‘The Newsroom’ takes us to a new level of journalistic excellence

A new television show throws journalism, as we know it, under the bus and replaces it with a standard of ethical excellence not seen for a long time or, perhaps, ever. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a shame.

I am not a TV critic or a movie or theater critic. Just a guy who watches television and the movies. I am a fan. That’s all.

I did, though, spend a few years wandering the halls of print, radio and TV journalism. I know a little bit about what it’s like to work in a newsroom. This program, created by Aaron Sorkin, presents a newsroom where decisions about what to broadcast are examined, discussed and vetted to such an extent that the right decision almost always is made. Yes, that’s television, I know, but it presents a profession that I did experience from time to time and it is the best feeling in the world. When you deliver the news without fear, favor or prejudice.

In my experience, the rush to get the story almost always took precedent, but it was preceded by an examination, a discussion, and thorough vetting. But that was long before the user became the provider. Long before, what is now referred to as, social media took over the way news is delivered.

Now it’s all about getting the story first. “Breaking News’ has become the 21st century mantra. Such silliness. But the silliness can turn ugly. For it is in the rush that the facts get lost, balance is shredded, and fairness is discarded like a well-used napkin.

Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” takes us to higher plane. It takes us to a place where the right decisions are made and when mistakes do happen, there is accountability. And the accountability is front and center, not hidden at the end or buried at the bottom.

Obviously, I love this show. But I love the show not only because the stories are intriguing, exciting, and emotional, which they are, but because the journalism practiced is an ideal lost on many in today’s hurried zeal to get it now.

It was realized just a short decade ago.

How quickly it has evaporated. For a moment, put aside the tabloid, paparazzi madness that permeates all of  the news business. That idiocy is easy to criticize. Let’s take a look at some of the slippage in mainstream news, whether print, radio or television.

Humor me as I recount just a few examples: There was a time, as an example, when it was unthinkable to interview another reporter as a source for a story. Now, it is common practice: “We have with us today John Smith who has been covering this story… .” There was a time, as another example, when news outlets prohibited mentioning themselves as source for the story. Now, it is common practice: “Following a report published by the… .”

Believe it or not, there was a time when the reporter of a story was not important. It was the story that was important, not the reporter. Now, it is common practice for reporters to parade up and down the news cycles of talk and internet chatter programs; “Today on our show we have Jane Doe with the Ledger who is the reporter on this story along with members of the Green Party and activist Minnie Merger. Jane why don’t you outline the discussion for us before we begin.” Unheard of years ago.

Let me be clear, I have met some extraordinary journalists working in today’s newsrooms. They have honor. They have ethics.  They are fair. Their stories are balanced. These journalists practice the profession to the highest standard possible. I stand in awe of their ability to get the story, get it right and get it first.

Journalism practiced to the standards of “The Newsroom” is an honorable profession. Journalism practiced to the standards of some today oftentimes has no honor, has no profession. It just noise. Lots and lots of noise.

Anyway, I highly recommend “The Newsroom.” It appears every Sunday on HBO at 10 p.m. There are three new episodes left. Watch and learn, as I do, about a way to practice journalism in a fair, balanced, civilized way. Talk soon.

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About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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