SOB SISTERS:
THE IMAGE OF THE FEMALE JOURNALIST
IN POPULAR CULTURE

Update: 1-2011

SOB SISTERS: THE IMAGE OF THE FEMALE JOURNALIST IN POPULAR CULTURE - Introductory Essay by Joe Saltzman.

SOB SISTERS: THE VIDEO. The IJPC Associates Premium 1:41:00 DVD, Sob Sisters: The Image Of The Female Journalist In Movies and Television 1929-2007, includes 136 movie and television clips tracing the image of the female journalist in films and television from 1929 to 2007.

SOB SISTERS - THE BEST FILMS AND TV PROGRAMS chosen by IJPC Experts.

SOB SISTERS - A BIBLIOGRAPHY including female journalists appearing in films, television and radio programs, novels and short stories, plays, cartoons, comic books, comic strips, art works, songs, games and commercials from 1700 to 2006. There are more than 7,500 entries. Some are newshawks who act more like detectives than journalists. Others are investigative reporters, editors, publishers, columnists, foreign and war correspondents, cubs, critics, photojournalists, sportswriters. Some make a brief appearance and then disappear forever. All leave impressions in the minds of the audience. This is as complete a list of female journalists in films, TV and radio programs and fiction as ever compiled. To make effective use of the Sob Sisters Bibliography, The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC) Database© 2009 Edition must be used. The IJPC Database is only available to IJPC Associates.

Pre-1900
1900-1920
1920-1930
1930-1940
1940-1950
1950-1970
1970-1980
1980-1990
1990-1995

1995-2000
2000-2006

THE RETURN OF THE SOB SISTER IN 'SUPERMAN RETURNS': LOIS LANE AND THE FIGHT FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE by Mary-Lou Galician, a faculty member at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication.

MALICE IN WONDERLAND: HEDDA HOPPER AND LOUELLA PARSONS IN HOLLYWOOD by Bonnie Brennen, Temple University. Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper were powerful, unconventional women who ruled Hollywood at a time when women were still considered second-class citizens. Thriving amid glamour and wealth, these gossip columnists, with a readership of about 75 million, could make or break the career of an aspiring actor, writer, or director.

HACKS, HEELS AND HOLLYWOOD: How Accurately Do Recent Film Portrayals of Women Journalists Reflect the Working World of Their Real-Life Counterparts? by Sarah Herman, student at Bournemouth University, England, UK studying for a degree in BA (hons) Multi-media journalism.

WHY ARE GIRL JOURNALISTS IN MOVIES SO LAME? by Sarah Libby, Slate Website, posted Wednesday, January 27, 2010.

SOB SISTERS FEATURED IN TABLOID SUITE by Ferde Grofe, a 1932 composition.

CRIME, ROMANCE, SEX: WASHINGTON WOMEN JOURNALISTS IN RECENT POPULAR FICTION by Stacy L. Spaulding, assistant professor of journalism, Columbia Union College and Maurine H. Beasley, Professor of Journalism, Philip Merrill College of Journalism. This study of 13 novels portraying Washington women journalists finds their portrayals have improved since 1990 when one authority concluded that most novels showed women as "unfulfilled unfortunates." The fictional women in this study, featured most prominently in detective stories, are eager to expose male corruption to further their careers but make little effort to change underlying social causes. These women are searching for relationships, but their careers still take precedence.

FRONT-PAGE GIRLS: WOMEN JOURNALISTS IN AMERICAN CULTURE AND FICTION, 1880-1930, by Jean Marie Lutes, Cornell University Press, 2007. This is the first study of the newspaperwoman in American literary culture at the turn of the 20th century. It examines the relationship of real-life reporters such as Nellie Bly and Ida B. Wells with fictional characters such as Henrietta Stackpole, the lady correspondent in Henry James' "Portrait of a Lady." It chronicles the exploits of a a neglected group of American women writers and uncovers an alternative reporter-novelist tradition that runs counter to the more familiar story of gritty realism generated in male-dominated newsrooms. It also explores how women's journalism shaped the path from news to novels for women writers.
Also, Lutes' Sob Sisterhood Revisited," (American Literary History - Volume 15, Number 3, Fall, 2003, pp. 504-532, Oxford University Press), and "Into the Madhouse with Nellie Bly: Girl Stunt Reporting in Late Nineteenth Century America" (American Quarterly, Volume 54, Number 2, June 2002, pp. 217-253).

