I'm a Journalist and - Surprise! - I Like 'The Newsroom'
This is the story of a show that went swimming in shark-infested waters. I’m talking about The Newsroom, which tempted fate this summer by being set in the world of journalism. It dared to have journalists as its main characters. It tried to examine how they bring a major cable newscast to air, while they grapple with their own emotional and ethical crises. So we shouldn’t have been surprised when real-life journalists began ripping the show apart.
Rarely do you see so many articles attacking a show all at once, calling it sexist, cheesy, unrealistic, patronizing, self-important and much more. As a journalism student myself, I expected to side with the general consensus of the trade. But I just finished watching my way through The Newsroom – and I liked it. And I think if the show’s most fervent critics took a breath, and looked at the series again, they would see it for what it is: an entertaining and *gasp* often accurate critique of modern journalism.
Let’s start with the basic setup. You have the aging anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), whose long-hidden personal politics erupt in an unplanned tirade at a university panel. He is corralled by his new executive producer – and ex-girlfriend - Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) into producing a better, more incisive newscast. A crew of bright young minds gather around them, and together they try to put off the show. Of course, it's not that simple: office romances, political machinations and ethical dilemmas threaten to finish their noble endeavour before it begins.
Critics have complained that this is totally opposed to how real newsrooms work. I’m inclined to agree – like the show’s detractors, I’ve worked in newsrooms. I know that the shouting matches, emotional breakdowns and general foolishness seen on The Newsroom don’t (always) happen. But at the risk of sounding trite, I have to ask: so what? It’s a television show. Do you want to watch a program where earnest, intelligent reporters and producers keep their heads down at their cubicles, and pull off a seamless production? I didn’t think so.
Some might argue that because The Newsroom uses real stories, like the BP oil spill or the killing of Osama bin Laden, it claims that the characters are better at covering the story than real reporters. I disagree: it’s simply using familiar headlines to spark silly hijinks in the office. If creator/ head writer Aaron Sorkin came up with his own news stories, he’d have to waste time in each episode explaining them. As it is, we can move forward with the characters and be entertained by their wonky approach to news we already know.
As for the “cheesy” relationship drama? Don’t even try to tell me that it doesn’t happen in real life. It occurs in every office, and while the real romantic landscape may not be as cartoonish as it is on The Newsroom, it still exists. As far as I'm concerned, there have been enough moronic romances in the history of television to make the baleful glances and young-adult angst on The Newsroom feel like award-winning material. Plus, how can you beat the irony of characters who communicate for a living being pathologically unable of communicating with each other?
Another problem journalists have with The Newsroom is the impassioned speeches the characters embark on, stating what journalism is and how it should be done. Between what I’ve read from the show’s critics, and conversations with my fellow journalists, it’s thought that no real journalist carries on in that kind of preachy, shrill way. From what I’ve seen, though, we often do.
Amongst ourselves, we often rant about the demise of the industry, and opine about how it should be fixed. No, we don’t do it in the way Will McAvoy or Mackenzie MacHale do on The Newsroom (which can get tiresome, I’ll admit). The rhetoric is still there, however, and so it has found its way onto the show.
It’s not something to be ashamed of. I think it’s commendable that we journalists - both in the real world and on TV – care about how we do our jobs. We just need to step back and see how that kind of self-analysis and self-importance looks to non-journalists (the people most enjoying The Newsroom).
I get the sense that a lot of the criticism directed at The Newsroom is a knee-jerk reaction to being made fun of. Critics jumped on the factual inaccuracies, the same way they would if they were handling any other story. They focused on petty problems with the show’s characters, and refused to see the show’s humour and its attempts to entertain. The detractors committed the same sin as the show’s characters: taking themselves far too seriously, and in turn, only proving the show’s point.
The Newsroom’s haters need to get used to how the show turns the spotlight on us. It examines the way the profession works outside the studio, away from the printed page, behind the computer screen. Even if many of the details are overblown, or misrepresented, The Newsroom still communicates that journalists are a special breed who provide a valuable service. Sometimes, we just need to remember how silly we can look while we do it.
What do you think of The Newsroom? Are you excited for its second season? Or do you believe that there’s simply too many faults in the show? Am I completely crazy about the message of the series? Join the discussion in the comments section! If you liked this post, share it with your friends and followers, and check out some of my other articles on television below: