I always wanted to be a journalist. As a kid, I wanted to grow up to be someone who ran towards danger, and not away from it. I wanted to be front and center of anything and everything important: from pivotal political moments to citizen uprisings to underdog stories that needed to be told.
I wanted to find and tell stories that would change the way we saw the world, and ultimately, the way we saw ourselves.
Like so many young idealists, I wanted to change the world. Yes, it’s a tired cliché, but not so many moons ago, I believed that I could and that I would. And I could say it with a straight face, too.
Scene from “On the Waterfront”
That’s why I love The Newsroom. I watched the entire first season in one go. It may not have been the most productive of days, but it fired me up and reminded me to take a look outside my window. What’s up world? What’s really important? What can we do differently? Is this really how I want my generation to be remembered?
Saul Willians “Coded Language”
Created, directed, and primarily written by Aaron Sorkin, HBO’s The Newsroom gives a behind the scenes look at a nightly cable news program, News Night. While the show and the cable news network Atlantic Cable News (ACN) is fictional, the crux for each episode is based on a real news event, such as the Tea Party debacle, the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
Behind the scenes of The Newsroom
Jeff Daniels leads the ensemble cast as Will McAvoy, the grumpy but strangely endearing father-figure-type attorney-turned-news anchor who is finding his way back to his once-idealistic self, and believing in the news. Oh, and figuring out his relationship with MacKenzie “Mac” Machale, his former flame and new executive producer, played by Emily Mortimer. Mac is an idealistic producer who keeps Will and the team in check, fanning the flames idealism, and advocating old-fashioned quality news reporting as opposed to ratings-gold entertainment news. Her commitment to journalism as opposed to consumer-driven content may cause eyes (and heads) to roll, but it has also inspired her team of young and hungry journalists. The mastermind behind getting Will and Mac—and more importantly News Night—back on track and “righting the shop” is Charlie Skinner, ACN News Division President, played Sam Waterson who carries Charlie’s retro-fabulous bowties with dignity, humor, and wisdom.
What does winning look like to you? Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect, and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot; just a place where we all come together.
— Mackenzie McHale, The Newsroom
The rest of the characters include senior producer, Jim Harwick, played by Paul Rudd-esque John Gallagher, Jr.; the wide-eyed but annoyingly lucky associate producer Maggie Jordan played by Alison Pill; the seemingly skeevy Don Keefer, the former executive producer of News Night, is played by Thomas Sadowski who manages to give his character some depth. While Dev Patel plays the nerdy yet still hipster cool Neelamani “Neal” Sampat, who is not the IT guy, but the writer of Will’s blog and aspiring producer. Every nerd’s dream, on the other hand, is Olivia Munn, who plays the brilliant and borderline genius Sloan Sabbith—who looks and talks like Alex Wagner—is smart and gorgeous on the outside, but socially inept and an anti-social nerd on the inside.
The show is not just a lesson in journalism or history, but on getting some backbone—and being a rabblerouser when everyone else in the world is telling you to behave. Using events from the recent past, the show is one that gets conversations started.
Opening Scene of The Newsroom
Where were you when a certain event happened? How and why did such a story make you care? How did it affect your life? Do we really have choices as citizens? Or are the ideals of freedom and liberty empty meaningless ideas that politicians pay lip service? If that’s the case, how can we change that? How do we make sure that we have a choice—and how do we make the best of it?
The Newsroom also touches on what happened to Dan Rather, indirectly, of course. Rather is a personal hero of mine. He’s the first journalist that made me realize that news anchors weren’t just there to say the news on the boob tube, but were writers too. It was their job to tell you the facts, unbiased and not advertising driven. At 81, he’s still working—and sharing stories that compel and move viewers—despite being axed by CBS for his report on former President George W. Bush’s service report. He asserts that the news report was true. And I believe him. His departure from CBS was a blatant example the power of the government and big money to influence news. He later sued the company—not for the money—but to expose the truth of his piece as well as the corporatization of the news. Initially, CBS may have had the upper hand, expecting Rather to skulk away. Rather, however, proved that he would not go quietly—he is now a producer for AXS TV, hosts Dan Rather Reports, contributes for The Chris Matthews Show and The Daily Show, and has started a company called News and Guts Media.
