It’s a term thrown around so much in the media today amid political polarization and mudslinging debates that the severity of what it means becomes lost. In an age where journalism affects how we see, process, and act on current events more than ever, it can be difficult to imagine a world without a biased media often more interested in money and ratings than honesty and facts.
The news and how it affects the average American’s daily life is growing more and more relevant, as our fast-paced world only grows faster and our constantly connected social lives only more connected. In the middle of this constant chaos, The Newsroom provides a refreshing perspective on what it means to report the news with integrity.
The Newsroom is a drama created by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Alan Poul that aims to show what it means to be a journalist in the modern age. It delivers with equal parts skill and wit how America’s current standard and delivery of news is not the best — but it can be.
The first season of the show is 10 episodes and mainly follows Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), a “down the middle” cable news anchor that aims to keep everyone happy by not mixing messy politics in with current events. This approach keeps ratings high and conflict low. He faces a challenge, however, when the station hires his ex-lover MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) as the program’s executive producer. What follows is a shift from a nightly program to “News Night 2.0,” challenging both the company’s need for ratings and what viewers consider to be quality news.
Sorkin and Poul skillfully develop each character throughout the season and interweave humor & emotion within each one’s growth. Will’s character begins annoyingly irritable and explosive, and while Daniels maintains this persona throughout the season, he also softens Will’s facial expressions and reactions as time progresses. He allows the audience to see the heart that has been hardened by the past that Will carefully hides from his peers.
Secondary characters develop through their personal & professional losses & triumphs alongside the leads. Namely, Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) mature as the season progresses. The two grow to become more assertive and confident in their journalistic decisions, but it is their almost immediate chemistry when they interact with each other that makes their stories so enticing. Their snarky remarks towards one another in the newsroom contrast against their longing stares and clumsy rejections of having feelings for each other strategically sprinkled in between conversations.
The season revolves around events beginning in mid-2010 through debates leading up to the 2012 presidential election. While these events (such as the BP oil spill or the day Osama bin Laden was assassinated) may be memorable to some viewers, it is the growth of the characters as they learn from each big story more about reporting and more about themselves that makes the show memorable. While the dramatic scenes keep viewers entertained, it is the overarching themes of integrity and honesty that move them.
Stylistically, Sorkin and Poul make use of camera angles to reflect the intensity and time crunch journalists work under to report stories. The viewers’ attention dances between quick cuts and snippets of conversations in the station’s newsroom when important details for a story are at stake. The balance between close ups on individuals scribbling down notes or frantically making phone calls and long shots of the organized chaos of the staff working together demonstrates how much the job demands.
Camera angles and the length of shots also convey the tone of given scenes. The extra second of eye contact between Will and MacKenzie, the beat of waiting before cutting away from Maggie as she begins to question her feelings, the slight zoom in on Will’s face before he literally runs to a story. Each one gives that needed feeling of passion, concern, and humor without the actors even having to deliver a line.
The soundtrack of the show works to reflect the tone of scenes or episodes as well. Music is not used often as a plot device, so when a melody creeps in, the viewers’ ears perk up at the potential of an indicator of what is to come. While the often corrupt or even despicable topics covered in the news program show that not everyone gets a happy ending, there would be an occasional hopeful song to end an episode on a high note, or a moving piano melody to emphasize the emotional connection between characters, showing that even the smallest victories count.
Each technique, scene, and episode all culminate to ask the audience to ponder what it really means to act in a modern world with honesty and integrity. By discussing journalism and holding it to high standards, The Newsroom simultaneously discusses what it means to hold ourselves to higher moral standards as an American people. Despite living in a politically charged time, we are still expected to act based on what is true, which is not always the information we are fed by people motivated by money and power.
Fake news is not going to go away.
But the way we react to it and hold media outlets and authority figures in our society alike accountable will determine how we move forward to greatness as a country.
The Newsroom is rated TV-MA for mature audiences.
After watching The Newsroom you may want to watch…
Directed by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (2015) stars the ensemble cast of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci. The Oscar-winning motion picture tells the true story of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” feature team as they investigate a scandal involving Catholic priests sexually abusing children of the Church. Through the moving performances of its strong actors, the film captures the mission of a publication & its reporters learning how damaging uncovering the truth can actually be and shows how dark truths change the way we view our society.
Spotlight is rated R.
Director Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994) tells the story of Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton), a metro editor for a small New York City newspaper that finds himself on a 24-hour quest to publish the accurate story after two black teenagers are wrongly arrested for the murder of two white men. The movie follows several plot lines and gives viewers stories of journalism ethics, workplace drama and keeping a marriage together, all coming together in a 90’s-esque drama to show how the whole world can change in just one day.
The Paper is rated R.
Elizabeth Dyer is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl