The Paper (1994)

This was submitted as an op-ed piece for my J101 class two semesters ago.

Reading The Paper

The common belief is that films are there to entertain us. They give us larger-than-life scenarios and characters and command us to believe that everything is possible inside their two-hour narratives. A good film, to many, would be one that kept viewers at their toes (perhaps by clever twists in the story) or one from which they were able to draw emotional connections (maybe the lines were witty and the acting was good). Others would say that stunning special effects or great musical scoring could make or break a film. Few, however, would look into a film’s educational value. And it is in this aspect that The Paper scores higher than many films. For more than being a comedy, it is a very informative account of what being a print journalist really is like.

The film gave us a good glimpse of the workings of the newsroom. We saw how working for a newspaper is not your ordinary nine-to-five job. The struggles of the main character Henry Hackett illustrated how pressures and tensions are inevitable—and how sometimes family has to be set aside to accomplish the job. Henry was torn between accepting a better-paying in a rival newspaper and staying on his current one that requires so much of him. It did not help that he and his wife were expecting their first child at the same time his employer, the New York Sun, was cutting on its spending. As if financial woes are not enough, there was Alicia Clark, the over-competitive managing editor who would prove to be a formidable nemesis to Henry in the latter part of the story.  The Paper effectively established that life in a newspaper is anything but rosy.

And the film did so without exaggerating. The fistfight between Hackett, his colleague and the police they were trying to squeeze a quote from was not over-the-top, as some bloggers have said. So were the scenes where Alicia was shot in the leg during a fight in a bar, and when Henry and Alicia tried to race each other to the main control of the printing machines. The latter may have been included to add to the comedy, but the fact that a journalist may be physically harmed in the course of his/her work is not at all unimaginable. Journalists do not just sit on desks the whole day writing and rewriting articles. They go out in search of stories, and sometimes in doing so they put their own safety at risk. In countries like ours, journalism, especially of the investigative kind, can cost lives.

Ultimately the filmmakers must be commended for creating a very realistic work. With the right amount of action and drama, they were able to show the behind-the-scenes of putting out a newspaper. The film did more than just entertain its viewers: it provided an insight to the daily lives of the journalists. And so as long as people read newspapers and appreciate its value, the movie will never be out of context. The Paper is a must-see for everyone.


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