Of course “The Newsroom” gets bad press. The reviews are written in a newsroom.

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 26 June 2012

I haven’t seen “The Newsroom”, but I have seen the reviews, and it hasn’t been pretty. Likewise “The Hour” didn’t win many rave write-ups either.

The unfortunately unique thing is that when writing a show about journalism, your reviews are posted by the very people whose activity you are trying to dramatise.

Policemen don’t get to review crime dramas in the national press. Doctors don’t get a few minutes in the Entertainment chunk of a 24 hour news channel to dissect what is wrong with medical dramas. And I’ve never seen an oil baron explaining that the industry doesn’t work quite like Dallas.

In general, the people who gave high praise to dramas like “The Wire”, “The West Wing” and “Mad Men” haven’t been in those situations, so their reviews aren’t coloured by personal experience. “The Newsroom” is a different beast, because everybody working in a news organisation knows what their particular newsroom is like.

As I say, I’ve not seen the show, but the impression I get from the reviews is that of an industry struggling to suspend disbelief.

Which, whether it is default Excel charts in the far, far, far future, or demons infiltrating the internet, is pretty much how I feel nearly every single time a computer screen with a fancy looking operating system appears on-screen.

Or when someone in CSI, 24, Spooks or NCIS zooms into a blurry jpeg of a villain, and a user interface dripping in drop shadow helps them triangulate the IP address of the unseen mobile phone the guy had in his pocket.

There is a lesson for the news industry here.

The way journalists feel about “The Newsroom”? That is pretty much how everybody feels whenever they read a superficial story about something they know well in the press. Or endure a glib two-way between the studio anchor and a non-expert reporter in the field.

The sinking feeling that something they understand and cherish has been twisted in order to simplify it and make it more populist or sensational.

Today’s audience is more knowledgable and has more primary source material at its disposal than ever before. And nothing makes suspending disbelief harder than being asked to believe something not quite true about something you know quite well.

3 Comments

I disagree. I'm not a journalist; have seen the show; and think it's highly flawed - and, to be honest, just not very good.

It's a real shame, because I'm massive Sorkin fan, but The Newsroom just doesn't cut the mustard.

"Know quite well"?

I've seen nothing as yet, negative or otherwise, from anyone who has ever worked in broadcast news.

Loads of stuff from feature writers, and a number of whiny tracts from twentysomethings filing TV reviews for some website from their bedroom, yes. People who've actually worked in a newsroom? No.

Fact is, Sorkin mostly flatters them. In the real world everybody's too busy hoovering up and re-barfing wire copy while getting paid half a living wage -- which is fine if, like almost everybody, you have enough family cash to tide you over -- to ever consider even the smallest of the angsty high-falutin' notions ascribed to almost everybody by the show.

And celebrity 'anchors' let interviewees off with a pass every day of the year, while nodding back to one lousy exception with Paxman and Michael Howard from nearly twenty years ago as their only reply when they're down the pub without an autocue for guidance.

The programme's getting slagged left, right and centre for its real mistake: assuming people who work in broadcast news give as much of a stuff about its content on any given day as Aaron Sorkin does. Not one of us who've been there *really* thinks that anybody does, or ever has.

</grump>

I've seen the first episode, and I quite liked it. I'll definitely be sticking with it.

Do I think it's an accurate representation of the news industry? Almost certainly not.

My day job is working in radio, and I can't remember ever seeing a remotely accurate representation of that medium in film or television. But does that mean I didn't laugh at Frasier? Of course not. Nor do I think that The West Wing was an accurate portrayal of presidential politics. If only they were all so knowledgeable, clever and motivated. I suspect The Thick of It or Veep are in many ways closer to the reality.

Are there flaws? Perhaps. But we're one episode in so far. I understand that some reviewers have seen a few more, but I suspect it'll take time to gel. Is there a cable station like the one featured in The Newsroom? No. But that doesn't matter.

Perhaps Sorkin's biggest mistake was to spend time with some of the news men and women who work in the media. They've then seen their jobs "traduced" because Sorkin's not making a 10 part observational documentary, but a drama series that has to adhere to the structure of story telling on a weekly basis. Who cares if Jeff Daniels' character couldn't behave that way in real life, or that there's a certain amount of "speechifying" from the main characters. It's a story!

I could probably do without the soaring strings that are very reminiscent of The West Wing, but otherwise this is intelligent television, and there's little enough of that around.

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