Hollywood and journalism: the unseen connection

Sitting side-by-side around the circular table of the twelfth floor guest room in New York City’s grand Ritz Carlton Hotel, the keen, thirty or forty-something veteran entertainment reporter two seats down flippantly let out the question: “So, if Gary Webb were alive today, what would you ask him?”

The sun poured in through the window behind me, passing over the treetops of the lush greenery that stretched along the brim of Central Park— just across the street.

Then the blue-eyed, two-time academy award nominee who sat across from me sipping his coffee replied. “I’d want to know what makes him smile.”

That’s when my view on the world of Hollywood entertainment changed.

Growing up, I never wanted to be the president, a rich oil tycoon or police officer. Don’t even ask me if I wanted to be an actor; I was a hard worker who hated the limelight—even when it came to getting questions right in class, I immediately stopped raising my hand, unable to deal with the attention a correct answer might have brought with it.

Needless to say my ambitions laid elsewhere.

I wanted to be something I deemed important. I wanted to be something strong and bold and relentless, but without the added attention. I wanted my life to be dedicated to truth. I wanted to help bring justice to this crazy, unfair world around us. I wanted to do all this with the powers of words.

Except it wasn’t obvious to me going through my early years of education what this meant. What career could allow me to do this? Does that career even really exist? Would it be safe—both literally and financially?

While I didn’t quite know it at the time, I realize now the epitome of the person I wanted to be had his professional origins quite close to home.

Simply put, I wanted to be Gary Webb.

Webb was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who got his start in writing as a reporter for The Northerner—Northern Kentucky University’s student-run, independent news organization—just a half-hour away from my childhood home.

Eventually Webb made it big, getting a job at the Kentucky Post, and moving on and upward. His job came with everything I desired: the ability to be a part of something big, the opportunity to chase down truth, the intentions to bring about justice, and the black and white paper to hide behind if his stories hit it big (except if they hit it too big).

And it’s not just that. Watching the movie “Kill the Messenger” for the first time was a very moving experience for me personally. Not only did it show the significant role of someone who’s beginning part of their life was so similar to mine, but it completely confirmed everything I want to do with my life.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I can’t help but wake up everyday to see the corruption and injustice that plagues our world. Call me overoptimistic, a cynic, or merely self-centered, but I can’t help but feel like it is my job (like I was put on this earth) to help bring this to light, to help make a difference.

Gary Webb exposed a truth that brought the insufferable acts of our government to light. He helped expose a possible origin for the severity of our countries crack epidemic. He, in a sense, gave up his life to stand up to the truth and the people affected by it in the world around him.

I could only dream of making that big of a difference with my life one day; no matter the outcome.

And to think, it was just a few weeks ago that I learned Webb’s story, no matter how close his life experience had at some point been to mine.

I was on my way to The Northerner’s newsroom at NKU (somewhat following in Webb’s footsteps, much unknowingly) when my adviser Michele Day told me she had “good news.”

In just a few short days I was on my way to a press junket for “Kill the Messenger” (the story surrounding Gary Webb’s journalistic controversy) in New York City.

It was then when actor Jeremy Renner murmured those few shorts words about what he would ask Webb if he was alive today, something about his passion resonated with mine.

A lightbulb of sorts went off in my mind and I came to an unequivocal understanding of the passion that exists in many of Hollywood’s biggest names.

Acting is important. Directing is important. And this little thing I call Hollywood is much more than just red carpets and bright lights. It can be a type of reporting in itself; a much larger platform for exposing the real truths of our world.