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In Journalism Ethics Goes to the Movies, State University of New York journalism professor Howard Good entertainingly examines journalists’ ethical problems through Hollywood movies. While it initially seems like a strange conceit, melding the two topics is an effective choice. The films provide a useful context for readers less familiar with journalistic integrity. It doesn’t take a seasoned reporter to know that the blatant plagiarism in Shattered Glass is wrong.
Other examples include Broadcast News’s battle of style over substance, Mr. Deeds’s deception dilemma and Wag the Dog’s exploration of political media manipulation. Each chapter uses a specific film to make a specific point, and overall the book is a teaching tool with plenty of additional reading provided after each assignment.
Fortunately for potential students, the writing is concise and approachable. Instead of academic jargon, Wood opts for more appropriately journalistic prose like “you’re being spun on a daily basis, and you either don’t realize it, or you don’t care,” and “Die Hard’s Thornburg is more than just a character you love to hate, he’s a media vulture.” Enjoyable writing combined with contemporary film references keep the weighty ethical issues from feeling too abstract.
However, at around 200 pages, the book feels a little thin, especially when considering the landmark journalism films it overlooks. All the President’s Men is only listed in a “further watching” addendum while Citizen Kane is completely ignored. Still, as proof that essays on morality in journalism can be as exciting as the latest blockbusters, Journalism Ethics Goes to the Movies succeeds.