Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Difference

by Scott Hall

The new movie, "State of Play", is based on a popular BBC mini-series.
One theme of the new movie, "State of Play", is the difference between journalism and the more popular and profitable commentary found in blogs and 24/7 TV and radio talk formats. "State of Play" is a murder mystery set in Washington, DC. Russell Crowe plays a seasoned and seedy newspaper reporter who pursues leads and relies on sources he has cultivated over sixteen years. He's a valued reporter whose work is losing its value. His editor is under pressure to make the paper pay.

The movie honors the work required to do good journalism- seek out a variety of sources, persuade them to go on the record, chase down dubious leads as well as the obvious ones, then follow the leads the leads lead to, and change the focus of the story as the facts change. The reporter in this story is not impartial. His personal stake in the story almost undermines his ability to get it right. He uses people - colleagues, friends and sources - to get want he wants.

A story about murder, corruption and misplaced ideals set in Washington, D.C. makes for good entertainment created by Hollywood. The role of the reporter is over dramatized and the events are compressed for entertainment value. In real time, the story might have unfolded in a series of reports, as in Watergate. But in these times, as money and commitment to the grunt work of traditional journalism fades, the story might never get told.

We need reporters that have the time and resources to follow stories that tell stories that matter and keep those in power accountable. The opportunity for good reporting exists here in northern MN and elsewhere. Every journalist can probably tell you about stories they would have liked to tell, but lacked the time, resources, and editor to back them up. Find out how you can help build a new on-line place for good journalism at the Northern Community Internet web site.

Read A. O. Scott's review of "State of Play" for the NY Times

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