The Journalistic Profession as a TV Series
July 24, 2012 by Philip Di Salvo
American screenwriter Sorkin has been known to incorporate media-related topics into his work, with The West Wing, a political communication drama, and The Social Network, a film about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. The Newsroom, his latest endeavor, gives audiences the chance to walk around inside an American television network, centering most of the show’s action within an open-space newsroom. With its fast-paced plot, the HBO series is packed with discourse concerning the journalistic profession and ultimately forces its characters to deal with issues of contemporary journalism.
Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale, executive producers of the fictional News Night, represent two conflicting journalistic players. McAvoy is a popular and esteemed professional who avoids picking sides at all costs for fear of losing his audience. He stands for nonpartisan journalism and is obsessed with ratings, hounding his marketing colleagues about audience numbers. McHale, by contrast, is more concerned about the show’s quality. She accepts her new job as executive producer of News Night in hopes of taking a reprieve from the mental and physical exhaustion of being a war reporter in the Middle East, where she’d been shot multiple times.
Despite being picked up for a second season, The Newsroom acquired several critics. Jeff Jarvis openly disliked the first episode, criticizing Sorkin for trying to rewrite television news by remixing old and out-of-date styles. Jarvis refers in particular to the show which follows the News Night team as they report on the Deepwater Horizon spill, complaining that the depiction of News Night’s haphazard preparation for the news story is eerily similar to recent mistakes made by Fox News and CNN in their coverage of the Supreme Court’s Obamacare announcement.
The Newsroom’s greatest merit, however, is its representation of the everyday dynamics within a working newsroom. We’re shown the constant compromises on which journalism is based - between quality and visibility, between old and new media, academic journalism and the “dirty hands” doctrine.