Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Am Not a Professional Journalist AKA A Quasi-Review of The Newsroom

Warning starts with a few True Blood season four spoilers. Highlight stuff to see it

I love me some internet, and I used to love True Blood until it started getting stupid. They introduced Tara in season four as the most genre savvy character. She is the one quick to point out that Marnie isn't exactly a team player and will probably sell out everybody if comes down to a choice between her "friends", death to the vampires, and her own mortality. She also points out that Marnie isn't completely sane either. Yet, she signs up as Marnie's/Antonia's lieutenant.

How'd she expect for that to work out? (Obviously spoilers)
Rocks fall and mostly everyone dies.

That I could forgive. For the sake of the plot they needed someone in the coven who Eric and Bill cared enough about not to just order a carpet bombing of the place.
But then turning Tara into a vampire, that was just unforgivable. I mean out of all the characters Tara is the one who everybody knows does not want to wake from her grave. Especially after the wiggins from season 3.

So I kind of gave up on True Blood, but every now and again I read a recap on Television Without Pity. Recently started reading their The Newsroom recaps and halfway through it became clear the recaper hates the show.

I liked it. I still do. But then I started reading other reviews and it became clear. Journalists, with the exception of Dan Rather, hate this show.

After a little thought I realize why. It's kind of smug. Couched in valid criticism is the assumption that Aaron Sorkin, the show's creator could do better.

I am a blogger and have a journalism degree, but I am not a professional journalist. I have almost no experience in a newsroom. Moreover broadcast was never my thing. Web and design were the areas I took most of my courses in. But let me rebut some of Sorkin's 'implied criticisms and level a few of my own at his show.

News Judgement
Journalists try to get quality information out to the public as quickly as is reasonably possible, but the complicated stuff, that takes research; interviews, phone calls, gathering documents, going over them, investigating ground sites, occasionally even scientific testing and external expert research firms. Nobody does an exit poll by themselves these days.

My point is the reason why breaking news seems to just scratch the surface is that sometimes  gathering details and figuring out a narrative takes time. Furthermore fact checking those details takes more time. Nobody magically knows anything. People have to sort through the available information. The show likes to say journalists have crappy news judgment (Sometimes they do.), but some of the stories it provides flat out didn't exist yet. They aren't psychics. The problem is the show has the benefit of hindsight. The writers of the show know what the story is going to be because it already happened. Regular reporters don't. They have to just fumble around in the dark.

The series almost always deals with the types of big complicated stories that require research and tact, and then will quickly find an angle of the story that took weeks or months to develop in real life. Journalists have to look into these big complicated stories, try to wrap their heads around them and then explain them in a way the American people can understand.

For example nobody really expected the debt ceiling to be a thing. Everybody always threatens to hold it hostage, but then it eventually gets passed usually with a little pork albeit. It took a while for everyone to realize. Oh shit! This new congress might be serious on this one. And it took even more time for everyone to realize that the American public doesn't necessarily understand what the debt ceiling is.
Which leads me to the day to day

The show only deals with the big stuff.
My personal gripe with the show is that it focuses on the big stories, but what about the smaller ones. Not just the human interest stuff, but the stories that are important, but probably won't end up in the history books in 20 years. I guess what I'm saying is I what to see these characters on a slow news day, when there isn't necessarily some earth shattering story. I want to see them sitting in a meeting where the question isn't the angle or the sources, but, "What happened that we can talk about?"

Okay. You know what? I get it. Television shows thrive on personal relationships, love interests, bladdy bladdy bla. Hey in all honesty I don't care. It's TV. But seriously with all the temper tantrums, emotional breakdowns, interoffice dating, shouting matches, and workspace smashing how the hell does anyone actually get any work done? Most of these people would have been fired in less than a week. J-School is supposed to beat unflappability into you.

You are not supposed to get emotional.

Which leads me to.

This is where the show really gives out mixed messages. And as a result becomes almost unwatchable in its hypocrisy. I hate talking heads. You want to know the cure for that? Objectivity. Why I dig good ole Cooper. The man is relatively even handed. Right, left, everybody, well almost everybody respects him because of that even handedness. Sorkin's protagonist has ultimately become the thing he hates, an arrogant self-righteous talking head and he fails to realize it because God (the writer) happens to agree with him.

I wrote about this earlier
but the thing is everybody has opinions, but objectivity in my view is about realizing that your opinions and views are no more or less valid than anybody else's and as a result, it is an abuse of power to use press' role as speakers of truth to convince people to think as you do. The thing is people view what the press say with a certain authority even when it's opinion, conjecture, or speculation. So those are things to stay away from. Especially when you know you're right. God help us from the man (or woman) with a soapbox and 30 million viewers who knows he's right. Thanks to Sharpton I still don't know what to make of the Zimmerman case.

That's not to say opinion doesn't affect reporting. I'm just saying why in a perfect world it shouldn't. It's what good reporters aspire to even if they fall short of it.

By the way as much as I like Obi Wan, all forms of mind control are evil. I mean these troopers were just doing their jobs at the check point and they probably died. For all we know they're The Galactic Empire's equivalent of beat cops . We know Vader doesn't tolerate failure. He isn't exactly the understanding type. Shit rolls downhill, my friends so guess who probably wound up with the blame for the Death Star exploding. You know the brass is not taking that one, at least not by themselves. The whole Sith mantra is backstabbin' and getting ahead at the expense of others. See chance for glory and power, kill your mentor. You think they're gonna take one for the team? You think they're taking personal responsibility. Hell naaaaaw!

Wait what was I talking about again? Oh yeah, The Newsroom. Right back to that fully armed and operational news station.

Look I'm a guy who will go down with the ship...when I need to. The show is made up of a lot of martyrs without a cause. I'm not saying a journalists shouldn't be willing to fall on their sword and take a risk for a story. On the contrary, I kind of respect that. But if you're going to take the sword through the neck you damn sure better know exactly why. Calculate your risks. My point lawyers; I wish I had 'em. God I wish I had them.

The protagonists basically told a dude to sneak into a military compound during a civil war. What could possibly go wrong?

Great show Monster is by the way. Both the sub and the dub are on Hulu.

I'm not saying there is never a story worth risking dying over.

And I'm not saying there is never a story worth risking burning some bridges over.

I'm just saying those should not be your go-to first options. At least ask the question does this story require the risk. Most journalists, even war correspondents take some kind of precautions in those situations, that is one of the reasons for the proliferation of embedded journalism. Nobody wants to take a mortar shell or IED.

The Economics of News
I got my degree 'cause I thought I'd make money, well more than a literature degree would get me. Oh how young and stupid I was, well younger and stupider at least.

Sure the household names get paid pretty well, but most journalists don't make a lot of money. They are underfunded to all hell.
According to the United States Department of Labor, the 2011 median annual salary for a reporter was $34,000.

I'm saying all of that to make a point. On television people like to make speeches about how money doesn't matter, but in the real world it does, quite a bit actually. The building, microphones, travel expenses, cameras, teleprompters, computers, editing software, soundboards, and monitors all cost mucho bucks. Last I checked most of the professional grade versions of that stuff cost a least a couple grand a piece.

Somebody tapping everyone on the shoulder and saying , "We have to make our ratings quotas so our advertisers don't jump ship and make it so that no news gets out." is a necessary evil. The thing about mass media is in order for it to work it has to be mass. The typical media business model is to get eyeballs by having content people need or want. Advertisers pay for those eyeballs. Use the money to ... do cool stuff. God I wish I could afford a new camera and a couple hotel nights in Lansing. Even circulation (subscription revenue) depends on having a critical mass of eyeballs.

"Doing a good show for a hundred people," would result in a stockholder riot in about six days.

And speaking from personal experience not having the critical mass of eyeballs sucks donkey doo. Damn you Google ads.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Facebook Comments

Note: These Comments are from all across this blog.