I have a crush on The Newsroom.
The first few minutes went live on the web before the first episode aired, and I was quickly intrigued. I was a huge fan of The West Wing and its "smart people talking really fast about smart things" formula, and I was excited to see this applied to broadcast journalism.
(Full disclosure: I minored in journalism in college and considered a career in the industry. I went a different direction partially because of exactly the media issues addressed by The Newsroom – I say at the risk of getting ahead of myself – and partially because I wanted to do something more artsy.)
So that first clip is really well-known. But the clip that reaches inside my chest and wraps its hand around my beating heart is this one:
YES YES YES. It's the speech I imagine my college journalism professor – a fantastic and smart man who taught his students to be diligent and meticulously ethical – would want to see on television news. It's the speech I would love to see, and the speech that would get me watching a news show religiously (should I ever own a working TV again).
The show does fall victim to some trademark Sorkin pitfalls: the male lead is a genius prodigy with daddy issues, there is angst aplenty about co-workers who can't admit they're in love, everyone is a super genius who talks a mile a minute, etc. And the liberal bias is deep enough that you need a snorkeling mask. But beneath all that, the show makes some very important points about the state of American journalism.
I'm a self-confessed CNN junkie. When I had a working TV or when I'm somewhere where I have access to and control of one, I'll happily leave CNN on all day. I like seeing the different ways a story is presented based on the time of day and the demographic audience at that time, or the way the presentation is changed between daytime and prime time and the weekend. But mostly I like a steady stream of information. (It's the same reason I feel naked without my smart phone now – I can't stand feeling like there's something going on that I don't know about. Maybe that's why I studied journalism.)
But I feel a little guilty for my CNN obsession, because I know that even though it's not as clearly biased as Fox News or MSNBC, it's still not presenting the highest form of discourse or anything close to a complete picture of the news. (There are a few exceptions to this. Fareed Zakaria has a Sunday morning show that deals with a lot of international news that the network at large ignores or under-covers... but it's hidden away on Sunday morning.) I could listen to NPR or watch C-SPAN, but I don't. I call myself a purist, but instead of going to the organic farmer's market I happily swallow the processed, preservative-laden canned vegetables from the local chain grocery store.
So how do you fix the state of journalism when even those who love it fall into the trap of style over substance? I don't know. It's too late to put the advertising worms back in the can, so whether we like it or not, news and its presentation are a business. Print journalism weakens with every passing day. And while the rise of blogs and the internet provides a wider range of sources for information, it also skews the signal to noise ratio heavily.
For now, I'm content to get lost in Sorkin's idealistic little world once in a while and resolved to begin seeking different sources for my news fix.
Post title is a line from this R.E.M. song.