Aaron Sorkin is a name that scriptwriters have come to revere. He’s responsible for some of the most thoughtful film and television to grace screens of any size in the past decade. Now that his latest series The Newsroom has arrived on DVD, it’s well worth a trip to your video store.
The Newsroom is a fiction set during the real events of 2010-2011 and focuses on the efforts of a team of journalists trying to cover them. Jeff Daniels stars as Will McAvoy, the veteran host of ‘News Night’, a flagship program that has become more about summarising the tabloids than serious debate. The recruitment of executive producer MacKenzie McHale lights a fire under his set. She tells Will she is determined to reclaim journalism and reintroduce America to the Fourth Estate:
“A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect, and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot; a place where we all come together.”
The Newsroom’s tension is mainly driven by our determined appetite for the sickly-sweet. Audiences are uncertain how to take the re-ignited McAvoy; employers are threatened by his trend away from the saccharin stories that deliver ratings. But as the drama unfolds we get a glimpse of what news could actually become to a nation – a service.
This is not the first time Aaron Sorkin has used entertainment to make audiences think. His multi-award-winning The West Wing gave us an insight into the barriers that prevent politicians from achieving solutions and the rare qualities that lead to their greatest achievements. On the other side of the equation, he used The Social Network to show us that a real relationship-builder was unlikely to emerge from someone who didn’t understand friendship.
Once again Sorkin is a prophet of hope, and this time around the hope he has in mind is that people will make better decisions if they embrace the idea of becoming better informed. So, while explaining their new program, Will McAvoy tells his audience:
“From this moment on, we’ll be deciding what goes on our air and how it’s presented to you based on the simple truth that nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate. We’ll endeavor to put information in a broader context because we know that very little news is born at the moment it comes across our wire. We’ll be the champion of facts and the mortal enemy of innuendo, speculation, hyperbole, and nonsense.”
Bravo! But the problem is there are two sides to taking truth seriously. As a journalist I side with Sorkin; I’m sickened by what nightly newscasts have become. However their ratings are each made up of our individual decisions to keep watch, or at least not turn off their drivel. We not only need well-supported facts, we need to want to face them. Remember what Jesus said about truth?
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It’s probably one of his most popular quotations, but it was said to people who didn’t want to acknowledge they’d been taken in by a different story. That’s the battle Newsroom faces: audiences who see no need for change. But Jesus wasn’t banging on about a better nightly bulletin for Palestine. His premise was that the essential step to learning the truth was ‘holding to his teaching’. That’s what provides the context for everything, that we are slaves to sin and in need of his salvation. And I could wish for better news services that would pare away the innuendo, speculation and nonsense to present Jesus accurately, but whether people listen will still be up to them.
Release Date: Current