State of Play – new media versus old

Some cracking reviews of the ‘State of Play’ movie appearing, which has amongst its many plotlines something of the current clash between new and old media, between print and bloggers, about it. It is almost portrayed as print’s last stand as the bloggers charge in.

It has an apparent credulous portrait of a blogger played by Rachel McAdams as Della Frye, who stars opposite the grizzled old school journalist Russell Crowe, who takes on the role of Cal McCaffrey, with Helen Mirren as his editor. She says wanker and buggers a lot. She would wouldn’t she, she’s a British newspaper editor in America.

It’s being talked of as the kind of film that they don’t make anymore, about newspapers and conspiracy theories, with nods to classics such as ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘The Parallax View’, while remaining thoroughly modern.

The film comes at a crossroads moment for newspapers and a lot of reviewers have talked about how it is a film about the death of old journalism and of newspapers, but at the same time asks pertinent questions about the future of the fourth estate.

The Los Angeles Times says one of the questions that director Kevin Macdonald asks is “what happens when journalists aren’t there to ask the difficult questions of politicians?”. It’s a good question, maybe someone will forward an email to Guido Fawkes.

The LA Times goes onto say that the film “captures the feeling of an industry in transition, perpetually under economic pressures from the outside, while inside a battle for supremacy reigns between the brash but unseasoned young bloggers and the traditional hard-charging gumshoe reporters”.

The Times has Crowe as a “newspaperman who has no respect for the ubiquitous internet bloggers and their opinions”, but he finds himself partnered with the paper’s resident internet “whizz kid, Della” on a story involving his former college friend, the US Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck).

The blogger angle is a nice update from the excellent BBC One TV series even if on the screen there is really little time to explore that debate before we see Della learn to “be a real reporter” from old hand Crowe. Early on in the film when Crowe meets McAdams Della character he says
he will have to read a few blogs before he forms an opinion. The New York Times put it like this: “Each
has so much to learn from the other. What Della learns, charmingly if
none too plausibly, is that some stories lie too deep for blogs and can
only truly live on the smudgy, crumply page.”

But as the Huffington Post has it “Della Frye never establishes an identity of her own, we never really learn what kind of blogger she is, what she likes to write about, or how she feels about the current tug-of-war that exists in the newspaper community.”

Maybe in the end in State of Play the battle print and the bloggosphere is not the real one. It is not about a battle of the mediums. That’s a distraction and a red herring, maybe a misreading of the world by director Kevin McDonald. The other battle here is the corporation that owns the Washigton Globe and is putting Mirren’s editor under pressure to cut costs and turn a profit. We never learn much about them, but one images a Sam Zell type character, the real estate billionaire who snapped up the Los Angeles Times owning Tribune, which is now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Whatever, it is fun to see a film set in the world of newspapers. The original newspaper setting in the BBC TV series was modelled on the Guardian, although the Washington Globe in the film is modelled on the Washington Post. Well they did give us Woodward, Bernstein and Watergate.

Still The Guardian has its starring role in the third Jason Bourne film ‘The Bourne Ultimatium’, which also had an investigative reporter at the heart of its plot – even if it were more about bullets, blocks and punches than the more cerebral ‘State of Play’.

Old media or new, with The Times calling it “exhilarating, compulsive storytelling” that is “likely to be one of the year’s cinematic highlights”, it looks more than worth a cinematic visit.

  • Kevin Gordon

    Hi Gordon,

    Interesting scenario:
    Blogger spreads scandal
    Paper quashes scandal
    Blogger contradicts paper ad infinitum
    Paper contradicts blogger ad infinitum
    Advertiser wins by appearing in both media.
    Revenue up.
    Everybody’s happy again.
    Perhaps the problem all along has been we have been trying to make conflicting media work together because of the advertiser.
    But this way the advertiser always wins.
    It’s a win win situation.

  • Gordon Macmillan

    Like it, only one fly in that ointment – the ad infinitum bit, too many newspapers on their last legs.

  • John W.

    We don’t need newspapers, we need journalism.

  • Gordon Macmillan

    @John W – Good point, I’ve written before about a fixation on the medium leads the debate in the wrong direction.

  • Kevin Gordon

    People are always prepared to pay for what they consider to be quality content according to their target audience. Here are some suggestions:
    The Times: The next generation of Male / Female Guru’s
    The Mail: The World’s top 100 control freaks.
    The Sun: Spectacular Page 3 Girls in 3D.

  • John W.

    As Marshall McLuhan said “The Medium is the Message”.

  • charlie robertson

    ‘The State of Play’ film is a brilliant advert for newspapers (and the Eddie Mair promotion a good advert for journalism).
    The prediction of the death of print is false Darwinism.

  • Emma Digerud-Waring

    Great post, great film. I think State of Play illustrates brilliantly that one media is not replacing the other just evolving and if harnessed properly, complements the other superbly. I’m sure printed press will continue to decrease in volume but I’m confident it will never die, people will always want hard copy to read. It’s simply that online/digital access acts as an easily accessible gateway. It also enables many publications to attract a much wider new audience. The way businesses cope to harness the power of this change will be interesting but I’m confident many will survive and if not maybe it’s because they weren’t successful enough?!

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