I’m not saying that being a journalist should be a protected characteristic, but you can’t deny that when it comes to movies and TV series, portrayals of writers can often be less than… realistic.
Nothing enrages me more than seeing Carrie Bradshaw being able to live in a penthouse New York apartment by writing a singular $ 4-a-word column or watching a rom-com where you’re expected to fly cross-country and break a ridiculous number of IPSO journalism ethic codes to seduce a source for a story.
Worst of all, between all the journalists portrayed as sleazy papparazos or slamming their fists on desks demanding pictures of Spider-Man, none of them knows a single thing about SEO. But when it comes to the sins of journalism on-screen, the worst of all is their portrayals in Christmas movies.
The trope of the cold, big-city journalist who needs to be humbled by the warm embrace of a small-town full of Christmas spirit is such a Hallmark movie cliche, that someone did a literal research paper on it.
In the study, which was conducted by Professor Joe Saltzman from the University of Southern California, 360 of the movies aired on the Hallmark channel between 2000 and 2020 involved journalism characters. As Saltzman himself explained, the “Hallmark formula” usually consists of a “high-powered” journalist of some kind “living in the big, cold city.”
However, after forging a romance with a small-town resident, discovering the meaning of Christmas, and finding the city they once thrived in too cold and unfulfilling, they oftentimes “give up the promotion they have worked so long and hard for or a coveted job in a different place” in order to settle down for a more homely, traditional lifestyle in their rural town.
The thing about the “Hallmark formula” is that it isn’t just restricted to its namesake: it’s become the blueprint for most of the mid-budget, festive romance movies being pumped out by streaming services year after year.
A Christmas Prince, for example, saw ambitious magazine journalist Amber Moore be flown all the way to Aldovia (no print publication has the budget for that) and pose as the tutor for the Prince’s younger sister: committing literal identity theft and fraud with the blessing of her editor in the name of a scoop that, in all honesty, probably wouldn’t be of much interest to their readership anyway.
Naturally, Amber realizes that she’s too pure and lovestruck to be a slithery snakey journalist and ends up marrying the very Prince she was meant to be investigating: going from a self-made young woman determined to make something of herself to being, quite literally, a trophy wife — except the trophy, in this case, is literal crown jewels.
Sure, a lot of these films feature a movie villain like a jealous ex or forgotten fiance back home, but the true villain represented in a lot of these films isn’t even other people: it’s journalism as an institution. The thing is, journalism as it is depicted in these films does look cold, unrewarding, sleazy, and immoral – but that’s because it’s metastasised into a caricature so far removed from its source material, it can’t be considered as being in any way accurate.
If I decided to jet off to a remote country for a month, work on literally no other story, and Slack my boss, letting him know that I was stealing the identity of a child’s tutor in order to get some scoop about a prince, he wouldn’t just sack me — he’d probably call the police, too.
Needless to say, journalism is very different to how it looks in Hallmark movies, but I don’t think Netflix would want to commission a film about someone going feral over hitting the Top Stories box on Google. Clearly, whoever makes these movies has never actually met a real journalist in their life and what gives with the way the profession is villainised in Christmas movies?
In his paper, ‘The 21st Century Image of the Journalist in Hallmark Films,’ Saltzman points out that at the heart of the ‘Hallmark formula’ is a Republican-leaning audience with strong conservative values around family and fulfillment. So, with that in mind, maybe we shouldn’t be shocked that most female characters that conform to this formula start off as “strong career women who fought gender discrimination to become successful,” but soon find that there’s no true happiness in journalism.
In fact, it is “only when they returned to their small-town home did they realize that family life and doing what they truly wanted to do were more important than success and power in the urban world.” Because who needs financial independence and a fulfilling career when the hot lumberjack chops wood nice, right?
They say complacency is the enemy of progress, but in the Hallmark Cinematic Universe, the only enemy is journalism. And a lack of Christmas spirit, of course.