Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Newsroom: “Doing the News Right”

Published in the Sunday Times, 3rd March, 2013

This week a new television series will air on FBCTV titled The Newsroom. The series is a powerful new drama created by Aaron Sorkin, who created the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning series The West Wing.

Broadcast in the United States just last year, The Newsroom takes us behind-the-scenes of a nightly cable television-news program. The show centres on Will McAvoy, a former lawyer and prominent journalist who now anchors (host) a nightly television network news programme; his new executive producer, the newsroom staff and their boss..

The trailer for the series caught my eye when I was back in Fiji for vacation, featuring Will, played by Jeff Daniels, “losing it” during a question and answer session at a university. On my return to Korea and in my last few days of vacation I decided to watch an episode. I ended up watching the entire series.

The series begins in the aftermath of McAvoy’s meltdown, as head of the news network Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) appoints a new executive producer for the news programme, MacKenzie McHale, played by Emily Mortimer. Will is frustrated with how news has become a slave to advertising and ratings rather than the truth. MacKenzie, a seasoned journalist who has covered the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their boss Charlie, an old newshound himself agree with him one hundred percent. They commit themselves to “doing the news right” and are supported by the newsroom staff.

The series follows the team’s mission to do the news well in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles-not to mention their own personal entanglements (MacKenzie just happens to also be Will’s ex-girlfriend).

The series addresses the very serious issue of the struggle for journalistic integrity, getting the whole story, and running the right stories, in the face of a highly competitive media industry where the ratings determine content because ratings equals revenue.

Having worked in the media industry for more than two decades and been part of the first regular live-to-air news programme, the show resonated with because of the struggle of the character of Will McAvoy to change not only the way that the news is done but to ultimately change the way in which audience receives the news – not merely as entertainment or info-tainment but as information that will help them make important decisions about their lives and how they chose and hold their government accountable.

I also felt that there may be similarities between this fictitious group of journalists struggle with corporate interference and our own local journalists struggle to adapt to working in the context of the Media Decree.

I personally feel that the series should be required viewing for all journalism students, would be journalists and may be good television therapy for our hard working journalists in Fiji. The series lays out the challenge of getting not only the facts right but knowing the whole story first and giving all sides of the story by not only how it can be done but more importantly what happens when it is not done. It also provides a challenge to television news broadcasters and broadcasters in general to not just use presenters who can read the teleprompter or announcers who can introduce songs and read dedications but people who can conduct insightful interviews and talk about the issues that matter in people’s lives.

All that aside, I also enjoyed the series because it is also about people, team dynamics and relationships. Credit must go to the show’s creator Aaron Sorkin, is not only a screenwriter but also a playwright and producer whose works includes A Few Good MenThe American PresidentThe West WingSports NightStudio 60 on the Sunset StripCharlie Wilson's WarThe Social Network (for which he won an Academy Award)  and Moneyball.

The Newsroom also has some great comedic moments that offset the drama. Co-star Oliva Munn, who plays the news programme’s highly intelligent and qualified but socially-challenged financial news reporter Sloan Sabbith, cut her teeth in television on Attack the Show! and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Also co-starring in this series is Dev Patel (of Slumdog Millionaire and Avatar: The Last Airbender) who plays a blog writer who provides research material for the news while constantly trying to convince the producers to run a story that Bigfoot exists.

The Newsroom airs March 5th on FBCTV.


Rev. James Bhagwan has won awards in print, radio and television and is currently a Masters in Theology student in Seoul, South Korea. 

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