A newsroom is always filled with fast-talking, bright people whose main work is to speak to strangers, investigate a situation, get answers, develop a story. Since reporters are always finding out something about someone, they create countless stories with good beginnings, middles, and endings. The newspaper gave the moviemaker an endless flow of story possibilities in an atmosphere that soon became so familiar to movie audiences that journalists could be thrown into a film without the scriptwriter having to worry about motivation or plot.
By the early 1920s, audiences already knew that reporters were always involved in some kind of story, no matter how bizarre or melodramatic. They accepted it as a matter of course. In the process, they got not only large doses of entertainment but also a series of lasting impressions about the media that has stayed in the public mind for more than ten decades.
A journalist without a voice is only a shadow of the real McCoy. The images at first didn’t speak, but all of the Jekyll-and-Hyde stereotypes of the newspaperman and woman were there in the pages of melodramatic fiction and in the silent films often based on that fiction. People who read newspapers didn’t have the slightest idea how the news came to them until they read about it in lurid books or saw it on the silent screen. Right from the beginning of film, the world of the newspaper was an easily accessible and recognizable background.
By the last decades of the twentieth century, the journalists most
people remember are the anonymous journalists, played by nondescript
actors, who chase after a story by rudely invading the privacy of the
person involved. These reporters become bit players, an anonymous piece
of an intrusive pack of harassing journalists, many armed with lights,
cameras, and microphones. The public watches uncomfortably as these
obnoxious reporters fill the movie and, especially, the television
screens. They poke their cameras into people’s faces, yell out
questions, recklessly pursue popular actors – the kind who used to play
journalists once cheered by audiences. The result of this particularly
offensive image of the reporter from the 1970s to the new century is
the public’s rejection of the reporter as a hero, as someone helpful
and necessary to society. In the beginning, these anonymous reporters
were more likable because they were given witty lines, and they asked
questions the audiences wanted answered. They were often used to
advance the plot and summarize the action. They were created by former
journalists who, no matter how critical of the profession, couldn’t
disguise their true love of the people in it.