round last October, Paramount Pictures offered free tickets to students at Medill (the journalism school at Northwestern University that I attend) to see a movie called Morning Glory. They wanted us to see it because the movie is supposed to be about journalists. This is the email they sent:
Hey Medill Students!
Paramount Pictures is holding a special screening of the new movie, “Morning Glory” on November 9 at the Cinemark in downtown Evanston. They specifically want Medill students to come to complement the film’s journalism theme.
I didn’t take advantage of the offer myself, but I’d heard from friends that the movie was quite good. So when my friend and I saw Morning Glory as an “instant play” movie on Netflix last night, I had high hopes.
Paramount promoted this movie as a JOURNALIST’S movie – as a movie about the broadcast industry, as a movie about our futures. I was expecting something inspiring, something that would make me proud to be in this field, something that would revitalize my passion for journalism.
In case my tone hasn’t given it away yet, I was sorely disappointed.
Morning Glory wasn’t a movie about reviving journalism, nor did it celebrate journalism. Morning Glory killed journalism. And I really, really, REALLY hope it’s an inaccurate account of what I’m jumping into.
Here’s the trailer:
The movie stars Rachel McAdams as a young executive producer of a dying morning news show, Daybreak. She’s stuck with two completely disagreeable anchors, played by Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford, and has several other dimwits on her staff. Her boss is threatening to shut down the show in 6 weeks unless she brings up the ratings, and she has to do everything possible to save her career.
McAdams sets out to do that by producing the most sensational, “yellowest” journalism possible. She sends her staff out to tell a story about tattoos by getting a tattoo, report on the new Six Flags roller coaster by screaming “fuuuuuck” and riding it, produce stories about skydiving by going skydiving. And the sensationalism didn’t even have any current angle whatsoever… the “reporters” just produced random segments that would create funny YouTube clips, thus improving ratings. She finally just has the cranky anchors argue on air so that viewers can be entertained by their lack of professionalism.
The one redeeming character is Harrison Ford, who stands by REAL news and refuses to give in to the sensationalism. But instead of being seen as a hero, the script portrays Ford as a grump that just won’t go with the flow. His character is a stubborn drunk and the audience is meant to hate him.
At some point in the middle of the movie, Ford puts his foot down and produces a REAL story about the governor getting arrested. The story is a big hit with viewers, the ratings spike, the staff morale skyrockets. I thought it was finally going to be the point where things go right – where they start doing the right stories again, because that CAN work. But instead, that moment was only a bonding moment between McAdams and Ford. The staff goes right back to producing yellow journalism, and this time Ford is on board too.
And to make things even worse, the yellow journalism wasn’t just a means of increasing the ratings – it was a trend which Daybreak followed. As would be expected, the ratings rise and by the end of the movie, the show is basically saved from cancellation, but they keep producing awful stories to stay popular.
Oh and this is irrelevant but the scriptwriters couldn’t even properly develop the romance story line. McAdams’ relationship with her boyfriend just happens and works without any sort of development. These are really the same people who wrote The Devil Wears Prada?! And directed Notting Hill!? But anyway, that’s a whole different story.
Basically, the moral of Morning Glory seems to be that ratings are all that count. Forget professionalism, accuracy, pertinence, news. Go with sensationalism, money, creating news where there is none.
If this had just been a movie I saw, I’d probably still think it was dumb, and I’d laugh it off. But the fact that it was advertised as a JOURNALISTS’ movie ticks me off. This movie wasn’t about journalism. It was about everything journalism shouldn’t be. And it bothers me that people could see it any other way.