“News Organizations are a public trust with an ability to inform and influence the national conversation.” –Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner in “The Newsroom.”-Season One, Episode Three.
A made-up news show reflecting what news should be is both ironic and unsettling. Too often news organizations give their audience what they want in lieu of what they need. Fox News and CNN are well-known outlets for their stances. I’m not saying that all media are to blame. Local and medium-sized outfits do pretty well. National organizations should pay attention.
To make our media better we have to care about what is presented, instead of digesting more of the same crude infotainment.
Enter then HBO’s “The Newsroom,” and some of the lessons it could teach us. The show is in its third season and stars Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner, Emily Mortimer as Mackenzie McHale and Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing. The first three are anchor, news department head and executive producer respectively of “News Night” with Fonda as the owner of Atlantis Cable Network. (ACN)
Lesson one: The truth hurts, but that doesn’t mean you should keep quiet.
During the pilot episode McAvoy presents a fabulous tirade about why America is not a great country anymore with statistical figures and examples. His outburst while lengthy makes the audience think. News should keep our audiences informed of what is going on around the world and not just in our own backyard.
Lesson two: In a rush to cover a story don’t join the bandwagon.
In season one episode four McAvoy is pressured by Reese Lansing, played by Chris Messina who is the president of the company, to inform the ACN audience that Gabrielle Giffords died as a result of her injuries. Many major outlets are reporting this as fact based on an NPR report. McAvoy refuses and they later hear confirmation from her doctor that she is being prepped for surgery.
Lesson three: If you make a mistake own up to it and move forward.
Vetting sources is paramount to any news report. In “Operation Genoa,” which covers season two, episodes two-seven, Will, Mac, Charlie and others are given a fake story by a trusted source. Add in junk evidence by the same source, withheld information by another source, and the tampering of interview footage by an employee at ACN and they inadvertently air a bunk story.
Upon learning of their massive failure Skinner, McAvoy and McHale are willing to fall on their sword, but Leona Lansing will not accept any resignations. Instead she wants them to earn back their credibility. A mistake like this, or getting the names of certain bombing suspects incorrect, can happen. When this occurs the information should be retracted and updated with a sincere apology. Lately, though I have seen plenty of the former and less of the latter. Frankly, I’ve had enough. It’s time get back to our roots.
*All information for this article came from the following:
**“The Newsroom,” is created and written by Aaron Sorkin and is directed by Alan Poul, Greg Mottola, Lesli Linka Glatter, Jeremy Podeswa, Alex Graves, Joshua Marston, Daniel Minahan, Jason Ensler, Julian Farino, Carl Franklin and Anthony Hemingway. Other writers include: Brendan Fehily, Corinne Kingsbury, Ian Reichbach, Dana Ledoux Miller, Adam R. Perlman, Camilla Blackett, Michael Gunn, Matthew Lopez, David Handelman, Elizabeth Peterson, Cinque Henderson, Paul Redford, Amy Rice and Gideon Yago.**