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The good news

The Newsroom was less about the business of news and more about the mission of news

The good news

Dear All,

I am rather confused as to why so many critics and TV reviewers have labelled Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom a failure.

The show which focuses on a news team at ACN, a fictional US network, ended last year after just three seasons. The Newsroom was less about the business of news and more about the mission of news (more public service than commercial interest). It was high-minded, moralising and often preachy. It was full of bright, well-organised and articulate journalists with lofty ideals —and it was so dialogue-centred that it might even have worked just as well as a radio show.

And these all proved to be positive points in this show.

I liked The Newsroom. I liked it because it was relentless in speaking out against the trivialisation of news that is fast becoming the norm today, and because it reiterated the belief that journalists are intelligent, analytical beings with a sense of commitment rather than sycophantic twits with no sense of news but tens of thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers. I liked the show because it depicted journalists as people who are interested in facts and who work hard to find stories rather than passively agree that whatever is ‘trending’ must be a major news story. And I liked it because it took the high moral ground, and it did that in a day and age when mainstream news seems to have no moral parameters at all and wants only to cater to the lowest possible common denominator…

This was a very entertaining show with great performances from a strong cast. Jeff Daniels was excellent as Will McAvoy, the News Anchor who descends into mediocrity (wanting to be likeable on TV) but then rises to great heights once he decides to be a serious journalist. Emily Mortimer was interesting as his producer and ex, Mackenzie (Mac) McHale albeit often irritatingly shrill, Dev Patel (of Slumdog fame) was likeable as the ‘website’ guy in the news team who proves that web journalism doesn’t have to be superficial or hurried.

The rest of the team was good too but Olivia Munn was terrific as the brilliant financial journalist Sloan Sabbith (two PhDs and a former professor but socially awkward) who says it like it is (Financial crisis, culpability of big banks etc), and Sam Waterston was amazing as Charlie Skinner their boss and News Director who wants to “do the news well” and who buffers the news teams from the (often irate) network owners’ wrath.

The interesting thing about this entertainment show is that it often looked at news stories and questions regarding their coverage a lot more thoroughly than news shows on TV would be doing. This might have had something to do with its not being able to run beyond season 3.

Facts are an important part of News. But people are increasingly confusing facts with opinion and a good example of this is one review of The Newsroom in which the reviewer (Cory Barker) begins the review saying “In the spirit of The Newsroom’s mission to uphold decency and ethics in journalism, let’s begin with some facts” and then goes on to state the following ‘facts’.

“1. The Newsroom was not a good show.

2. The final season of The Newsroom has been largely dull and pointless.

3. Aaron Sorkin is, by all accounts, a pompous, privileged, and out-of-touch idealist who would rather lecture than tell stories, and who presumes that everyone enjoys watching television shows about white men — Sorkin’s proxies — doing that lecturing to young people, women, or ghosts.

4. Despite all of those things, the cast of The Newsroom, was consistently on their A-games, trying to elevate the troubled storytelling and cringe-inducing lines with a real zeal that shouldn’t go underappreciated.”

As you can see, none of these four points constitutes a fact — they are all opinion. And this review illustrates perfectly what’s going on with news and journalists generally — everybody’s tweeting opinion but nobody’s checking facts.

But the good news about the bad reviews of this good show is that lots of people strongly disagreed with this and other similar ‘critiques’ (aka rants), and a lot of comments on these reviews were actually more thoughtful and more informed and more factual than those of the writers. Which leads one to think: maybe the consumers of news and media are not as stupid as the managers of news want to believe: maybe they don’t want lurid freak show stories in their news content — maybe they actually want some serious news and intelligent analysis.

So even if the news is bad, the production of it can be good and thoughtful. So the good news is probably that there are still many people out there who can tell if you are doing the news badly.

Or maybe not.

In any case, Happy New Year to all, Let’s pray for peace and compassion, progress and justice.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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