What State of Play says about the state of journalism

I’ve just stepped out of the cinema. Despite my dislike of Russell Crowe (well, he hates journos, so why should I like him?), I went to see State Of Play in which Rusty is our heroic hack.

I enjoyed it a lot – as will any journalist because for once we’re the, albeit slightly compromised, good guys.  

state-of-playBut it was also with a growing sense of nostalgia. I think this will prove to be the last big movie about newspaper journalism. And the makers realised it, with an underlying theme of the transition between expensive print and cheap online.

I went in expecting to be disappointed. Originally, State of Play was a UK television mini series starring John Simm. So I was ready to dislike Rusty for that too. And Bill Nighy had made a brilliant editor, so I couldn’t see how Helen Mirren was going to take that role either.

Happily, I can report that she delivered the line “So was he nobbing her?” every bit as well as Nighy did.

But better than that, we have another great film about journalists.

As a digression, my top four:

  • The Paper. 24 hours in the life of a cheerfully downmarket New York tabloid;
  • Broadcast News. For any non broadcast journo who’s been through a disastrous autocue-reading newscasting audition (and I count myself in that list) the scene where Steve Guttenberg dies on screen rings painfully true;
  • His Girl Friday. Cary Grant’s scheming newspaperman keeping his best reporter / love interest on the team;
  • All The President’s Men. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Woodward and Bernstein (or possibly Bernstein and Woodward) in the biopic of the investigation that eventually brought down President Nixon

In State of Play, it’s another Washington conspiracy thriller. This time involving murder, defence contractors and messy personal relationships.

Admittedly it nods to days that may have already passed, where a press pass was access all areas. I suspect there are few mortuaries these days that journalists can wander into.

But it also recalls when a team of journos could be thrown at a story – and chase it for days on end. It’s not a luxury that many papers are going to have in the future.

Funnily enough, the role of PR in the publishing process was not prominent. The only PR man who featured was a Bentley-driving, drug taking, scheming sexual deviant who was not, as you’d guess, one of the more likeable characters.

But for anyone who’s worked in newspapers, the real attraction of this movie is the backdrop. Messy, chaotic newsrooms with cuttings strewn around, random pictures on walls, clocks everywhere. And of course, presses pumping out newspapers.

As one of the characters points out, some stories really are best read with newsprint on your fingers.


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