At 81, he is still a badass.
Dan Rather on Journalism
The reason I bring up Dan Rather is because in the third episode of season 1, we see Will McAvoy make a complete turnaround, starting with an impassioned speech—announcing a renewed commitment to broadcasting news in service of the people.
The Media Elite
Inspiring as it was, we later see Charlie and Leona Lansing, the CEO of ACN’s parent company, discussing News Night’s ratings dive. She delivers a veiled threat—get Will back in cookie cutter shape or she’ll fire him, no matter what it takes. Even if it means “manufacturing a reason” to do so. It parallels Rather’s experience, except since News Night is a fictional show, Will and Charlie beat the network at their own game.
The show isn’t perfect, of course. There are a few things that I don’t like, such as the soundtrack (they could amp it up a bit) and the dare-I-say-clichéd romance between Maggie and Jim. While the relationship history—and potential rekindling—of Will and Mac is entertaining and believable, the romantic storylines of the younger characters are anything but.
So much screen time is devoted to this Bermuda triangle of love, that it makes the show seem hypocritical. The Newsroom is supposedly a show about standing up for what really matters—the shunning of ratings ploys to gain more viewers. The romance aspect, however, feels like bait—as though the show’s producers and writers don’t trust the idea enough to stand on its own. The characters are supposed to be hard-nosed news reporters. Can you really believe that they are spending so much of that much-needed energy on figuring out who will stay with whom? While it’s easy to believe it’s hard to meet new people outside of work, the characters of Maggie, Don, and Jim are fairly young and at a critical point in their careers—are they really the only people that they’ll meet? Unlike Will and Mac’s storyline, not much of a real relationship seems to exist with Maggie and Don. Not even sexual chemistry.
It panders to the audience, and ultimately cause one to lose respect for the characters. I initially admired the character of Jim, especially how he rallied the team and broke the story of the oil spill. However, since then, what could have been a strong and interesting character is relegated to a shoddy caricature of a not-so-hot-leading-man from a cheesy Hollywood rom-com.
Aside from Will and Mac, he’s in charge of leading the team—a senior producer. But if Maggie can get away with chiding him in public, is it safe to say that the whole team does so as well? Or is she really the only one who can since they have a supposedly burgeoning relationship? I don’t buy it. And Maggie, while charming at first, seems to have grown more annoying with time. I would like to know more about her struggles with getting things right, becoming a better journalist, instead of her conundrum of choosing between Jim and Don. To a lesser extent, the same goes for Mac. Why are the leading ladies of the show so boy crazy and two-dimensional? Women aren’t like that. Especially not busy women. It’s insulting.
Bikini Kill “Rebel Girl”
The writers of the show need to tell us more about these women. How about Mac’s life as a reporter in the Middle East? How and why does she believe in changing the way cable news is run? How did she become a journalist, and later, an executive producer? How did she break the glass ceiling? As for Maggie, the writers need to stop painting as the quirky-clumsy-intern-turned-assistant-turned associate producer. While Maggie’s demeanor is cute, especially since many of us have been there in some form or another, instead of accidentally getting all the breaks, how about showing us what she’s passionate about? What does she want? What drives her?
The character of Don, however, has grown on me. He became someone who will stand up for what he believes in and does what he thinks is best for the program and his people. (Plus, he delivers some of the show’s best “oh snap!” moments.)
First portrayed as an antagonist, his character eventually proves himself loyal to the team. It’s not just about loyalty, however, but learning to choose for yourself what and who you should be loyal to. Like Don, each character has a chance to redeem himself or herself. Will, Mac, Charlie, Don…they learn to believe in something again. And maybe, just maybe, we can find our way back, too.