It’s a good fifty minutes into the film before Clark Kent leaves the family farm to become a city beat reporter in the great city of Metropolis. Filmed on location in New York, the newspaper scenes are classic Hollywood journalist camp: fun to watch, utterly separate from reality—at least today’s reality. The Planet newsroom is packed with people and rings with the steady clatter of typewriters. The editor-in-chief, played by Jackie Cooper, rants and shouts and offers advice like “a good reporter doesn’t get great stories. A good reporter makes them great.” When giving his troops a pep talk about their upcoming flooding of the zone on the Superman story, he begs his reporters for answers to questions like “Does he have a girlfriend?” and “What’s his favorite ball team?” You like the guy, but you don’t get the sense that he or anyone else at the paper is overly concerned with acting as “a symbol of hope for the city of Metropolis.”
The Daily Planet may seem like an oddity to modern journalists for more reasons than just the packed newsroom. In a moment that requires at least as much suspension of disbelief as any other point in a film that features intergalactic space travel, Air Force One being struck by lightning, and nuclear missiles hijacked via a damsel-in-distress stunt straight out of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Daily Planet has its own helicopter, Planet One, that it uses to fly reporters to assignments.
Of course, the outlandish plot is not only forgivable but the entire point of the film. You need some pretty crazy stuff to happen if your main character is a walking, flying deus ex machina.
If there’s any journalism-based theme to be taken from the story, it’s that, unsurprisingly, Superman doesn’t feel that his talents are best used at a newspaper. For a guy whose father conveyed to him “the total accumulation of all literature and scientific fact from dozens of other worlds spanning the twenty-eight known galaxies” Superman doesn’t seem to be much of a reporter. Instead, he flies around, throws missiles into outer space, collars criminals. This is as it should be. I doubt anyone’s ever been inspired to be a journalist by Superman, but we should be nothing but grateful for the association. We need him now more than ever.
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