‘Malice’ Gets It Right

One of the fun things about teaching a class in journalism is making time to watch a good movie about the craft.

In “His Girl Friday,” the joy is in the quick dialogue. With “The Paper,” I smile when they yell “Stop the presses!” And no reporter can resist “All the President’s Men” and the idea of meeting a source in a dark parking garage for key info for one of the biggest stories of our time. These are all pretty good entertainment.

But one of my favorites — and I love all films about reporters, no matter how cheesy — is “Absence of Malice,” the 1981 flick starring Sally Field and Paul Newman.

When you’ve worked as a reporter, you notice common mistakes in journalism movies. Often times, the reporter is a hero who never seems to take notes, and only files stories every once in awhile. Sometimes they live in big fancy houses and drive expensive cars, but no reporter I know does this.

The beauty of “Malice” is that Fields, the reporter, actually writes stories. She worries about each line. She’s a little nervous and uncertain, despite her to-the-point interview style. She questions herself constantly. She lives in a nice but modest apartment, which is more in line with the lives of many reporters.

And she makes mistakes. Big ones. She gets too close to Newman, one of her sources, and makes other several questionable calls along the way.

The good thing — and most reporters want to do things right — is that she admits her mistakes and tries to make things better.

The story, to me, is one of the most nuanced looks at the challenges a reporter faces.

Decades later, it’s still worth a watch for anyone looking to write news for a living.

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