A man is killed and sent C.O.D. to a Hollywood actress.
Rather than call the police, the actress calls her reporter friend to help her out.
The reporter investigates the case like he’s a detective.
He sneaks in houses searching for clues and finds jewels that can be used as evidence. The reporter then puts the diamonds in an ice cube tray to hide them from police.
As these events occurred in “The Corpse Came C.O.D.” (1947) starring George Brent and Joan Blondell, my dad turns to me and asks, “I hope you don’t do these things at work.”
Later when Brent gets in a fist fight with a bad guy my dad asks, “Is there anyone at the Star that would be able to do that?”
As a reporter who loves classic movies, I go out of my way to watch films where the hero plays a reporter.
However, if I researched my stories using the same methods that reporters used in films, I would most likely get fired.
In classic films, reporters are often solving crimes like a police officer and often receive information by unethical means. At the Shelby Star, we do a lot of research on our stories, but I doubt we will ever solve a crime.
In the 1930s Torchy Blane film series, Torchy is constantly at odds with her detective boyfriend Steve McBride for being where she shouldn’t be.
The nine films follow the wise-cracking female reporter, played by Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman.
Torchy can be seen eavesdropping, bugging rooms, hiding in trash cans and following bad guys to get the scoop on a story.
If I hid in a trashcan to find out the latest secrets of Cleveland County, North Carolina, not only would that be breaking media laws, I would also smell pretty bad.
In “His Girl Friday” (1940), reporter Hildy Johnson, played by Rosalind Russell, hides an accused murdered in her rolltop desk to get the scoop on a story. Unfortunately, I don’t have a rolltop desk at work, but even if I did, I’m not sure how the sheriff would feel if I stored suspects in my desk.
In another George Brent film “You Can’t Escape Forever” (1942), managing editor, Brent will get hunches by tugging on his ear like he’s communicating with somebody via Morse code.
Then Brent will come up with a fantastic hunch that he will print in the paper, which usually ends up being true.
If reporters worked solely on hunches without fact checking, the paper would be full of corrections that had to be run, rather than news stories.
In “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) reporters James Stewart and Ruth Hussey pose as family friends at the wedding of Katharine Hepburn. The two are tabloid writers there to get information on the story.
Getting information under false pretenses is unethical by today’s standards and would most likely leave you with a lawsuit.
Though there are several comedic representations of newspapers, there are films that represent journalism in a truer light, such as “The Story of G.I. Joe” (1945) about war journalist Ernie Pyle or “Citizen Kane” (1940) about the power of journalism.
As someone who works in newspapers, I don’t take offense to the unethical journalism in the 1930s and 1940s films, because I know most of it is there for comedic relief.
It doesn’t make me stop watching the films; you just have to take it all with a grain of salt, as you would with any movie.
Clearly newspapers have changed a great deal from the 1930s to today. However, it does make me wonder how media laws and ethics have changed in the past 75 years.
So for my father: No dad, we don’t do any of that at the Star.
This is part of the Breaking News: Journalism in Classic Films blogathon co-hosted by myself and Lindsay at Lindsay’s Movie Musings. Read all of the wonderful contributions here!
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