‘The Newsroom’: Journalism, but better

In O'Pinions on June 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Ahh, inspiration…

It’s been a good while now since I’ve posted anything about journalism or politics (or for that matter, anything besides flash fiction), but this afternoon I finally got around to watching the first episode of HBO’s The Newsroom, and since I work in a newsroom myself (and since I still happen to believe journalism performs a crucial function in any true democracy), I couldn’t help but be inspired.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it is the creation of Aaron Sorkin, who also created The West Wing, and follows the character of Will McAvoy, a network TV news anchor who finally gets fed up with his role in the deterioration of broadcast journalism – plying his viewers with platitudes and cheap jokes, while being ever-so-careful not to inject his own opinion or press too hard lest he cause offense or hurt his ratings.

We’re all familiar with news personalities like McAvoy – and, of course, their opposites, commentators who are so partisan and inflammatory as to be useless as cultivators of any sort of serious public discourse – which is why it is so refreshing to finally see McAvoy (played quite convincingly by Jeff Daniels) take a stand in this show, and why we (the real viewers) keep hoping for his vision of a more responsible, informative Fourth Estate to succeed.

Idealism trumps realism

Cover of "The West Wing (The Official Com...

The Newsroom has more than just a little in common with The West Wing: It shows us life and professionals not as they are but as they could be. Where Josiah Bartlett, Sorkin’s fictional president in The West Wing, could be criticized for being unrealistically moral, fair-minded and, well, good, he also isn’t meant to represent reality – he represents what people hope for in a president: someone whose decisions are based on logic and integrity and whose aim is always the greater good, even if we don’t always agree on the specifics. It made me, for one, believe that the presidency could really be like that.

In the same way, The Newsroom reminds us of what journalism once was and what it still can be. It gives us hope that a few people in the right position can just decide to do it the right way, and change the conversation in the country simply by taking their jobs more seriously. And even if real journalists don’t step up to the plate (the culture in most newsrooms is, sadly, very deeply ingrained, the pressure from competition and management just too high) at least Sorkin is getting the conversation started. There is a very serious problem with the way news is delivered in this country and in others, to the detriment of the democratic process; The Newsroom tackles that problem head on and shows us it doesn’t have to be that way.

The show makes working in a newsroom look a bit more exciting than it really is – and, admittedly, some of the personal dynamics and newsroom power struggles feel a bit overwrought – but I’m willing to forgive these flaws when I consider the message of the show overall. I think The Newsroom can be a great addition to the national conversation, and I really hope Sorkin (and McAvoy) can pull it off.

Have you seen the show? What did you think? I’m really interested to see how it’s being received by people outside the journalism world.


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