The newsies’ singing and dancing attracts the attention of Bryan Denton (Bill Pullman), a reporter from The New York Sun, just back from covering the war in Cuba where he “charged up San Juan Hill with Colonel Teddy Roosevelt.” Denton writes a front-page story, “The Children’s Crusade: Newsies Stop The World and The Journal” about the strike. The newsies are jubilant. They believe that if “you’re in the papes, you’re famous; you’re famous, you get anything you want.” They count all the things you could get as a newly crowned celebrity with the catchiest tune of the movie, “King of New York.” For Denton, that means “an editor’s desk” and new assignments:
In nothing flat / He’ll be covering / Brooklyn to Trenton / Our man Denton
In the song, Denton also sings about the reporter’s role, “protecting the weak” and “when I’m at bat, strong men crumble.” The newsies are grateful, but Denton tells them, “You got yourselves on the front page. I just gotta make sure you stay there,” since The Sun is the only paper covering the strike. I’ve watched this movie at least twenty times, and I’ve never been sure what’s implied: Would it be better for Denton as a reporter that the story gets stays big so that he can maintain his A-1 position, or is he speaking as the newsies’ advocate, who knows that they boys need to stay in the headlines to get what they want? He also buys them lunch twice at the old timey Tibby’s Restaurant, and pays their fines when they’re arrested at a rally, so maybe he’s more in the ally camp.
Soon, things fall apart. Pulitzer orders “a printing ban on all strike matters” and leans on City Hall to have Kelly arrested. Despondent, the newsies come to Denton for help. Turns out, he’s packing his bags: “I got reassigned as The Sun’s ace war correspondent,” he tells them. He explains that he has no choice but to go, because if he doesn’t accept this assignment that is obviously much better than the one he’s on now, he “would be blackballed from every paper in the country. I’m a newspaperman,” Denton says. “I have to have a paper to write for.” (The quiet rectitude that Pullman displays in this role totally foreshadows his portrayal of the president in Independence Day.)
Because of Pulitzer’s city-wide order to keep the strike out of the papers, Denton’s editor killed his article, “The Dark Truth: Why Our City Really Fears the Newsies’ Strike.” He explains that “the city thrives on child labor. A lot of people make money that way. They’re terrified that the newsies’ strike will spread.” It’s a journalistic trope here, connecting a particular injustice with systemic corruption.
But Denton inspires the newsies to keep fighting: “Sometimes all it takes is a voice, one voice that becomes a hundred, and then a thousand, unless it’s silenced,” he says. He puts aside his worries about job security and helps the newsies publish a newspaper to call child laborers of New York to join in the strike. While they print the paper on an old Pulitzer press, they sing “Once And For All,” but there’s no dancing, sadly. (Kenny Ortega was probably afraid that one of the kids would get their feet caught in a Linotype machine.)
Denton also visits now-Governor Roosevelt to deliver a fresh-off-the-press copy of The Newsies Banner with the story “How We Can Stop the City,” which mobilizes the underage workers and exposes the corruption at the children’s jail, “House of Refuge; House of Shame. Scandal Hidden from Teddy On Visit.” Roosevelt, who’s quite chummy with the reporter whom he calls Denty, is outraged by news and heads straight to New York to deliver justice and depose the evil warden.