Thirty years ago, a political crisis and two movie stars inspired thousands of young people to pursue a career in journalism. Now that the profession may be dying, is it foolish to hope that an economic crisis and three movie stars could revive interest?
Opening tomorrow, Kevin Macdonald's State of Play stars Russell Crowe as a world-weary reporter investigating a murder in which his old friend, politician Ben Affleck, may have been involved. Rachel McAdams also stars as an up-and-coming blogger. Obviously, that's a very different kind of movie than Alan Pakula's All the President's Men, which starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who helped uncover the full extent of the Watergate conspiracy in the 1970s. In the wake of that movie, The Atlantic commented: "Today's generation of young Americans is flocking to journalism schools in unprecedented numbers ... the extraordinary popularity of 'communications' has been attributed to 'the Woodstein Phenomenon,' the effect of the Woodward and Bernstein feat of exposing and unseating the Nixon gang in the White House."
Ever since, there has been no shortage of qualified journalists; the problem is that jobs for journalists are drying up faster than a water hole in the Sahara. Without getting into a discussion of why the newspaper and magazine industries are dying, my questions are:
- Will anyone look beyond the murder thriller trappings of State of Play?
- Will it cause anyone to think about why good, solid investigative journalism is still so important -- in part, to hold elected officials, government workers, and corporate executives accountable for their actions?
- Will anyone be prompted to come up with viable solutions to sustain and support a valuable profession before it's gone forever?