Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Call Northside 777 review

My journalism-focused movie watching has officially begun. Over the weekend, I watched the Zodiac, a recommendation from County Spokeswoman Kathy Smith. Kathy, the movie was pretty good, and had some creepy moments. One of the creepier parts in the movie was when the photojournalist went in the guy’s cellar. That entire scene creeped me out.


But I wanted to turn attention to "Call Northside 777," a 1948 flick staring James Stewart as journalist P.J. McNeal. This movie was really good. What I found most fascinating was the cooperation the police, commissioners, mayors and really anyone with authority offered in the journalist’s quest to bring justice to a man sentenced to 99 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. There was one time when a police officer took away a public document from McNeal, saying he wasn’t allowed to view it. McNeal basically told the cop to shove it. In fact, McNeal is hard-nosed throughout the movie, and he still gets easy access to public records without a fight from the public officials, minus the one example. Times have changed if that is how journalism worked in the late 1940s.

Some other moments that made me laugh were the ethical breaches McNeal may have made. For example, he paid a woman’s bar tab for giving him the address of the key witness in the murder trial. That is something that would not be accepted in today’s industry. Another funny scene was when McNeal first started writing stories about the case, and he interviewed the guy sentenced for the murder. During the interview, conducted in front of the very friendly jail warden, McNeal basically says he wanted to sensationalize certain parts of the guy’s story, and keep out other facts that may dampen the effect it could have on the readers. It just made me laugh because I don’t know any journalists who purposely keep out facts in a story. Despite what some may think, it just doesn’t happen.

A few times McNeal seemed to accept one person’s view and he did not try to get someone to confirm the information when it seemed he easily could have.

If you like hard-nosed journalism movies, I’d give this one a view. As shocking as it may be, this was the first "classic" black and white movie I have ever watched in my life.



  • gramps

    since the 1940s. Not the least of which is the arrival of “political correctness.” My sense of things today is that nobody seems to be in charge.

  • johnfgustafson

    Dan, please clarify the ethics issue when you talked about the bar tab. Is it an ethical violation for a journalist to compensate a source for information? Is it an ethical violation for a network or newspaper to pay to get an exclusive interview?

  • dantelvock


    I personally would not pay a source for information. I say that partially because I don’t have any darn money to do it. But, an editor is not here right now to get a firm answer on the issue. Personally, I would not pay a source for information. Secondly, paying someone for an exclusive interview is wrong in my opinion. TV stations do it all the time, I know.