Citizen Kupetz: Instructor spotlights movies about journalism

Two students hold up an old poster for the Orson Wells movie "Citizen Kane." The poster is animated with bright colors and says "It's Terrific!" across the middle.

Melanie Lust (left) and Quan Pham (right) hold up instructor John Kupetz’s poster from the classic journalism film “Citizen Kane.” Photo by Yalda Khodadad

On movie nights, 84 Medill cherubs wear pajamas, huddle in blankets and gather in the chilly McCormick Foundation Center auditorium. They watch journalism-themed films, such as “Citizen Kane,” “Spotlight” and “All the President’s Men.”

Instructor John Kupetz, who refers to movie lines and Shakespearean monologues, introduces each film and conducts post-viewing discussions. While he emphasizes the talks are optional, not a single cherub leaves after the closing shots. They may be tempted by Andy’s Frozen Custard or the sandy beaches of the Lakefill, but they stay glued to their seats.

Kupetz’s detailed analysis is an “enlightening experience” that shows the films in a “brand-new light,” Drew Schott of Greenwich, Connecticut, said.

“He tries to get each person’s opinion of the movie to get everyone involved,” Schott said. “It’s a way to build the community. It’s for us, as journalists, to relate to the film and then for us to reflect on it.”

Melanie Lust of Westport, Connecticut, has watched “Citizen Kane” three times and stayed for the discussion on Orson Welles. She said Kupetz impressed her by naming “every single detail” of one of her favorite movies. For Lust, the journalism subject matter of these films captures cherubs’ attention.

“Of course, being journalists, we’re inclined to ask questions in most situations,” Lust said. “We’re all huge journalism nerds.”

Quan Pham of Hanoi, Vietnam, appreciates seeing the same film with a group of like-minded student journalists. Rewatching “Spotlight” next to his fellow cherubs, Pham spotted the journalism lessons in the film.

“A journalist’s work never stops,” Pham said. “You always have to dig deeper. You always have to carry on. You always have to take that extra step to get that source, to get that information.”

Cherubs added to the list of iconic films with their own must-see movies for student journalists.

Schott recommends “The Post,” a 2017 drama surrounding The Washington Post’s race to publish the Pentagon Papers. It depicts the unlikely friendship between Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major newspaper, and Ben Bradlee, her headstrong executive editor, as they debate a decision that could make or break their paper.

“It’s cool to see The Washington Post, which was a small paper, lifted onto the national stage,” Schott said. “These journalistic films delve into an important ethical story that has happened over American journalistic history.”

Lust’s pick, “Network,” features the exploitation of a former news anchor at the hands of his failing television network.

“It’s about news media gone wrong and how the pressure can be too much,” Lust said. “It made me realize that if I do pursue journalism as a career, I’m going to work for a corporation. A corporation is this abstract authority, and we don’t know how much control they have over us. They do have more control than we think.”

Though unrelated to journalism, Pham suggests “Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” for its themes of “obsession and criticism.” The 2014 Alejandro G. Iñárritu comedy captures the struggles of a washed-up actor who attempts to star in his own Broadway play.

“It deals a lot with the human condition, particularly about our obsession with something,” Pham said. “In that respect, aren’t we all obsessed with reporting the best story?”