Before Katrina I was a rabid newshound, gobbling up any far-flung news morsel no matter the network. Post Katrina, I came to realize how truly absurd the 24-hour news cycle had become.
In Baton Rouge, it was more than a year before a newscast aired without mention of the storm that emptied Lake Pontchatrain into the Crescent City. It would be another two years before I turned on the TV. And my life was better for it.
Over the years, I slowly added a program or two to my empty viewing list. Never news. What need did I have to sit and watch two blow-dried gasbags shouting focus-group-tested slogans past each other on a channel that had 24 hours to investigate a topic but only devoted 2 minutes to any single idea?
Along comes The Newsroom, Alan Sorkin’s idea of what happens behind the scenes of your favorite cable channel. After West Wing got all preachy, I was skeptical, but since it floated an interesting premise — the remaking of cable news into something of depth, run by passionate believers in news over ratings, I figured I’d give it a spin.
The characters are compelling. Will McAvoy, (Jeff Daniels) a beleaguered asshat of an anchor that people love and the staff hates, lives for his time under the lights but fears asking the tough question. His new executive producer, MacKenzie McHale, (Emily Mortimer) is a passionate voice for what television journalism could be — a take-no-prisoners voice for the people serving up an in-depth buffet of important topics people need to know to make informed decisions. No fluff. No wingnuts. No spin.
McHale surrounds herself with a young eager staff of producers and bookers with equal passion for journalism and naivete of how things actually work. They produce an entire hour of hard-hitting television news every night, and they do it without a single photographer! I won’t give Sorking too much guff for that. This is a show about housecats and the decision-making process. Fart jokes, though funny, would be a distraction.
The dialogue: Crisp. Biting. And lightning-fast. It’s Sorking trademark, and it’s on full display inside The Newsroom,and newsrooms around the country. It’s also passionate, but not preachy on any subject other than what the news could and should be. I can live with that.
What The Newsroom isn’t is an accurate portrayal of what happens every day in newsrooms around the country. In reality, newsrooms are more akin to The Office, a widget factory full of divas, slackers, burnouts, paranoid-schizophrenics, and professionals each consumed with their little part of the sausage-making process.
In real newsrooms there is little talk of missions, goals, substance, or context. Most conversations revolve around deadlines, meetings, police scanners, live shots, graphics, and lunch. The language is bawdy. F-bombs, sexual innuendo and fart jokes are traded like verbal currency, and no one is safe when a photog is in the room. But when the shit hits the fan, everyone puts an oar in the water and rows the same direction.
The Newsroom aspires to inspire. It asks f0lks in the business to take a look at what is really important and to consider their individual role in making this the noble profession journalism can be. It asks laymen to demand more from their newscast of choice.
I won’t tell you not to watch The Newsroom. It is, after all, entertaining and more worth your while than an hour of cable news. But don’t go in thinking this is how newsrooms work. That is something no civilian should be subjected to.