Superhero ethics versus reporter ethics

Landing that first journalism job can be a challenge. It’s certainly true today, but the 1940s were no picnic either.

So, when a young man identifying himself as Clark Kent appeared at The Daily Planet, “a greenhorn” as the editor put it, he was prepared to use more than a resume and portfolio of news clips to get a job.

  • He had no clips.
  • He had no experience.
  • He didn’t have a decent suit of clothes.
  • It’s not even clear where he learned English.

What did he have?

There may have been a recommendation from a college professor. That’s who suggested he get a job on a great metropolitan daily in the first place, to fulfill his career goal of observing and studying human beings, “to know which to help, and when help is needed.”

As the professor put it, “To mingle with people, to see men at the highest and lowest, if that’s what you want… How about a newspaper? A great metropolitan daily… Join their staff. Be a reporter.” (The professor’s son, Jimmy, suggests getting a new suit and calling himself “Clark Kent.”)

But Clark didn’t mention the professor to editor Perry White in that job interview. Instead, he just gave the boss what he wanted — a promise of a hard-to-get story about threatened railroad sabotage.

Getting that story idea is where is the ethical fog rolls in. (Michael Keaton had a similar problem in the movie “The Paper” many years later — in a scene where he swiped a story idea of the desk of the editor interviewing him for a job at a bigger paper. He didn’t get the job; he did get the story.)

In Clark’s case, some super-hearing apparently let him in on all the details of editor White’s last telephone conversation before the job interview. “You’re either clairvoyant or the luckiest guesser alive,” White said later. “Either way I can use you.”

Was that fair? White’s secretary didn’t think so: “You’re pretty lucky, I’ll say. A hundred good newspapermen walking the streets and you step right into a job.”

You be the judge of whether he delivered the goods as a reporter in “Keno’s Landslide,” the next episode from the original three-day-a-week Superman radio serial. Actually, Clark underestimated the power of the press at one point — just saying he’s a reporter kept a conductor from putting him off of a high-speed passenger train for not having a ticket. “You’re liable to write up a story about getting kicked off our train…” Ironically, Kent wanted to get off the train, but you can hear what happened for yourself in the middle of this episode, “Keno’s Landslide”…

You also can pick up more of that story in the Superman collection at Archive.org if the audio player doesn’t work for you, or if you want to follow more of the series.

Clark, meet Lois

For discussion of Clark as journalist, I’m going to skip to episode 7, “The Atomic Beam Machine,” which literally makes The Daily Planet the center of the plot: A villain has threatened to blow up the newspaper.

Half-way through the episode, Clark meets Lois Lane for the first time. She’s not impressed.
She calls him “the boy wonder” and “the white-haired boy” and “mister star reporter.”

“They tell me you talked yourself into a job went out west and came back with the biggest story of the month, all in less than a week,” she says. “You’ve got the old man hypnotized. He thinks you’re Horace Greeley.”

Lois even suggests that Kent made up the threat to blow up The Daily Planet, which he is investigating, and she’s not very impressed by her own new assignment, to interview an atomic scientist. Even editor Perry White suggests that it’s a soft story.

As before, you can get all of the story in the Superman collection at Archive.org.

In episode number nine, the thrilling conclusion, Clark Kent reveals a skill no one expected: He knows how to fly — not as Superman, but by taking the controls of an airplane in an emergency attempt to rescue Lois.

As that episode ends, reports of a fire and a woman trapped on a 20th floor comes into the newsroom, and Kent is begging White for the assignment, “maybe I can do something.” This newspaper job certainly seems to be everything the professor predicted.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in Clark Kent, j-heroes, journalism, Lois Lane, movies, newspapers, podcast, reporters, Superman. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Superhero ethics versus reporter ethics

  1. Melissa Harkins says:

    I’m not much of a radio person and surprisingly, I listened to “Keno’s Landslide” clip and could picture it in my head. The reporter really paints a picture of the scene. The second clip, I enjoyed as well! I never knew old radio programs were actually interesting. Lois’s reference to Horace Greeley I also found very interesting. If Dr. Stepno hadn’t told me yesterday who Horace was, I would have had no idea what she was talking about.

    • Bob Stepno says:

      Thanks, Melissa… For the rest of you — Horace Greeley was editor of the New York Tribune, which also had a national edition. He was for abolition and Lincoln and settlement of the West. and was very influential. Wikipedia doesn’t do a bad job on him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Greeley

      Speaking of references to historic newspaperpeople, I watched the movie “-30-” last night for the first time in years (It’s on reserve at the library for you all.)

      One thing that surprised me was a passing reference to doing something “faster than you can say ‘Richard Harding Davis.'” I wonder how many viewers who saw that movie in the 1960s had heard of R.H.D., who was perhaps the most famous reporter in the world — BUT a half-century earlier. Just like the Greeley reference, that makes me wonder — Was the general public that familiar with famous journalists back in the ’40s or ’60s?

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