Newscastic thinks every real journalist would like to be one of these five fictional journalists:
Carl Kolchak/”Kolchak: The Night Stalker” (1974)
Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin on the eponymous TV series, was a talented reporter in Chicago that tackled tales of the strange and supernatural with equal parts tenacity, instinct and guts. The TV show was an early forerunner to “The X-Files” and had a healthy mix of horror, crime procedural and humor. Unfortunately, Kolchak’s proof of zombies, ghosts and other creatures committing crimes around the city often went missing or was destroyed, just as deadlines hit. We’ve all been there right? Either way, plenty of journalists would love to spend their days chasing those kinds of stories rather than calling the public relations officer back for a second or third time.
Spider Jerusalem/ “Transmetropolitan” (1997)
The things Spider Jerusalem does to his body in the comic series “Transmetropolitan” would make Hunter S. Thompson blush. Almost every issue finds him popping pills, killing drinks and smoking anything and everything. Still, he manages to be the smart-ass journalist we all want to be, battling corruption and injustice with one hand on the keyboard and the other giving the bird. He also thrives on being hated, often back talking the public and sources in ways that have real world journalists grinning.
Howard Beale/”Network” (1976)
Comparing yourself to a journalist that was very likely crazy and was killed on air is not something most of us strive for, but many reporters wish they could speak as honestly and passionately as Beale, played by Peter Finch, does in his “mad as hell speech” from the movie “Network.” Many journalists struggle with dark issues like homelessness they see everyday that are of little to no interest to the main population, and while they may not have the answers, they want the people to know what is going on.
Mackenzie McHale/ “Newsroom” (2012)
The easy pick for the HBO TV series would be host Will McAvoy, but McHale is the brains behind the whole operation. She is incredibly smart and a talented journalist in her own right, covering Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq on the ground. Her arrival on the fictional “News Night” changed the way the show delivered the news. Under her guidance, the coverage shifted from gossipy material to real time stories with national and global implications that the average viewer should know and care about. In short, it is the newsman’s news show. The show can be preachy and can over simplify what a journalist does on a day-to-day basis, but it also makes you want to write a [Freedom of Information Act] request with gusto and call a source out in front of a crowd.
Tintin/”The Adventures of Tintin” (1929)
Tintin gets around. The Dutch comic book reporter has adventure after adventure in exotic locations ranging from the Orient to the bottom of the ocean and even the moon. He has an incredible eye for detail, has a deep knowledge of automobiles and aircraft and can take care of himself in a fist fight. In later issues, he became more of a private detective and explorer and, if we are being honest, he was rarely seen turning a story in before that, but what reporter doesn’t fantasize about their talents taking them on great adventures? Especially with no editor breathing down their neck.
Well, the first problem with this is that this list doesn’t include …
The second thing, as I’ve written here before, is that watching journalism take place isn’t interesting. Much of it is either rote or at least routine. Watching someone stare into a computer screen and then type, well, you can see that in any modern office. Interviewing people can be interesting (or not), but in truth the only people interested in watching depictions of journalism are journalists. There are no satisfying payoffs, only the next thing to cover.
The other thing is that it fails to acknowledge that journalists are not normal people. Other than TV news (which some argue isn’t really news), the best looking reporter is average looking at best. More likely reporters are ugly, fat, badly dressed, possessed of poor eating habits, drivers of poor quality vehicles, and often ill-mannered in public. The next journalist who can defend himself in a fight, or run two blocks without finding there isn’t enough air in the air, will be the first. (You’d think journalists would be bigger fans of concealed-carry for that reason.)
News takes place any time of the day or night, any day of the week; therefore it has to be covered wherever and whenever it happens. Journalists are overworked (except those who work only 40 hours a week, in which case you’re not doing enough work) and, unless your name is Matt Lauer, underpaid. A proper journalist is cynical. (The old saw goes that if your mother says she loves you, check it out. The truth is that most reporters today aren’t nearly cynical enough and spend far too much time sucking up to power.) The old joke is that newsrooms put the word “fun” in “dysfunctional.”
Consider John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Some reporters cried while reporting the story, which is inappropriate at least and appalling at worst. Some years later — notably Fort Worth newspaper reporter Bob Schieffer, now at CBS — sound strangely giddy talking about their experiences. Major breaking news is an adrenaline rush, as horrible as that sounds. (If you assume all journalists are going to Hell after this life, you’ll be right more often than not.)
So after a quarter-century of doing this, why am I still doing this? Because I figured out (and maybe it’s a case of necessity becoming a virtue) that you should not do what you love (and you should never love your job, because neither your job nor your employer love you); you should do what you’re good at doing.