Monday, September 2, 2013

"The Newsroom" is to "The Wire" as Hollywood is to Reality

Discussing a story in the newsroom of HBO's The Wire.
A few weeks ago, journalists on CNN's Reliable Sources were discussing whether HBO's The Newsroom reflected the reality of life in a newsroom. The answer was, of course, no: it heightened office drama and competition between journalists to make the show compelling. It also sounded a lot like another show created by Aaron Sorkin: The West Wing. While The West Wing brought the White House to life, it was also preachy and over the top, with characters alternating between witty commentary and in-depth policy analysis with more speed and poise than even the smartest of our nation's presidents.

I can't help but think of a show only a few years earlier on HBO that was by the far one of the best written dramas ever: The Wire. The show depicted Baltimore drug dealers, police officers, drug addicts, politicians, and journalists as real people, struggling to survive in their jobs and their private lives. In the fifth season, the show goes into the newsroom of The Baltimore Sun, and brings together the problems that have plagued print journalism in recent years: from a reporter who makes up news (think Jayson Blair of The New York Times), to an executive editor who cares more about winning a Pulitzer than naming a source. There are even layoffs at the paper, something that has plagued newspapers across the country for the past decade.

Still, the most accurate depictions of life in The Wire's newsroom come from the moments that are most ordinary. There's the scene where the city editor is worried that he might have made a mistake in a story, and calls the copy desk in the middle of the night to double check. Many reporters are guilty of being that neurotic; it's part of a job where accuracy is key and your work is displayed in front of the world every day. And there are the scenes where the city editor is in the newsroom: focused and analytical as he assigns and reads stories, and frustrated and angry as he sees the integrity of the paper begin to crumble. It's not as frenetic and sexy as The Newsroom, but then again, life never really is.   

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