Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Behind the Headlines

This post is for the journos. Nothing to do with Australia, really (other than calling journalists "journos"). Just something I wanted to share.
I couldn't sleep the other night, so I watched a bit of 2 a.m. television. I caught a film called Behind The Headlines, starring Lee Tracy and Diana Gibson. Made in 1937, it tells of the love-hate rivalry between two reporters, one who works for a mainstream newspaper, the other who works for the upstart radio station. While Gibson (the print reporter) and all the other scribblers follow their beats, attending press conferences and writing the news, Tracy is scooping them all over the place by putting news on the air as it happens. It's the classic battle of technologies, and should be required viewing for any print journo who is watching circulation decline while blog viewership goes up.
In one scene Gibson gets chewed out by her publisher, who says "every time he scoops you, our circulation goes down." Sounds familiar? Then the publisher laments that he's trying to sell the paper, but "if circulation keeps dropping I'm going to have to pay someone to take this paper off my hands." In another scene, the publisher listens in as Tracy broadcasts live from a fire, then says "I hate to admit it, but that was the most fascinating broadcast I've ever heard."
Gibson's a feisty one, though, and she hits back at Tracy. Hiring thugs to stop him doesn't work, so she attacks his credibility. Twice she grabs his mic during a live broadcast and tells his listeners that he's just making it all up, and that they're not on the scene of the action at all, but are just standing in a studio. Again, sound familiar?
The parallels with our times are quite remarkable. This isn't great movie-making, but at just 58 minutes long, it is a quick and entertaining glimpse at the struggles we poor ink-stained wretches have been waging for over 70 years.
As the movie poster put it, "He made the yellow journals green with envy...the "short-wave" reporter who put the news on the air the moment it happened!"
It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, but if it's ever on late night tv, it's worth staying up to see. Or at least capturing on Tivo or tape.

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