It’s not exactly breaking news to report that the newspaper industry is in terrible shape.
Buyouts, waves of crushing staff reductions and a deluge of cost-conscious subscribers absconding to free, often unvetted, “news” sources (that often crib from newspaper articles or play with fiction more than fact and adhere to a particular political bent) have contributed to the degradation of journalism. The sad reality is that a viable profession dedicated to maintaining American democracy and uncovering malfeasance of people in power has been on life support for a while. And the outlook remains bleak.
Some traditional news-gathering organizations remain. But they’re often barely surviving on the leanest diets, with skeletal teams of respected reporters, editors and photojournalists digging into scandals, asking tough questions and keeping a watchful eye on the news of the day.
This week, Pass the Remote looks at a powerful documentary that details how reporters and editors took on hedge fund owners and are looking at an alternative route to deliver local news.
Keeping in step with the theme, we’re recommending other journalism-themed feature films worth streaming.
Award-winning director Rick Goldsmith’s distressing yet ultimately hopeful documentary “Stripped for Parts: American Journalism on the Brink” illustrates the clandestine activities of a New York-based hedge fund that owns several Bay Area newspapers among others throughout the nation.
Alden Global Capital’s modus operandi inspires fear in any journalist: It gobbles up financially strapped newspapers and sucks them bone-dry for profits. Goldsmith’s documentary sounds the alarm about this in-the-shadows financial entity and chronicles how brave journalists—including a determined investigative reporter in the Bay Area and reporters and editors at the beleaguered The Denver Post—called out and investigated ethically questionable business practices of Alden, its founder Randall D. Smith, and managing director Heath Freeman.
At first, Goldsmith’s documentary might seem like it’s delivering more bad news. But it avoids despair, offering hope on the horizon for news deserts where aggressive reporting is needed. It introduces the notion that the traditional capitalist business model is failing the news industry, and that nonprofit organizations must be providers of local coverage.
“Stripped for Parts” mirrors elements of a prize-winning newspaper article, looking at the issue from various angles, offering historical context and a swath of interviews as it expounds on its premise.
Some filmgoers in the Bay Area saw “Stripped for Parts” when screened in the 26th United Nations Association Film Festival in the South Bay in 2023. It impressed audiences and judges alike, winning a Grand Jury Award for best documentary.
While there’s no release date yet for “Stripped for Parts,” it’s screening at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Oakland’s New Parkway Theatre in a special event presented in partnership with The Berkeley Film Foundation. Tickets cost $12-$16. To purchase, visit thenewparkway.com.
Portrayals of journalists onscreen run the gamut from realistic to snicker-worthy (Denzel Washington’s character’s impressive digs, on his paltry newspaper salary, in “The Pelican Brief,” for example).
Here are five of my favorites to stream now:
One of the best documentaries about the intricacies and bureaucratic headaches involved in a damning journalism investigation might be one you missed: Alexander Nanau’s intense, Oscar-nominated 2019 film “Collective” recounts a shocking health care industry coverup after a fatal 2015 nightclub fire in Bucharest, Romania, and the tenacious sports journalists who uncovered the fact that victims died not only in the fire, but also in the hospital due to infections caused by shoddy practices. (Available on Hulu, Apple TV+)
Tom McCarthy’s straightforward “Spotlight” captured the top prize at the 2016 Academy Awards (and foreshadowed dark times ahead for journalists) focusing entirely on the Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation of clergy sexual abuse and the coverup that ensued. Some jeered it for winning over “The Revenant.” I cheer that choice. (Available on Starz, Apple TV+)
If you entered a newsroom decades ago, you’d get an earful of banter, retorts, and running commentary. The 1940 Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell black comedy “His Girl Friday” brilliantly captures that rat-a-tat-tat discourse, which has the tempo of a reporter typing on deadline, and, despite a few dated elements, is as entertaining as ever. The Howard Hawks classic has been remade many times, but this is the best version of the play from which it sprang. (Available on Prime Video, Apple TV+, Vudu)
So, what is, or rather who is, Rosebud? Get back to me on that after watching Orson Welles’ groundbreaking 1941 black-and-white classic “Citizen Kane.” Considered one of the best films of all time, it’s a still-relevant rags-to-riches-to-regrets story about a newspaper titan (Welles) who more than bears a passing resemblance to William Randolph Hearst and his blind ambition to rise to the top. (Available on Apple TV+).
After Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 “All the President’s Men”—based on the book by Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) about the Watergate scandal and the takedown of an American president —the journalism profession received a boost in popularity. (Available on Apple TV+)
What might inspire a new generation of journalists is Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s “Writing with Fire.” The Oscar-nominated documentary, a galvanizing story about India’s lone women-led news agency, shows how the writers confront in-your-face sexism and learn how to adapt to a techie mode of news gathering. It is just as inspiring as “All the President’s Men.” (Available on Apple TV+, Prime Video, Vudu)