Nitty-Gritty of The Newsroom- Journalism Week

By Melissa Gerson

Photo courtesy of Victoria Peckham.

An Editorial

In a time of overdramatized doctor shows and lackluster soap operas, it seems television that depicts everyday life does not truly reflect reality. Last June, West Wing writer, Aaron Sorkin, gave the world a chance to see a fictional news show come alive in the new HBO hit show, The Newsroom.

After spending several months at a major network news station, I can assure you that the show certainly has authenticity. Whether it’s when a producer makes a snide remark about his office being frigid during the summer (the first rule of newsroom etiquette is bringing a coat) or handling major breaking news and election stories, these types of newsroom events and behavior really do happen.

While interning at a The Evening News, I had the chance to see breaking stories come alive. There are really no words to describe the energy that comes from the chemistry of the staff at that moment. While it was certainly a professional office, people still peppered their reporting with wisecracks and went out after a job well done, just like on the show. Both at the fictional ACN at the real-life CBS, there’s a corporate family that develops due to the fast-paced nature of the news cycle.

Which is what Sorkin’s depiction of making the news gets the most accurate: Even at CBS, there is an intense energy of newsroom. Imagine it being 6:58 and the show airs at 7:00 and things are still being put together. Katie Couric is at her desk reading through his scripts, the EP is in the control room making sure all of the technical chaos is in order. Unlike a premium cable drama, the news is live, so even smallest mistakes can be broadcasted to millions of viewers.

Coincidentally enough, I assisted on the same stories that Sorkin wrote into the show. The most exhilarating one was, of course, Osama Bin Laden’s assassination. Just like on The Newsroom, our Evening News team came together to create a breaking news story. Evening News Senior Producer, Jim Harper, made sure that Katie Couric had all the facts, and scripts were in check before the copy was sent to the news desk – exactly as Mackenzie McHale does for Will McAvoy on News Night.

That being said, let me give you a disclaimer that The Newsroom is still a show, not a real newsroom and should only be viewed as such.

I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy to learn how to be a doctor. I can’t rely on Friday Night Lights to make me a football player. I most certainly do not expect to become a singer from Glee. However, I can promise that you will get a sneak peek into the world of a newsroom when you watch this show.

But of course, it’s on  HBO, so the show has to mix together ridiculous office drama, love triangles, drug abuse, and the occasional death threats from bloggers. After all, the show needs viewers to stay on air. It’s no breaking news that half of the fictional News Night crew tries to sleep with each other and that the EP (that’s executive producer in news speak, no pun intended) would have a past relationship with the anchor. One of my favorite unrealistic tropes of the show is how the president of the news division constantly has a glass of bourbon with him.

It’s these little details that are grossly inaccurate. Trust me, I truly wish that personal assistants would get promoted in mere seconds to associate producers and that anchors could toke up before a groundbreaking broadcast. It’d certainly make for an interesting newscast. But for all that The Newsroom gets pitch perfect, the sad truth is it still has to be a television show.

Yet outside of the theatricality, The Newsroom is about giving you a fictional look into how producers, news personalities, and a networks join to create something truly special: a newscast.

As Walter Cronkite once said, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror to show the public what has happened.” Well, while the show is not always an exact reflection of a newsroom, it still gives an authentic image. I can honestly say that Aaron Sorkin brought my passion for journalism to the silver screen in the best way he could. Hey, if Dan Rather gave the show his stamp of approval, it must have some validity, right?