970s, and instead of the Catholic church reporters were going up against, it was the most powerful man in the United States.

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
Another investigative journalism movie at its finest that shows once again, no matter how big the suspect is, you can’t be afraid to SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER and that YOUR JOB as a journalist is to report the facts and keep the big players in check.

7. Morning Glory – Buy/Rent

Morning Glory is the story of an upstart television producer accepting the challenge of reviving a struggling morning show program with co-hosts that just don’t get along.

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
Morning Glory reminds me so much of my time at my first big anchoring job – Morning Anchor at FOX28. No, my co-host and I got along great, unlike in the movie. But it was more the grueling hours that no one believes you live. I would wake up at 1:00AM, get ready and be at the station by 2:00AM, walk in and just starting hammering away at scripts for the 3-hour morning show.

What many don’t realize is that when you work a morning show, you feel like you’re living on the opposite side of the world – because you basically are living on Australia time – and all you want to do is be able to live a normal life, not the life of a vampire.

This movie will make every young journalist out there learn that TV time does not run 9AM to 5PM, and a social life?! Kiss that goodbye! Haha! But what you will realize is that by working such odd hours, your co-workers become your family, and you realize how much fun the news really can be! It’s a job unlike any other, but with a job unlike any other comes hours unlike any other. So if you really want to make it, you have to be willing to sacrifice… A LOT. For me, there were no questions…

Also, this movie made me realize that as an anchor… DO NOT BE A DIVA!!! For the love of God, just because you’re on TV doesn’t mean you can talk down to people or treat everyone like they work for you. No-no… not cool…

8. Nightcrawler – Buy/Rent

Nightcrawler is the story of character Louis Bloom, a con man desperate for work, and how he muscles his way into the world of L.A. crime journalism. Bloom ends up blurring the lines between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
Nightcrawler was interesting for me to see it when I did. First, having worked in smaller local news markets, I didn’t know that there were “citizen journalists” that would literally sit in their car at night, listen to police scanners, show up first on the scenes, and then sell their footage to news stations for cash. That was a little new to me…

But what I learned more was the famous line that many say in news, “If it bleeds… it leads.” Being in the news sometimes can make many of us jaded, because the things we’re covering can sometimes be extremely gruesome. So, journalists tend to get jaded, mainly to just keep their sanity. In the movie, Jake Gyllenhaal shows up on many scenes that are just awful. In this movie, you learn the downside to the job, in that it’s not all fun and glamour. It sometimes can be depressing and downright awful, and with that, you have to be able to stomach it.

9. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Buy/Rent

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot details the true story of a network producer turned journalist, Kim Baker (Tina Fey), and how she ends up getting shipped off to Afghanistan in 2003 to cover the “War on Terror.”

You know you’re a true journalist when you question everything, and I questioned the movie title. After some research, I found out it comes from the military alphabet, which uses distinctive words to sound out letters — like Alpha for “A” or Bravo for “B.” So, if you said, “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot,” it means “WTF.” And many times in the movie, you can see Fey’s expression is WTF?!

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
The movie shows yet again the sacrifices you need to make in order to succeed in this business. Fey is shipped off to a war-torn country and stays in basically an apartment building filled with journalists from all around the world, all working for network TV networks. All of them have one goal in mind – get the big story.

In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, you see how Fey’s character grows as a journalist by finding and vetting sources, learning from her colleagues stationed there, and she makes some pretty big “made for movie” moves… like going into the middle of a firefight with a camera just to get the footage. Yes, I get it that it’s a movie… but that part I was like, “No way would I ever do that!” Haha! But it once again, it shows the sacrifices we journalists will make to move up in our careers.

10. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – Buy/Rent

If you haven’t seen the movie, then I really don’t know what to tell you! Haha! But just in case, Anchorman is the story of Ron Burgundy who is San Diego’s top-rated newsman in the male-dominated broadcasting of the 1970s. But it all changes for Ron and his cronies when an ambitious woman is hired as a new anchor.

WHAT I GOT FROM THIS MOVIE:
Yes, it’s a comedy, and yes it’s a great laugh! But there is a little truth to comedy. It was very difficult for women to make it to the anchor desk in the 1970s. How do I know this? I met and interviewed one of the women who did it — Jane Pauley!

In the movie, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is tasked with “female assignments” — with my absolute favorite being the “Cat Fashion Show.” As sexist as it is, I did learn something from that… bear with me..

When you start out in extremely small markets, I’m sorry but you’re not going to cover the BIG stories every single day, and sometimes, you might end up covering stories like the cat fashion show. I would know! At my first reporting job in Rockford, Illinois, I covered “The Price of Corn” and how it was skyrocketing. Did my 22-year-old self care at the time? HELL NO! But what I realized was that is what was important to the people of that community because it was their livelihood. I had to take my “city girl” shoes off and put on their shoes.

What’s also important to recognize is that when Corningstone is covering the “cat fashion show,” she covers it like it’s the biggest story of the year. She gives it her all. That taught me no matter the story, big or small, you treat it like it’s the best story of the year, and you better care about it!

For those interested, here’s the interview I did with Jane Pauley and her fight to the anchor desk. For all my fans from Indiana… she’s a Hoosier!

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