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State of Papers

Running underneath the recent film State of Play there's a struggle between old and new media. It's represented by grizzled newspaper hack, Cal McAffrey (Rusty Crowe), and up-and-coming blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). The two spar with their different approaches to a meaty political story (with a few nods to All The President's Men) as McAffrey wisecracks about 'bloggers and bloodsuckers' rushing inaccurate stories to the web, while his editor (a suitably cranky Helen Mirren) points out that bloggers are cheap and file copy hourly.

It's a grim insight into the changing world of media and one that's being played out daily if not hourly. A recent post, sorry, story in The Australian takes aim at Australian political bloggers for not breaking stories but 'obsess[ing] about the mainstream media and their reporting'. There's a waggling of a finger at 'group-think' which creates self-involved communities where there is 'not only no room for news, but no tolerance of new ideas'. It seems an odd charge in a piece that doesn't allow users to comment or respond.

Another oddity for an article about online culture is that there are no links to the sites it mentions. Perhaps the newspaper is hoarding its traffic to replace physical sales or is it that articles aren't subbed for online publication to include features like links, comments or even an image? If old media is going to take a swipe online at new media, it probably should work out a few of the rules for writing online. Otherwise they're coming to a gunfight with a bow and arrow.

A real downside of this article as an online piece is that it has no context. Author Christian Kerr is an ex-Crikey writer and Liberal party ex-staffer, which you'd know if you read his column regularly but not if you just Googled your way here or came in through a link from another blog (of which there are so many - is this piece trawling the very blog audiences it attacks?). More importantly this piece should be filed under opinion or column, but it loses these labels on the web. But that might be just another concern of what he calls the 'fair-trade, rainforest alliance-certified, decaff and soy brigade'.

The Hollywood ending of State of Play has Frye deciding that the big stories need to be read 'with newsprint on your hands' and McAffrey shares his byline with the young journalist kickstarting her career. It's a nice passing of the baton but McAffrey hasn't really changed his approach much. He gets a rallying speech about the importance of old reporting, its thoroughness and deeper research, which he believes audiences still appreciate.

As a media buddy movie, it feels like one character has learnt and grown while the other has had their approach vindicated and hence doesn't change. The Australian's staff won't be choking on their popcorn at this conclusion. The final scenes are a loving treatment of the news story actually going to press - complete with old-school plates and huge rolls of paper fed into the vast machinery. The audience stayed glued to the whole process running into the end credits - as though witnessing a museum exhibit.


  1. Two for the price of one: a movie review and a warcry from the virtual soapbox.

    A fine post, and a fine film too. While the printing-press finale does possess a quaint aura, the idea of journos (on paper, online, on air) comes down to surveillance. The best inquire, daring - and resist the comfy fallback appeal of garret sniping or aggregation.

    One News insider praised the film, saying the only reality glitch was seeing McAffrey (our Rusty) demoting his name on the byline. In a risky marathon, ego is the dangling carrot.


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