The Newsroom in the Age of Infotainment

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Buzzfeed is not real news. Don’t get me wrong, I love Buzzfeed just as much as the next guy, but it’s not. The Onion is hilarious, too. Their headlines are poignant and clever every time. That said, it’s still not news. Why don’t we add Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s recently ended Colbert Report to that? They aren’t news either. Of course, they don’t try to act like they’re news. Either Stewart or his correspondents mention, normally once an episode, that they’re a “fake” news show. They’re not out to fool anyone, they just want to entertain people.

The problem is that legitimate news is becoming more like entertainment and less like, well, news. Many of us sniggered at the recent headlines about Fox News publicly apologizing for falsely reporting areas of cities in France and England that live under Sharia Law, but behind the hilarity there’s a sad truth: relevancy and facts are becoming less and less important in the newsroom. Today, it seems pageviews and ratings reign supreme.

Imagine, in the world of Clickholes, Onions and Colberts, how difficult it must be for a real news show to gain and keep viewers. Who wants to watch someone simply report the facts when you can watch John Oliver on Last Week Tonight scream about the importance of net neutrality, heroically calling on internet trolls everywhere to fight for our right to a reliable and equal internet?

Millennials are especially hard to convince that actual news is worth watching as opposed to entertainment news, but anyone of any age should be able to appreciate Aaron Sorkin’s television show, The Newsroom. It’s no longer on the air and the only place you can find it legally is on HBO GO, but watching is definitely worth it if you can pirate it or find a friend who’s willing to share their HBO GO password.

If you can get past thinking of Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, as Harry from Dumb and Dumber (it only takes a couple of episodes, I promise), you’ll find yourself falling in an inexplicably deep man-love with the character… not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Like most popular characters in the entertainment age of the anti-hero, McAvoy is a complete asshole, but you’re willing to give him a chance because of the way he’s introduced. You’ve probably heard his monologue somewhere online about why America is NOT the greatest country in the world, and it’s a good speech, but that monologue isn’t what makes you fall in love with him. You love him because even though he’s a mean person, he’s doing everything he can to be better, and it’s one of the hardest things he’s ever done.

You’ll be hooked to the show by McAvoy, but the rest of the characters will keep you watching once you discover that everyone else is just as conflicted as he is. Everyone wants to be better but they each have their own demons they just can’t shake.

On top of this collection of Man vs. Self struggles, we have a newsroom that needs to be run against all odds. These odds include profit driven network owners, sleazy gossip columnists, campaign managers, eccentric billionaires and even the United States government. The diversity of personalities in this series is staggering, but you will end up, against your better judgement, finding something you like about each of them.

The Newsroom also does a great job of staying relevant in the new digital age while reflecting the tension between old and new forms of media. Among the cast of side characters is actor Dev Patel playing Neal Sampat, the blog writer and tech extraordinaire. By the end of the series, it can almost be argued that Sampat becomes the main character. He is constantly struggling to prove to the veteran reporters that new digital media; sources on Twitter, blogs and online video, can still provide the groundwork for real news if treated correctly. His work becomes increasingly important – and dangerous – to the newsroom as the story progresses.

Wrapped up in the plot, as with all Aaron Sorkin shows, are multiple romance stories, each one more awkwardly cute than the last. In such a serious setting, sometimes taking a few minutes to focus on a romance subplot seems a little jarring and unnecessary. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at one point while watching screaming, “Kiss her!” to the television, alone in my apartment.

The end of the third season is a little weak and cheesy, but you have to keep in mind that the show was cancelled at the end of this season and the writers had to create and wrap up a huge list of events and subplots in a small number of episodes. They did the best that they could.

Learning about the news world and getting another glimpse into Sorkin’s political commentary is fascinating, but what really drew me to the show was its sense of inspiration. From the first episode to the last, the viewer is filled with the sense that this news team can accomplish anything, reach any goal and surpass any hurdle. Seeing these troubled characters work so hard to lead honest and meaningful lives will spur anyone to make more of themselves. There are many reasons the show should have been on the air longer, but I believe that its capacity to inspire is the most important.

It’s a pity the show was cancelled and I don’t know why it was. Perhaps America wasn’t ready to invest itself in the show’s message of truth, credibility and being your best self, just as our country finds itself pulling away from real, hard news and gravitating more towards entertainment.

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