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Maybe this happens in your profession or in some aspect of your life: a moment when you want to stand up before the world and say how proud you are of what you do.
That’s how I feel today – oddly not because of some magnanimous piece of journalism but because of an hour or two of pure fiction.
I don’t know if the TV series Newsroom accurately depicts the true sausage mill of a TV newsroom, but I can tell you this: It has the elements of adrenaline and some of the ego of the newsroom that I know and love well, and it made me teary-eyed proud to be part of an industry that introduces the first moments of history to your lives and carries forward the conversation about how we will recall those steps going forward.
Maybe you’ve watched this new program on HBO or heard about it. Maybe you’ve liked previous sojourns into newsrooms that have spanned nearly a century’s worth of movie and television screens, not to mention pages of myriad books. (My favorite: Humphrey Bogart’s editor in Deadline USA: “That’s the press,baby. The press! And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing!”)
Or maybe you’ve occasionally wondered what happens on our side of the fence.
Well, to be certain, the cable news network portrayed in Newsroom has little to do with what happens around here, but its foundation contains the same bricks and mortar.
Because what that program does do is reinforce the role in the media of informing the populace, of providing indispensable perspective and for allowing you to be part of what we attempt to accomplish.
I am saddened that these days so much of the conversation about our industry – our craft – is negative. Newspapers are folding, trimming and restructuring. Thousands of colleagues – talented, committed, life-devoted professionals – have had to find new options for supporting their families. Many use “media” as if it had one fewer letter.
That can make you want to play ostrich, to not look back, as if you are the unknowing victim in some bloody horror movie. Sometimes the shadow we cast is so dark and ominous, we become scared of ourselves.
But then comes along a big story, a big moment or a big opportunity that delivers us.
That’s what Newsroomattempts to capture, a fact that in fiction it tries to underscore, and in the maudlin, sentimental way that I view so many things, it made me want to tell you how essential that effort is to be delivering the news to you.
This is where the sales pitch comes in: You won’t find a source that dedicates itself to finding the true news about Shelby County like this newspaper does. You can read wonderful magazine stories about individuals, see beautiful images, and you will find occasional videos from the wreck, fire or court proceeding du jour.
But unless you read this newspaper, until the information is conveyed in ink on newsprint, it really isn’t news, even if you already heard it from a digital or aural grapevine.
I talked to a man the other day, a respected focal point of news reports on many occasions for a couple of decades, and here is what he said, paraphrased loosely:
The media in Louisville don’t care about what happens in Shelby County unless it’s something really big or something really bad. Then they show up and make everyone feel important.
That’s why when I see someone has called a TV station to tip it about news and events in Shelby County, it makes me very sad, because you are feeding a beast that only truly cares about you if you consume your young, to offer a bit of hyperbole.
Once, when I worked at that large newspaper in Orlando, we adopted a very expensive marketing campaign called “The Story of You.”
That describes what was attempting to happen there, to be sure, but ever more certainly it is what is happening here: We are telling the story of you.
Now in Newsroom, the script overtakes reality, of course. The stories of “them,” the characters, is the more compelling human drama than their manic rapid turnaround of a scoop on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But then the people on both sides of the news report are what really matter, aren’t they? The humans committing the deeds of humanity are far more intricate to us than any test scores, tax rates or what caused you to spend Sunday night without power, though all of that is vital information.
You make the news. We only relay what you did to everyone who cares and some who don’t.
That said, the timing of Newsroom’s debut was impeccable. As a former Pulitzer-winning colleague now employed at CNN reminded me, this was the week when cable network news struggled to report the Supreme Court’s ruling on immigration with authority, a flaw that employees reviewed at some length.
Then came Thursday, when CNN and Fox News both reported incorrectly the decision on health care for about 10 minutes before finally apologizing for that error.
Yes, that, too, is part of the newsrooms.
Because we are humans dealing with humans, there are mistakes – just like you.
And that’s the story we like to tell.