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Take note, Hollywood: 5 great portrayals of ethical female journalists

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In television and film, female journalists have something of a bad rap. As New York magazine’s Marin Cogan pointed out recently, on shows like House of Cards and in movies like Thank You for Smoking, lady reporters spend more time getting romantically entangled with their sources than, you know, reporting.

Of course, as Cogan notes, characters don’t have to be picture-perfect people to be positive portrayals of female journalists. But they certainly don’t have to be sleeping their way to a good story, either. “We don’t need movies lionizing us as saints,” she wrote. “But would it kill Hollywood to give us one grown-up Rory Gilmore?”

Fortunately, some positive representations of female reporters do exist in pop culture. So, Hollywood, take note: Here are some fictional journalists—who are both female and good at their jobs—from whom storytellers could take some cues.

Lois Lane

Like any comic character, Lois Lane has gone through changes since her 1938 creation, but Lois has always remained a determined, strong journalist—and one who’s heralded by her peers, at that. Sometimes she’s been depicted as the more typical damsel in distress, but more recent versions, like John Byrne’s The Man of Steel comic series, paint Lois as someone who is just fine on her own—a decision that’s positive not only for portrayals of female reporters in pop culture, but portrayals of women in general.

Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday is based on The Front Page, a play that features a womanizing, sexist man named Hildy as the main character. But the 1940 film adaptation takes Hildy and turns him into an independent, career-oriented woman. This Hildy repeatedly chooses work over love because work is her love—and she’s unapologetic about it. “I’m no suburban bridge player,” she says to her husband-to-be at one point. “I’m a newspaperman, darn it.”

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), Broadcast News

Broadcast News is a romantic comedy, but not the romantic comedy we’re used to by now because—spoiler!—the female lead doesn’t end up with anyone. Jane is a news producer who’s dedicated to her job, so much so that at one point, a coworker tells her, “except for socially, you’re my role model.” She looks for love in the workplace, but her obsession with work trumps her desire for romance—and leaves her alone by movie’s end, but not necessarily unhappy. Movies of this sort tend to look at work as an obstacle to love; Broadcast News looks at it as a worthy competitor to love—and one that, despite what films like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days tell us, sometimes wins.

Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), How I Met Your Mother

While How I Met Your Mother isn’t a workplace comedy, Robin’s profession does factor into some of the show’s more pivotal plot points—like her decision to break up with Ted and forgo having children. It’s rare to see a female character in pop culture say she chooses work over “settling down”—and rarer still to see her actually follow through on that decision. But Robin’s devotion to her work as a broadcast journalist is unwavering. She moves from Canada for a New York job; she hosts a show that airs at 4 a.m.; she moves to Japan for an anchoring gig. She’ll do whatever it takes to be the most successful anchor she can be, even if it means sacrificing a love life—and, perhaps just as horrid to some, even if it means waking up pre-sunrise every day.

Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union), Being Mary Jane

Sure, Mary Jane’s life at home is a bit of a mess, but her professional life? On fire. This is a show with a premise that relies on its protagonist being good at her job—who wants to watch a character who’s struggling in every part of her life?—and she is: Mary Jane is a TV anchor with a powerful presence both in the office and on the screen. But while women committed to their jobs are often depicted as cold, Mary Jane cares about her subjects: In one episode, she becomes visibly upset when she’s forced to anchor a broadcast of an older couple taking shelter in their home during a hurricane despite orders to evacuate. After the camera cuts off, she confronts her boss by pointing out how heartless it is to use this couple, whose fate is unknown, simply for ratings. It’s a moment that shows she cares enough about her work to do it with empathy—and a moment that shows her ability to be both a feeling human and a successful reporter.

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