Beginning in Australia in the late 1940s, when movie theatres were the only source of audiovisual news coverage, the narrative follows the exploits of Len Maguire and his young sidekick Chris as they cover the big news stories for the Cinetone newsreel company. Len is a doggedly dependable and ever-cautious senior cameraman, trapped in a world of changing values. Len always knows the right thing to do, but becomes troubled as his marriage falters, his job becomes threatened by the arrival of television, and Cinetone is taken over and its work marginalised. Len's loyalties to the Catholic Church, the Labor Party, and his family are juxtaposed against both his brother/rival cameraman Frank--who sells out his values, abandons his responsibilities, and heads off to success in the USA--and his cocky young assistant, Chris.
The first feature film for Phillip Noyce, Newsfront also depicts the increasing changes to the Australian cultural and political landscape, tracing social shifts from the first waves of European post-war immigration through to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
The original film did not include Bob Ellis's name in the credits. Ellis had demanded that his name be removed prior to the film's release, due to disagreements over cuts to the original screenplay. The film's production was apparently made difficult as a result of the arguments between Ellis, writer/director Phillip Noyce, and producer David Elfick. In the restored DVD release, which includes commentary from all three, Ellis now recognises the screenplay as among the best work he has been associated with.