How will The Newsroom deal with the 2012 news cycle?

April 3, 2012

The trailer for The Newsroom hit the internet yesterday. Since we be talking about political drama, you have to wonder how Aaron Sorkin’s going to handle the at all times and in all places news cycle. The show’s already siphoned off into an alternative reality–Will McAvoy, straight news reporter, has 1.1 million nightly viewers on a cable network. Maddow is the only non-Fox evening show at that 1 million peg. Like, unless the straight news is being read by Kate Upton, naked, I don’t think it’s really selling in the cable environment.

But to the overall point, here is Sorkin talking to the Atlantic Wire in their awesome “What I Read” series:

The upside of web-based journalism is that everybody gets a chance. The downside is that everybody gets a chance. I can’t really get on board with the demonization of credentials with phrases like “the media elite” (just like doctors, airline pilots and presidents, I prefer reporters and commentators to be elite) and the glamorization of inexperience with phrases like “citizen journalist.”

When I read the Times or The Wall Street Journal, I know those reporters had to have cleared a very high bar to get the jobs they have. When I read a blog piece from “BobsThoughts.com,” Bob could be the most qualified guy in the world but I have no way of knowing that because all he had to do to get his job was set up a website–something my 10-year-old daughter has been doing for 3 years. When The Times or The Journal get it wrong they have a lot of people to answer to. When Bob gets it wrong there are no immediate consequences for Bob except his wrong information is in the water supply now so there are consequences for us.

As the saying goes, the problem with free speech is that you get what you pay for. Obviously there are great writers and thinkers publishing on the web and there have also been times when citizen journalists have made a positive contribution to the public discussion, but I think the cost/benefit is way out of whack.

The news cycle of 2012 is not the news cycle of 1998, when Sports Night premiered. The guys on television spend all day on Twitter, breaking stuff on Twitter, picking up stories on Twitter–the Buzzfeed-Bigs kerfuffle over the Derrick Bell video that spilled over onto Hannity would be a good prominent instance of permanent dissolution of barriers between the mediums. One slice of that is how the show will deal with the reality that above all Drudge, but also the Buzzfeeds and the Hot Airs, drive political news.

But the other, bigger one is the pace of the news cycle. A large portion of my day is spent trying to beat competitors in posting video, for instance.

Here’s Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti on Andrew Breitbart:

“He taught us a lot of things early on,” Peretti said, recalling how Breitbart showed them key features of the media ecosystem. “He explained about looking at the British newspapers late at night because they would sometimes break news before the U.S. papers. He cared about getting links up seconds or minutes faster than other publications and was obsessive about that.”

Here’s Dave Weigel on Breitbart:

What lesson were we supposed to learn? Back when he staged the JournoList intervention/inquisition, he was trying to tell me that the gatekeeper media was dying. No one could control the news cycle anymore. No one trusted the press anymore. Just declare your bias and get to work, because anybody with a camera or an Internet connection can take you out or show you up. I don’t think Breitbart won his culture war. The political media culture we’re living in now, though, is the one he made.

It will be interesting to see how Newsroom rolls in such an environment.

(Somewhere between related and unrelated: I am not a Sorkin fan. My iPhone autocorrected “as” into “A’s” for a few months in the fall because I texted with such anger about Moneyball for so long that my phone just gave up and slipped into some kind of phone dementia.)

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