Chasing Windmills on “The Newsroom”

I don’t know how it happened, but I missed the premiere of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series, The Newsroom. It may have been the move across the country, the job hunting, or the lack of a television for several weeks that knocked it off my radar, however turning to David Carr’s Monday column I felt left behind, out of the loop. Worst of all, I didn’t know how I was going to watch it since I don’t subscribe to HBO.

Lucky for me, and the seemingly endless line of Sorkin fans out there, HBO made the wonderful decision to allow viewers to watch the first episode for free, in its entirety, on YouTube. I watched the first scene on my computer, then remembering that we recently purchased a smart TV, watched it on the bigger screen, until it froze, then back to the Mac. When I finished I re-watched scenes, taking note of key phrasing, a pastime of mine when seeking inspiration for the next CEO speech or VP quote in a press release. The West Wing remains a bottomless well (Sam, you always have to go with one of Sam’s speeches).

Carr had it right in his column, aptly titled “HBO’s ‘Newsroom’ as a Map for CNN”. Sorkin creates ideal worlds, not in a lack of morality or gut wrenching issues but in crafting the perfect response by those who currently lack solutions and action. In the past it was the Left, the fictionalized liberals who kicked ass and took names in the Oval Office and now it’s the talking heads that align more with sponsors than providing newsworthy information that launches dialogues at dining room tables across the country, raising our national discourse beyond the glittering appeal of fad reporting and gossip.

Sorkin’s new team, led by Executive Producer Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) and the talent, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), looks to reclaim journalism dating back to Cronkite and Murrow, when opinions filtered in on important issues and dialogues were held. Taking a stance is not enough; God knows we have plenty of opinions being shared on television today. Cronkite possibly best known by younger generations for his tearful report that President Kennedy was shot and killed also provided in depth, emotional reports from Vietnam. Murrow, remembered for covering McCarthy, demonstrated subjective journalism during his years as a radio broadcaster, incredibly so in his report from Buchenwald.

Sorkin, rather than waiting for the news to reclaim its journalistic roots, creates a world that kick starts those dialogues, albeit in the factual reporting of events from 2010, beginning with the BP oil spill. The enthusiasm of his characters makes me want to report the news again. Sure its not all as fast paced as the now famous Sorkin walking meetings, however between covering restaurant openings and polling residents on soft, local issues I photographed police brutality, uncovered embezzlement at a local nonprofit and investigated the impact that a cement plant across the border in NY would have on the local environment. My pulse still quickens a bit when I think back to uncovering real news, hidden from the public until a reporter like a dog with a bone would come along and smell a story.

In the end it’s about the presentation as Executive Producer MacKenzie reminds McAvoy early in the first episode. She tries enticing the anchor to return to real journalism by conjuring images from his past, even going so far as to quote lines from Man of La Mancha, the musical. Ultimately her best argument is that the news anchors and the countless staff of each newsroom decide how to frame the national discourse by shaping each newscast. It is an important lesson and one that I know I will long to be a part of each Sunday night, after I subscribe to HBO.

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