Friday, January 25, 2013

A great business

I'm writing this blog because I love you more than I love my own happiness.

Tonight, when I have some time to myself and I'd like to continue watching episodes of The Newsroom during this free time, I'm sad to say that I am compelled to write a blog rather than just sitting back, relaxing and enjoying some mind-numbing television.

Okay, I could say that. Except The Newsroom is in no way mind-numbing. It's barely even television.

For those who don't know anything about Aaron Sorkin, I can't say that I don't identify. For the longest time, this man was just a name I'd heard on occasion. I knew he was a screenwriter, an auteur, the kind of content creator that becomes associated with various tropes and for his work as a whole. Not because he's Nicholas Sparks and creates the same story over and over that happens to sell despite its repetition, but because he creates an interesting product no matter what kind of show he creates. There are similarities of course - in that they are inherently "Sorkin" - but they stand alone as beautiful pieces of television.

So you may not know his shows. Sports Night (which I admittedly have not seen at all), The West Wing, Studio 60 and now The Newsroom. These are fairly niche programs. They go into the background "production" of various lucrative (or, if not well-paid, then fascinating) careers and the fictional people who work in them.

The names are all pretty self-explanatory. The West Wing is about the inner workings of the White House, Studio 60 is about the production of a comedy variety show and The Newsroom is about, well a newsroom.

For many these might not seem too fascinating of subjects. Most of America enjoys watching shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, How I Met Your Mother, American Idol (let me just say that I'm not comparing or equalizing these shows, they're all unique and valuable in their own right). Not everyone looks to receive a behind-the-scenes insight into national government, television production or news reporting and production.

You know who does though? Aaron Sorkin.

He also brought you The Social Network, which despite being another of his slightly niche programs (though it took on the form of an unauthorized bio-pic), ended up becoming one of the most popular films of the year. It was lucky because it covered a pervasive topic that had stimulated the public's interest.

His other interests don't necessarily do that, but for those of us within these various fields they're inevitably fascinating.

For a while my interest in journalism has been waning. I am a journalism student and I continue to contribute stories to campus news organizations. I look for summer intern work within the field. But I guess it's inevitable that when you devote yourself to a subject, it starts to lose its charm and intrigue.

Journalism always seemed fascinating to me when I wasn't in the thick of it. It was like an experiment that I was watching, but I could not participate in it. I couldn't touch it.

Now I'm running my hands through it, getting them tangled in messy webs of editing and AP style and journalism ethics. The reality of it makes me forget what it was that fascinated me about the industry in the first place.

Enter The Newsroom. I only started really watching this show on my way back from London this December. Until then I'd not really thought much about it. I had enough television to occupy my time. I didn't need to find another show to take up hours with.

But there wasn't much to do on the plane. I was getting sick of sitting through mediocre movies that I was only moderately interested in watching. So I decided to switch it up and try an episode of The Newsroom. I spent the next few hours of my flight watching the first three episodes. If I hadn't landed and had to exit to go through customs, I would've watched even more.

I don't know if it's just me - and my idealistic notion of what journalism ought to be - but something about The Newsroom always strikes that emotional chord with me, forcing me to reminisce back to a time in my life when journalism was the be all end all of life. I had to write, I had to become a reporter. It seemed inevitable and it's all I wanted.

Over time my priorities have changed, and I attribute it in a way to being disenfranchised by this business. In my experience it's managed to lose some of its former glory. But watching The Newsroom reminds me that the glory is alive and well. It may be fictional, but that doesn't mean that the power that journalism once had over me is unattainable, or worse, non-existent.

Now that I've written a whole blog, I feel like I am ready and deserving of another episode of the show. I've paid my dues and now it is my time to be entertained once again. It really is a spectacularly powerful and interesting insight into the industry and into news itself. You wonder how it gets made and here it is right before your eyes. Perhaps it is made more fantastic than the typical newsroom scenario might play out in reality, but it's this idealism that explains why anyone wants to be a journalist in the first place and why, even when we've lost that initial spark, it is possible to gain it back again.

This is a great business, and I'd just like to thank Aaron Sorkin for reminding me of that.

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