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It's a cold evening in the Windy City, Chicago, Illinois, 1929. In the time-weathered pressroom of the Criminal Courts Building, seven reporters wait for news of Earl Williams, an young anarchist who, after two reprieves, is expected to hang the following morning for the accidental shooting of a policeman. Their vigil is frequently interrupted by angry phone calls from Walter Burns, Managing Editor of the Herald-Examiner, who is looking for his missing star reporter, Hildebrand "Hildy" Johnson. Hearing that Hildy has quit the Examiner to marry the daughter of the movie mogul and take a screen-writing job with her father's Hollywood studio, the reporters react with typical skepticism as Hallelujah!, during which a jubilant Hildy bursts into the pressroom. Enter Hildy's beautiful fiancee, Natalie, who reminds her man of the romantic delights they will soon share in their compartment on the California-bound train.
Mollie Malloy, a prostitute, is angry at the distorted stories the reporters have been writing about Williams, inadvertently revealing that she knows him. Sensing a story, the newsmen wheedle out of Mollie the fact that she met the unhappy, disturbed anarchist the night before the shooting and took him back to her room, where they talked until morning.
Hildy tries to comfort Williams in his cell, and cops and reporters phone their loved ones - in some cases, their wives. Walter Burns storms into the building determined to stop his star reporter leaving town, Burns obtains some bootleg scotch, drugs Hildy's drink and suggests a farewell toast along with Kruger, an alcoholic reporter who gets the knockout drops by mistake.
Later, the other six reporters discover Waiter's scotch, and, while drinking it, dream of following Hildy's example and breaking away from the newspaper game. But all such thoughts are forgotten as Earl Williams suddenly shoots his way out of Police custody. Hildy is alone in the pressroom when Williams crashes the Williams scoop - and it's going to make him so famous, people will be naming streets after him Mollie Malloy enters and discovers Williams hiding in the pressroom. Mollie dissuades the frightened Williams from giving himself up by making him understand how important their friendship is to her
Later, Natalie rushes in while Hildy is writing his scoop and Burns is phoning through instructions to his city editor. They don't even hear her and she leaves as Bensinger enters, he is the owner of the desk in which Williams is hiding. To keep him away from his desk, Burns pretends to hire Bensinger to write a poem about the manhunt. Bensinger decides to write it in "Hiawatha" style. Eventually, Williams is recaptured and Hildy is arrested and jailed for harbouring him. Hildy turns to his drunken cellmate and addresses him bitterly. Finally, all is well. Hildy is released, he and Natalie are reunited and are about to leave for Hollywood. Burns gives Hildy his treasured pocket watch as a wedding present, after which the whole building sings the happy couple on their way
But Burns still has a trick up his sleeve...

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