The Newsroom and Old Media Values

Thursday, December 18, 2014
All good things must come to an end.

That’s what I thought when I watched the series finale of HBO’s “The Newsroom” Sunday evening. I stumbled upon the hour-long drama in 2012, and immediately, I was hooked. Part of the reason could’ve been the subject matter: the inner workings of a cable news network. After college, I was offered the chance to work in a local TV newsroom, but I turned it down. Why? Motherhood waited patiently around the corner. I was expecting twins and the uncertainty of whether two-hour feedings, diaper changes and eventual terrible-twos tantrums, doubled, would mesh with a career-focused mom frightened me.  

With “The Newsroom,” I could vicariously live out my expectations of covering national breaking news, travel to a foreign country to cover a hot story or power lunch with media elite, all while reclining in the comfort of home.

Another part of the reason why the show intrigued me was the cast of characters, including the news anchor “who grew up in a little town outside Lincoln.” Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, introduced an idealistic but cynical journalist who was determined to improve journalism and storytelling and dedicated to tell the truth, not some politicized or editorialized version based on the reporter’s beliefs about what makes humanity and this nation tick.

Of course, there were the others: Mackenzie, the executive producer who loved Will; Sloane and Don, whose no-nonsense attitudes and quirky banter provided comic relief; Maggie and Jim, who struggled through personal tragedies and missteps to tell important stories and Charlie, the news division president who was determined to keep the principles of old media alive.

Each of them had a tragic flaw, so for the English teacher that still lives in my brain, I found it delicious fun to dissect their characters, trying to understand their motivation, digging deep into their psyches to see how a constant influx of action and deadlines and dilemmas created tension that mirrored reality.

But I believe the main reason the show resonates with me is the push and pull between old and new media and how the landscape of reporting has changed since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle. It seems that in the rush to be first, some news outlets have lost their vision. Is it more important to break a story, when details may not be crystal clear, or do news outlets have a responsibility to tell the truth, the verified truth and nothing but the accurate truth? Are viewers and readers so hungry for sensationalism and positive spins on even the most heinous situations that they fail to realize news, in its naked glory, isn’t always attractive?

“The Newsroom” offered a view of old media, of getting back to old media values. That’s why it hit home with me - the need to return to truth telling, now matter how gritty or pretty. It’s easy to wield a pen (or keyboard) and spin a yarn. It can be difficult to spell out truth, if consumers don’t want to accept it.

Sunday evenings, for me, won’t be the same.

by LuAnn Schindler


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