Brooks Robards, "Newshounds and Sob Sisters: The Journalist Goes to Hollywood," in Beyond the Stars: Stock Characters in American Popular Film edited by Paul Loukides and Linda K. Fuller, pp. 131-145. (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press).

Aralynn Ann Abare McMane's "Hello, Handsome, Get Me Rewrite: Toward an Understanding of the Portrayal of the Female Journalist in Film and on Television." 1991.

Diana Meehan's Ladies of the Evening: Women Characters of Prime-Time Television, The Scarecrow Press, 1983, 192 pages.

Jane Baum's "The Female Journalist in American Film, 1930-1949," 1983. University of Rochester.

"Return of the Sob Sisters," by Stephanie Shapiro, American Journalism Review, June-July 2006. "Newspapers have fallen in love with long narratives about fatal illnesses and disfiguring ailments, particularly when they involve children. Many readers respond powerfully to these emotional sagas that, like the work of the sob sisters year ago, often offer lessons in spiritual stamina and redemption." Shapiro writes, "Critics say that in capitulating to the demand for personal stories, newspapers have surrendered to the competition. "Journalism today is built on these kinds of stories," Joe Saltzman, director of the Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture project at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, said in an e-mail interview. "There doesn't seem much room left in the newspapers and on television for news coverage on the major events and trends unless that story can be cloaked as an article on an individual braving great odds or suffering great misfortune or achieving superhuman success."

Bonnie J. Dow's Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women's Movement since 1970 (Feminist Cultural Studies, the Media, and Political Culture," 240 pages, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Discussion of Mary Richards, Murphy Brown, and other real and fictitious journalists.

Beauty, Brains and Bylines: Comparing the Female Journalist in the fiction of Sherryl Woods and Sarah Shankman by Amanda Marie Rossie. This work examines the image of the female journalist in two series of novels by authors Sherryl Woods and Sarah Shankman. Tracing the image of the female journalist from its historical roots to its appearance in late twentieth-century fiction, this study uses the two main protagonists as a guide. Focusing on major stereotypes like the sob sister, stunt reporter, victim, and “one of the boys,” this work contextualizes her image alongside her real-life popular culture counterparts. Close examinations of the characters’ relationships with men, newsgathering ethics, and publicity they experience as successful female reporters working in a predominately male profession are crucial to the larger picture to which these images contribute. The authors’ attempts at reproducing accurate representations of females within the newsroom and portraying progressive, liberated representations of womanhood are also considered. The final chapter analyzes the series’ raceless Southern settings as both a historical impossibility and the creation of a utopian society that propagates racism without “racists.”

The Devil Is in the Details: How The Devil Wears Prada Brands the Image of the Fashion Journalist by Priscilla Hwang, graduate student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, June 2007. Author Lauren Weisberger unveils the glossy and superficial world of fashion magazines through the eyes of Andrea “Andy” Sachs, a serious college graduate who unintentionally ends up working for Miranda Priestley, the terrorizing and powerful editor-in-chief of the fictitious Runway magazine. Miranda makes it her job to make life hell for her employees. Through the course of a year, Andrea finds herself overlooking everything she believes in to please Miranda and becomes the one thing she always despised - a Runway girl.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: How the Television Show Ugly Betty Depicts Fashion Magazine Journalistsby Dawn Temples, graduate student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, June 2007. In the flashy, fast-paced world of fashion journalism, Betty Suarez struggles to prove that what’s inside a person is just as important as what they wear. As a budding journalist with a dream job, she exemplifies a fish-out-of-water with her braces, glasses and lack of fashion sense. Determined to work her way up at MODE magazine, Suarez tackles any task she’s given, from picking up laundry to single-handedly orchestrating a celebrity-baby cover shoot. Successful women at MODE are cut-throat and demonstrate many masculine characteristics that female journalists have portrayed in both television and movies of the past. Suarez contemplates throughout the show what sacrifices she’s willing to make to become a successful female journalist and eventually reach her goal of starting her own magazine. Also available: Annotated Appendix of Ugly Betty Episodes.

