Diane Sawyer, Finding Inspiration: Newseum Reel Journalism, “The China Syndrome,” and Ethics in PR and Journalism

May 13th, 2011
by

chinasyndrome011“You need to find what inspires you.” This was just one of the many messages from ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer during a session in the Reel Journalism series at the Newseum (a BurrellesLuce client).

The Reel Journalism series looks at how journalism is portrayed in movies and includes discussions with journalists and others who have insight into the movie. TV personality Nick Clooney hosts the series, which is co-produced by American University.

Recently, the discussion lead to the First Amendment, and how we, as Americans, do not appreciate the rights we have been given. One audience member asked why journalists don’t advocate more on behalf of the First Amendment. Sawyer agreed there is a need for more work from journalists and there is a lack of advocacy. Although no one had a good answer, all agreed it is an issue.

The evening’s movie was “The China Syndrome” starring Jane Fonda as a fluff TV news reporter, who longed to do hard news stories. Sawyer empathized with the character and reminisced about her own time doing zoo stories and birthday parties. She commented on how she was originally hired to do the weather, which she knew nothing about and could barely see the map without her glasses. (She now wears contacts.) Sawyer said she had been lucky to not have to deal with the “old boys club” as she moved up the ranks in TV news. Considering she was the first female correspondent on “60 minutes,” most were surprised by this fact.

Clooney asked Sawyer if she had premonitions since she picked the film shortly before the earthquake in Japan that caused a nuclear power plant leak. She said she didn’t, however,  she did note the movie came out 12 days before the Three Mile Island incident, which she covered for CBS news.

The lone PR person in the movie, played by James Hampton, is told by the head of the nuclear power plant to “do his job and control the reporters.”  Of course, he then tries to cover-up the true story, but is trumped in the end. It made me sad (but not surprised) to see public relations put in a bad light. I also felt like the character wanted to do the right thing and tried to advise his boss.

The movie is from 1979, and like all movies, there are flawed characters. But, what would a real PR counselor be inspired to do? Would he or she follow the ethics of the profession and go against management? In the movie, the plant employee played by Jack Lemon is the hero we want both the journalist and the PR person to be. He stood by his principles and looked for a way to save others instead of himself. He was inspired.

So, I ask again, what inspires you? Please share your thoughts with the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas readers.

One Response to “Diane Sawyer, Finding Inspiration: Newseum Reel Journalism, “The China Syndrome,” and Ethics in PR and Journalism”

  1. journalism jobs…

    […]Diane Sawyer, Finding Inspiration: Newseum Reel Journalism, “The China Syndrome,” and Ethics in PR and Journalism « BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas[…]…

Leave a Reply