Gripping documentary Breaking the News offers Tribeca Film Festival attendees a look into what it takes for journalists to fight for what’s right.
The world has drastically changed since we were faced with a global pandemic in 2020. Our social lives are different, education has had to adapt to online learning, and the way we consume media is almost entirely digital. That’s not all, though. By spending our time in front of a screen for the better part of three years, we’ve been exposed to so much more information than ever before, from George Floyd and Breonna Taylor being victims of racial profiling, resulting in their unjust murders, to President Donald Trump sparking an insurrection in the U.S. Capital.
We’re privy to be informed on numerous topics, but with so much information comes misinformation as well. It takes a team of dedicated folks to fight back against such issues and spotlight underrepresented communities. That is what Breaking the News does, by depicting the formation of the nonprofit newsroom The 19th.
Journalist Emily Ramshaw saw Donald Trump getting sworn in as President as the perfect time to form The 19th. Named after the Nineteenth Amendment, The 19th became the first nonprofit, nonpartisan news agency in the United States. The 19th focuses on stories regarding women in politics, covering issues impacting people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.
However, once Emily and co-founder Amanda Zamora were ready to launch their news site, the pandemic hit. Breaking the News shows the journey of these women and LGBTQ+ journalists struggling to launch The 19th and gain traction for their newsroom in an era of “fake news” and a divided America.
Journalism in film has been integral to the arts as far back as in 1941’s Citizen Kane and as recently as last year’s She Said. They’re gripping narratives that showcase the best and worst of the industry that holds society together. Naturally, Breaking the News is informative, but, most importantly, it’s fascinating to see a staff of writers determine which stories are worth covering and coming up with unique angles to engage readers.
Have you wondered why your local news station or newspaper don’t talk about issues affecting members of the LGBTQ+ community, or people of color? As Breaking the News explores, that is due to the lack of representation in the journalism industry. Most writers being hired are straight white men who get to cover stories that are interesting to them. Without other groups of people getting to write news, you don’t get to learn about other topics that might be just as pivotal.
Kate Sosin, writer for The 19th, brings a fascinating point of view to the film. As somebody who’s worked for other publishers in the past, Sosin speaks to feeling welcome at The 19th, but argues what does that even mean in a workplace that is so limiting for trans people? Kate’s stance in the documentary makes for one of the most interesting to follow, since it paints this picture that not every publication is perfect. That includes The 19th, who have a lot of room to improve as well.
Another great precedent for important voices that need to be heard in journalism is The 19th’s editor Errin Haines. She was one of the first writers to do an in-depth piece covering Breonna Taylor’s tragedy during the Black Lives Matter movement. Haines brought necessary attention to the shocking story of a 26-year-old Black woman being murdered in her own apartment by at least seven cops who forced entry as part of a drug dealing investigation.
Breaking the News takes you through the process of getting that story published, how in a sense helped put The 19th on the map, and the impact bringing Taylor’s story into the light had on the nation. But it also sparks a conversation about the desensitization of this kind of account. We are so broken as a society that we have grown used to hearing about people being gendered or racially profiled. Haines discusses such a topic in the documentary.
Above all, Breaking the News does a magnificent job at capturing the stress that writing stories can cause on a reporter. There is a brief moment depicting The 19th’s staff watching the presidential debate between Trump and Joe Biden, and it is almost triggering having to relive the absurdity of that time. Moments like this give you a sense of the day-to-day life of a writer that audiences can sometimes mistake to be easy. Although half of the footage is taken from online video meetings, directors Heather Courtney, Chelsea Hernandez and Princess A. Hairston makes the film work so well through their ability to put you in the same room as these journalists.
In the end, it’s inspiring to see passionate journalists put their livelihoods on the line – sometimes while pregnant, or parenting their children – to build a platform that will welcome future writers with open arms. Not just any writers, but individuals who will try to bring fresh perspectives into problems that affect countless people that most networks and newspapers ignore. If people such as The 19th co-founder Emily Ramshaw, editor-in-chief Julia B. Chan, Kate Sosin and Errin Haines are paving the way for a better future within the journalism future, then we are in good hands.
Breaking the News premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 8, 2023. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival!