Green Room

Hill Valley’s terrible newspaper

posted at 1:21 pm on January 4, 2013 by

If you’re a fan of the Back to the Future series (as I am), take a minute to read Jonathan Chait’s tongue-in-cheek media criticism of the Hill Valley Telegraph, the fictional newspaper that drives the major plot points in the first two installments.  Chait notes that the newspaper’s editorial decisions are “exceedingly bizarre”:

Marty is struck by the oddness of it because, despite having driven what he knows is a time machine, he has not figured out that it’s 1955. But the headline is useful because it establishes that the Telegraph is not merely a local paper — it reports on national news, albeit in a vague and uninformative fashion. A president can’t veto a “Senate bill,” he can only veto a bill that’s been passed by both houses. It’s not clear why a veto would merit a banner headline — normally reserved for declarations of war, presidential election, or assassinations and the like — but if it did, you would think the subject of the bill would make it somewhere into the headline.

The Telegraph’s strong (if not informed) interest in Washington legislative arcana makes it all the more striking that it proceeds to devote banner headlines to relatively minor developments impacting private citizens in the town …

And not just any citizens in Hill Valley, either.  Chait doesn’t mention it, but we don’t see anything in a banner headline after Eisenhower that doesn’t have to do with Biff Tannen, Emmit Brown, the McFly family (directly or indirectly), or the clock tower. They get progressively sillier, especially after Marty and the Doc fix timelines they originally broke through their own actions.

I’ve always figured that Robert Zemeckis wanted to lampoon in a subtle manner the way films use newspaper headlines to drive story lines.  That’s a hoary Hollywood device from back in the days when they would spin the papers as an overlay to printing presses churning out the news.  (One of the best satires of this technique came in Johnny Dangerously, which spoofed old mob movies, with the headline “MORONI DEPORTED TO SWEDEN: Claims He’s Not From There”.)  We don’t see that cliché quite as much anymore, but in its place, we now get chyrons and screen crawls with typewriter/keyboard sound effects.  I’m not sure which is worse.

Of course, it could also be that BTTF intended on demonstrating the real future of newspapers, as Chait concludes:

Unless perhaps the film is trying to point to a different future for media: hyper, hyper-localism.


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Goldie Wilson 2016!

Jeddite on January 4, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Meh. The Hill Valley Telegraph probably endorsed Adlai Stevenson anyway.

jon1979 on January 4, 2013 at 1:51 PM

Then again …. President Grant Vetoes Senate Bill No. 476

corncat on January 4, 2013 at 2:26 PM

From the Hill Valley Telegraph, 2024:

Obama Seeks Fifth Term!

KS Rex on January 4, 2013 at 5:16 PM


juanito on January 4, 2013 at 6:19 PM

Banner headline for a guy winning at the racetrack. Lesser news: “Khruschev” [sic] becoming Premier of that less noteworthy Soviet Union thing.

If anything it appears that the Hill Valley Telegraph was 50 years ahead of its time reporting human interest crap and ignoring news. Katie Couric and George Snufflupagus would be proud.

Gingotts on January 4, 2013 at 6:30 PM

So the Telegraph is putting meaningless crap ahead of important information?

Sounds like most of the MSM to me.

malclave on January 4, 2013 at 7:16 PM

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