CCHU9076 Arts and Humanities
The Journalist: Comics, Movies, Fiction and Fact


Course Description

Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent dropped his notebook and ripped off his shirt to save the world as Superman. Peter Parker took photographs for the Daily Bugle when not fighting crime in his alter ego as Spiderman. From the Green Hornet to the Flash to Batman’s friend Vicki Vale, journalists have been a fixture in comic book lore, as superheroes, their love interests, or as a narrative plot device.  Likewise in fiction, with omniscient narrators like Thomas Fowler of The Quiet American, and intrepid investigators like Mikael Bloomkvist from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, journalists have been ubiquitous in popular culture. But how accurate are those depictions? How have popular culture portrayals of the journalist changed over time? And how has popular culture dealt with the real ethical dilemmas journalists confront?

Using comic books, movie clips, fiction, and the nonfictional narratives of working journalists, this course will examine the various portrayals of the journalist and how often they conform to reality. We will also look at how effective journalists have been at telling their own narratives — portraying the gritty reality or embellishing the comic book superhero version of the profession. From this course, through role playing and enacting live scenarios, students will learn more about the daily working life of journalists from beat reporters to foreign correspondents, better understand the ethical questions journalists face, and better appreciate the role of a free press in democratic societies.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Understand and appreciate what journalists actually do in the real world. As a result, students should come to better understand and appreciate the role of journalism and a free press to society.
    2. Understand how and why they are so often depicted in popular media, and be able to identify the various archetypes and stereotypes and their relevance.
    3. Understand better some of the real-life dangers and ethical dilemmas reporters regularly face, and see how journalists resolve those dilemmas.
    4. Be able to separate fact from fiction in the world of constant streaming. To become news literate.
    5. Use their own creativity to create and solve ethical or practical problems through narratives and using characters that they themselves invent.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 22
Film review and analysis 22
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 20
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 42
Total: 134

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Group project and presentation 40
Review of a movie or a novel 30
In-class quizzes 10
In-class participation 20

Required Reading

  • Butterfield, F. (1982). Alive in a bitter sea. [pp. 3-8]
  • Brooke, A. (2016). Night Heron. [pp. 29-35]
  • Ehrlich, M. (2006). Facts, truth, and bad journalists in the movies. [pp. 503-507, 511-516]
  • Foss, K. (2018). Journalists and the Press in Comic Books and Contemporary Film Adaptations. [pp.1-24]
  • Larsson, S. (2005). The girl with the dragon tattoo. [pp. 211-215, 409-416, 449-451]
  • Prochnau, W. (1995). Once upon a distant war. [pp. 29-45]
  • Remnick, D. (1993). Lenin’s tomb. [pp. 10-23]
  • Richburg, K. B. (1997). Out of America. [Chaps. 2, 3]
  • Shaffer, M. (2009). Journalism in the Spotlight: An analysis of Hollywood’s portrayal of the journalist in American Films. [pp. 1-4, 13-17]

Required Viewing

  • Lumet, S. (1976). Network.
  • McCarthy, T. (2015). Spotlight.
  • Pollack, S. (1981). Absence of malice.
  • Woods, B. (2018). Reporters at War.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor K.B. Richburg
Journalism and Media Studies Centre, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 5036
Email: richburg@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor K.B. Richburg
Journalism and Media Studies Centre, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 5036
Email: richburg@hku.hk