I know you’re not supposed to say this only five episodes in, but I love “The Newsroom.”
I live on a constant rule that I need to be working hard every day, but not all day – it’s mandatory to take a Netflix break when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
So, because “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” hasn’t come back for a second season yet and I finished off “30 Rock,” I had a hole in my heart I thought couldn’t be filled. I had such a connection with Liz Lemon, as we both worked long hours rewriting. Together, we dealt with sometimes-ridiculous staff who, if they’d have done their work as well as they’d pushed our buttons, they’d have been stellar.
I thought I would never find a connection with a fictional character like that again. But along came “The Newsroom’s” Will McAvoy, and Mac. They started to heal me – and made me consider what kind of journalist I strive to be, both in the now, and someday, in the real world.
1. What I should be reporting
I think this is what struck me the hardest, looking at what I write now, and what I’ve reported in the past. I haven’t done too bad, when we look at my track record with the Royal Purple. Knowing I write long, I pick only the most impactful stories and art for my section.
My track record with UWW-TV, however, isn’t quite so nice and polished.
I used to co-host a show referred to as “The 10,” because, well, we talked about our top 10 stories of the week. For the most part, I wrote about things I thought mattered – the latest terrorist attack or shooting, politics (which my co-anchors loved) and breaking news that I’d push back the script for.
But then there would be times I’d write about a new iPhone. The Kardashian family adding a prematurely canonized family member. A story about a birthday cake that went viral.
I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I thought a cake had any relevance to my life outside a glance on Facebook.
I still see things from my prior perspective. Yes, people think the news is too negative, so we should fill it with just enough feel-good stories about overly cute dog-shaming and babies to make the audience happy.
But we make the audience happy like the parent who lets their children get dessert without making them finish their vegetables. They’ll love you for it, but it’s not good for them – we have to give the broccoli of the truth before we appease them with the chocolate pudding of puppies and viral videos. It’s the concept of content driving ratings, not the other way around.
You can’t tell me you wouldn’t be able to replace the last puppy package of the night with another news story – be it national, local, community-based – that could be beneficial to someone.
Seeing Mac list out her rules for their News Night 2.0 made me feel guilty. As it should, since I was feeding into the hashtag trend, and ignoring the problems right in front of me.
So now, I’ve loosely interpreted Mac’s rules to my own journalism career. Is this story in historical context, is this the best possible form of the argument? “Is this information we need in the voting booth?” has translated into “Does this matter to anyone on Whitewater’s campus?”
I’ll follow these rules, to be a journalist I’m proud of.
2. How I should treat my staff
I know having worked with people at the Royal Purple and UWW-TV long enough, if you don’t treat people like they’re valuable to you, they leave, or at least they think about it.
Watching Will wire a quarter of a million dollars to Egypt for the freedom of a native correspondent on the ground only reaffirmed that thinking. You stand up for one of your own, and for others, even if they aren’t your own.
I don’t necessarily only want to show my staff I care through monetary form, however; I want to make time to help them learn, and learn from them. Take time or them, and no matter what, let them know they’re invaluable to you, even if they aren’t.
3. What my role is
Prior to going off at the sorority girl, Will didn’t want to bother anyone, so he ran what all of the other news orgs did. He wrote what was safe. He’d approve ratings-driven content, not content-driven ratings.
Watching him interrogate anyone and everyone has clued me in as to how I should be approaching my stories, especially when I take on my role as a political journalist.
He’s not afraid to call people out and make them defend their position, and works to expose corporations like the Koch Brothers. I won’t be looking at the Koch Brothers any time soon, most likely, but I can at least take a more aggressive, in-depth look into the topic so I can make people really own up to their words, like Will and his team do.
My role is to be the representative of the people watching and reading, not the people I talk to.
I think my biggest take-away, however, is I have to live with the fact that I’m a Will McAvoy, who’s tasked with explaining the world to a bunch of “Dumb and Dumber” Larry’s.