Hacks, Heels and Hollywood: How Accurately Do Recent Film Portrayals of Women Journalists Reflect the Working World of Their Real-Life Counterparts?by Sarah Herman, a student at Bournemouth University, England, UK studying for a degree in BA (hons) Multi-media journalism.

How the Image of the Female Hip-Hop Journalist Brought the ’Hood to Mainstream America by Kimberly Wynne, graduate student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, June, 2007. The life of a hip-hop journalist seems glamorous. In popular culture, it is portrayed as endless nights of club-hopping, schmoozing with rappers and big-name celebrities, and doing interviews in stretch limousines while drinking bottles of expensive champagne. But this isn’t so, especially for a female hip-hop journalist. In the TV series Living Single which aired from 1993 to 1998 and in the movie Brown Sugar which debuted in movie theaters in 2002, the image of the female hip-hop journalist is turned upside down. Her nights are spent alone, pining away for an unavailable, male best friend who only sees her as his “sister.” To gain credibility in the male-dominated industry of hip-hop, the female reporters trade in their femininity for baseball caps, baggy jeans, and sneakers. They are the constant subject of sexual advances and male chauvinism—a chauvinism that women in hip-hop call standard in a musical genre where women are objectified and treated as shiny, new accessories to be hung like jewelry from a performer’s neck.

Image Versus Reality: Women Journalists in Film and on the Home Front, 1940-1945 by Emily Lerner, an undergraduate seniors honor thesis done for History 492, Professor Lois Banner, at the University of Southern California, May 2, 2006. Journalism is often stereotyped as a man’s profession, not fit for women. This assumption, however, could not be further from the truth. While men may have founded newspapers and held management positions earlier than women, this is no indication that women were not—and are not—prominent within the profession. In fact, women have been working on newspapers alongside men since the beginning of the appearance of broadsides and other circulars, and in the United States at least since the colonial era. Especially during World War II, as men went off to war, women filled in, working every newspaper job from producing the paper to reporting on events and writing editorials. This senior honors thesis focuses on the issue of the involvement of women in journalism during World War II. Much writing has been produced on women’s entry into professions like medicine and law as men went to war and left many positions open in these fields. Yet despite the acknowledgement by historians of journalism that the numbers of women in journalism did expand in this era explorations of the details of their involvement is sparse. Many of the studies of women journalists in World War II focus mostly on foreign correspondents during the war, spending little time discussing the role of women running newspapers or working for them on the home front.

A Journalist in the Rough: How Reporter Eve Diamond Blurs the Line Between Professional Standards and Personal Life All in Pursuit of a Storyby Amanda Pazornik, graduate student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, July, 2006. Denise Hamilton, former Los Angeles Times reporter and author of the five-part mystery series featuring Eve Diamond, says Eve is her wilder alter ego. “She dodges more bullets than I ever did as a reporter, collars more bad guys and alas, saves more innocent people than I ever did.” Eve Diamond has three basic goals as a reporter: “I would break stories, get noticed and work my way up the ranks.” As she goes about reporting and solving mysteries, she mimics the earliest female journalists in film in the 20th century and this analysis shows how and why.

Knowing Good Sex Pays Off: The Image of the Journalist as a Famous, Exciting and Chic Sex Columnist Named Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’sSex and the City by Bibi Wardak, graduate student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, June 2007. The sex columnist for the New York Star is unmarried, career-oriented and unsure if she will ever have a traditional family. Just like other modern sob sisters, she is romantically unfulfilled and has sacrificed aspects of her personal life for professional success. Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker in HBO’s hit television show Sex and the City (1998-2004) portrays a stereotypical image of female journalists found in television and film. She and other female journalists in the series struggle to balance a successful career and satisfying romantic life. The series examined the fast-paced lives of Bradshaw and friends Samantha Jones (a public relations executive played by Kim Cattrall), Charlotte York (an art gallery director played by Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (an attorney played by Cynthia Nixon). The four friends gossip about awful encounters with men, and their experiences inspire Bradshaw to write a new column during each episode where she asks questions about relationships.

A Man Woman and a Playboy Bunny: True-Story Films of Two Female Undercover Reporters Breaking Ground by Jessica Selva. Public scrutiny of undercover journalism has grown in recent decades because of its use of questionable reporting tactics, such as lying, stealing and trespassing. However, films continue to portray undercover journalists as heroes whose acts of deception are excused in the name of the public interest. Two films, The Adventures of Nellie Bly and A Bunny’s Tale, tell the true stories of journalists Nellie Bly and Gloria Steinem, who made groundbreaking advances for undercover and female journalists. The films make their own groundbreaking advances as they present characters that reach beyond stereotypical images of the female journalists in movies.

Moonlighting as a Gutsy Gumshoe: The Bailey Weggins Story by Lawrence Lloyd, graduate student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, July, 2006. In Kate White’s novels, Bailey Weggins is not a trailblazing journalist who focuses on solving crimes. In each of White’s novels, Bailey “happens” to be at the center of each murder – either because she knows the victim or is close to the people involved. Bailey views journalism as her occupation and window into human behavior; sleuthing is secondary. The journalists in these books aren’t particularly compassionate or hateful, but human.

Playing Dirty: Analyzing the Images of the Tabloid Journalists in the Complete First Season of the FX Network Series Dirt by Jaclyn Suzanne Emerick. The FX Network original series Dirt is one of the most comprehensive representations of tabloid journalism on television to date. Although the series only aired for one and a half seasons, examining and understanding the images of the tabloid journalists in Dirt is necessary because the relationship between the public and real-life tabloid journalists is hostile and angry. While a fraction of what the public thinks about journalists comes from real-life experiences with tabloid publications and journalists, part of what the public thinks about these journalists comes from the images they see on television programs like Dirt—images that ultimately reinforce the tabloid journalist as corrupt, unfair, unethical, and amoral. Although tabloid journalists had a presence in film and television prior to Dirt, the FX series demonstrates an in-depth portrayal of the competitive field of tabloid journalism while reinforcing the idea that getting the story is the ultimate goal.

She’d Kill To Be Famous: Deconstructing the Image of the Female Journalist in the Film and Novel To Die For by Courtney Kabot. As Suzanne Stone puts it, “You're not anybody in America unless you're on TV. On TV is where we learn about who we really are. Because what's the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody's watching? And if people are watching, it makes you a better person.” All she wanted was a little attention. But aspiring television reporter Suzanne Stone got much more. Joyce Maynard’s novel To Die For, which was adapted into the Gus Van Sant movie, is a satire of television, journalists, and the price of fame. The protagonist Suzanne Stone is twenty-five years old, married, and has always dreamt of a career on television. But when she finds herself at a dead-end weather girl job at a local cable station, Stone decides to take matters into her own hands to make sure she gets her fame.

Women Journalists in Hindi Films: Stereotyping the Stereotypes by Saswat Pattanayak. Not just the films themselves, the writings on the portrayal of women in popular Hindi films have too, long been dictated by assigning extremes—the woman’s prerogatives to belong to a side, of the evil or the virtuous, the vamp or the Madonna.

Female Journalists and Journalism in fin-de-siecle Magazine Stories, by Lorna Shelley, University of Wolverhampton, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, Issue 5.2, Summer 2009. The rise of the short story about female journalists and women’s roles in journalism is significant to understanding late-nineteenth-century magazine and print cultures.  Stories with plots about journalism allow writers, who are usually journalists themselves, to explore their occupation, urbanity, and gender issues.  Fiction gives attention to women entering newspaper offices and the resistance demonstrated towards them by male members of the profession. 

Careers for Girls: Writing Trash by Sally Mitchell, Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall, 1992), pp. 109-113. Advice manuals, magazines, autobiographies and novels that seem to fictionalize the author's experience on grub street provide an array of impressions and evidence about young women's opportunities in professional journalism between 1880 and 1920.