There's a big story. An editor gets the best person for the job, who starts doing research, hours upon hours of research. The journalist makes phones calls, prints off reports, spends a lot of time with multiple colours of highlighters. After compiling all of the information, that journalist lines up an interview and armed with a recorder (sometimes a television camera) they go in and sit down.
This is the moment where movies and television start to change the story depending on whether it's a female or male reporter.
If it's a male reporter, they go in and do the interview. Triumphant music plays as they score the perfect interview or catch the person in a lie, and cut to a world-changing article being written.
If it's a female reporter, well for some unknown reason she is much more likely to sleep with the person she's investigating.
WE DON'T DO THAT.
With the new movie "Spotlight" just coming out and the trailer for "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" playing before many people see the new Star Wars, the roles of female journalists are once again front an centre. I haven't seen either of those movies (minus Star Wars) yet but there is some optimism that it may be an honest portrayal of the importance and role of women in the newsroom. Unfortunately, that's going against a history of female journalists portrayed in television and movies completely unconcerned with their journalistic ethics.
So here is a list of women journalists in movies and how it's not like anything you would ever see in real life with a freelancer or in a newsroom.
Trainwreck is a 2015 American romantic comedy film directed by Judd Apatow and written by Amy Schumer.
In the movie, Amy Schumer's character conveniently named Amy, writes for a Men's magazine. She is assigned a piece about a sport's doctor named Aaron Conners played by Bill Hader. They meet once to arrange times for interviews, it's awkward but that does happen when you go meet an interview subject you've never spoken to before.
They meet a second time for the interview and have an "emotional moment" and end up going for supper. Soon after dinner and drinks they are back at his place and sleep together.
In the movie, rather than being horrified she slept with the person she is supposed to write a profile on, Amy is sad that she broke her own rule by staying overnight.
The movie goes on with Amy realizing she has feelings for Aaron. They fight. And her big makeup to him is her actually writing a piece on him.
In real life, this is a horrible conflict of interest. Female journalists would not sleep with their interview subject. If they were asked to write about someone they already had a relationship with they'd have to sit down with their editor and tell them why it probably wasn't appropriate. Finally if they will still tasked with writing the article, they would likely have to disclose that relationship in the article for every reader to know.
That's why female journalists just don't do any of those things. What they did get right was probably the wine and how newsrooms work at a Men's Magazine.
For what was heralded a feminist film, I thought it was utterly discouraging when it comes to the portrayal of female journalists.
HOUSE OF CARDS
In House of Cards, journalist Zoe Barnes probably stuck in most people's minds for her (SPOILER) crazy and unexpected death.
But previous to that she was the representation of all the terrible stereotypes female journalists face on a day-to-day basis.
"Nervous, young, ambitious, with some naiveté, upstart reporter Barnes was desperate to advance her stature within the Washington Herald newsroom. Directing all her charm, sexuality, youthful energy, and social skills towards securing journalistic sources in the D.C. political establishment, she had been hoping to obtain information that would lead to bigger stories and better professional prospects." - Wikipedia
The character is literally trying to sleep to the top and sleep with her major sources. It's horrifying to watch especially since her friend/mentor is another journalist who brags about "sucking" her way to the top.
In real life, we WOULD NEVER DO THAT.
What they got right? Well the cut-throat world of journalism as well as the relationship between journalist and politicians where they share information to benefit each other or themselves can certainly happen, as long as it's outside of the bedroom.
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
In Thank You For Smoking a tobacco lobbyist is seduced by reporter Heather Holloway. During their fling, the lobbyist opens up to Holloway about his life and job.
She takes that information and publishes an expose.
We don't sleep our way into information. What they maybe get right in this movie is when Holloway's romantic relationship to the lobbyist is made public, she loses her job and is made a weather girl. I still don't support this in the sense it feels more like punishment for her "slutty" ways than it does as a commentary to her ethical decisions.
I was excited to see Top Five because I like Chris Rock but that quickly faded when I realized how utterly deplorable the female journalist was portrayed.
In the movie, New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown is spending a day interviewing comedian and recovering alcoholic Andre Allen, star of the hit film franchise Hammy The Bear, who is trying to get respect as an actor outside of a bear suit.
At first she tries to get through the hard actor's exterior by relating to him with her own experiences but eventually she just falls down the same old rabbit hole of terribly portrayed female journalists and hooks up with Allen in a bathroom. Of course the two fall in love, because that's what happens every time I do an interview (sarcasm present).
What they got right? All journalists try to relate to their subject in some way to get them to open up and be honest, but we do it without sleeping with them. What they got wrong? Everything else....
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS
Even in fluff films, female journalists can't keep it together apparently. I know a lot of women who write for magazines like the one Kate Hudson (who plays a central character who is a Kate Hudson type) writes for in this movie. The women in real life, even those with "bigger dreams" would never, ever do what Hudson does in this film. She literally seduces, destroys, and then falls in love with Matthew McConaughey - all for a piece.
I don't think this is particularly necessary but they got nothing right except maybe that journalists exist and they got absolutely everything wrong.
THE LIST GOES ON....
I'm sitting here trying to think actually about a good example on television or in movies. Lois Lane? Nope she hooks up with Superman. The Devil Wears Prada? Nope she sleeps with a source. Never Been Kissed? Everything about this is bad and she sleeps with the source of her story. Nightcrawler? Nope, she was blackmailed into sleeping with her stringer (so creepy). Crazy Heart? Nope she sleeps with the subject of her piece.
Check out this list and see how many were well developed, three dimensional characters, who maintained real journalistic ethics (and didn't sleep with their subjects). Spoiler, almost none.
So here's what I'm asking before I go to see Spotlight and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, please, PLEASE give me a female journalist that at least somewhat represents the ones I work with everyday who are ethical, hardworking, and not interested in sleeping their way to the top. Female journalists can get to the top with our writing, perspective, and talent all on our own.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada