from a barstool in manhattan

In New York’s Great Newspaper Movies, Breaking a Story Can Be the Story

The Paper, 1994. Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy/Alamy Stock Photo

Is there any film in which everyone talks faster than His Girl Friday? Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are the quintessential city-newspaper people, leaping from interview to interview and tip to tip. Speed, really, is the defining quality of the great New York news movies. In Ron Howard’s underrecognized The Paper, a tabloid city editor — Michael Keaton in top form — presides over a newsroom full of aggressive eccentrics who are simultaneously out for the story and out for themselves. Howard shoots past, around, and toward the newsroom clocks, and we can feel the daily deadline pressure as it just keeps building. Richard Brooks does that too in Deadline-U.S.A., the 1952 film noir with Humphrey Bogart as editor Ed Hutcheson, and the time crunch is even more intense because his paper, The Day, is dying: The heirs of its late owner intend to sell it to a trashy competitor that will shut it down, but Hutcheson has uncovered a real scandal and is racing to get it into print before the final edition. In the latter two movies, the showdown comes in the pressroom itself. When Bogart gets the crooked figure on the phone just as the machinery starts to thunder, he delivers the smackdown: “That’s the press, baby. The press! And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing!

True enough. But the righteousness comes at a price. In all three of these films, there’s a B-plot about just how home-wrecking the act of news gathering can be. The pay is bad, and what we now refer to as work-life balance is nonexistent. As The Day is dying, the reporters and editors gather at a bar to eulogize it, and one talks about her misbegotten career choice, which has left her with two weeks’ severance and $81 in the bank. She has, she says, “fallen arches, unfixed teeth, and you want to know something? I never saw Paris. But I wouldn’t change those years. Not for anything in this world.” Keaton’s character is married to a reporter; Bogey’s is divorced from one; Grant and Russell, as editor and reporter, were married but have split up, and she’s trying to quit the business and start fresh but can’t make herself do it. Everyone’s wedded to the chase, and nobody outside the business gets it. As Pete Hamill once wrote in this magazine, “Reporters and editors, male or female, are often faced with the same dilemma. They always choose the newspaper.”

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In NYC Newspaper Movies, Breaking a Story Can Be the Story