The Newsroom: ideology at its best or worst?

the newsroom will mcavoy

The Newsroom is by all means a wholly original idea, and one that, if nothing else, has the entertainment value of a marquee HBO show.

Yet aside from its niche dialogue and glamorous production pedigree, the driving force behind the show is clearly a message from its writer Aaron Soorkin: that journalism is in a state of crisis. The Newsroom paints a clear picture of how he thinks journalism should be done. So is the former West Wing creator fair in doing this? Is his ideology a realistic one and, perhaps most essentially, how far away is the show from mirroring reality, if at all?

We are thrown into the newsroom of a prime-time News channel spearheaded by Will McAvoy, a man who is portrayed as having a moral compass that all news platforms should aspire to. Second to McAvoy is MacKenzie McHale who has just returned from reporting in a war zone and who we’re told doesn’t sleep more than 4 hours a night and cares so passionately about the news that she doesn’t have any friends. And so the list goes on, until we’re presented with a whole newsroom team – totally void of a bad guy – who are working intensely hard to provide us news that matters.

One line in the pilot episode points towards the mission to “reclaim journalism as an honourable profession, produce a nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation, return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism.” In fact at one point McHale squeels at the thought of running a ‘gossipy’ story.

Now as a journalist myself it is nice to see my profession portrayed with such integrity, and in all fairness a lot of journalists work extremely hard because they care about the news. Yet my problem with the Newsroom is how Sorkin would appear to have forgotten the wide variety of choice involved with the news. Those that want to read gossip buy The Sun, and those that want something political buy The Guardian, but the current state of the latter does not suggest that a TV show is needed to restore its credibility.

Why can’t someone have a choice to get their news from Perez Hilton and not Nick Robinson? Does Sorkin really feel that there aren’t enough people interested in ‘real’ news? And why would the death of gossip and voyeurism automatically equate to a world in which people start caring about important stories?

This is not to say that The Newsroom is so void of credibility that it should be thrown in the dustbin of laughable shows. In fact if you were to take Sorkin’s determination out of the picture for a second, you would find yourself with a show hard to criticise.

By comparison, look at The Wire: a show that heavily features the role of the police in the war on drugs. Now can you imagine if the show were a righteous attempt to put the police into a wholly heroic light? Imagine if cops in The Wire were void of flaws, as creator David Simon goes on a mission to show us the angelic behaviour of the police force?

Instead Simon produces a classic because he demonstrates that the line between good and bad is crossed not only by criminals. I can’t help but think that The Newsroom lacks variety, and how a less determined stance would have paid dividends.