Often how the Journalism profession is portrayed in books and movies is usually a kin to equating them with ambulance chasing lawyers or paparazzi. It’s a somewhat earned reputation by a percentage of the profession but not anywhere near all. Most journalists are hard working for low pay, even a lot of people working in broadcast with the exception of anchors etc. Print journalists these days, well I can’t imagine anyone making a living as a print reporter. They could do a story on what the government lists as the poverty line and wish they were making close to that. Plus, it’s not an easy job. Unless you’re working for a tabloid you can’t just invent stories. People have to do something, something has to happen, then you can write about it.
Enough of my defense of the thousands upon thousands of good hard-working Journalists. My thought at the moment is about two examples where a book series and a tv series is finally showing the good and ethical side of the profession.
First the book. The Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson does just that. (though admittedly I’m only at the end of the second book). Most people will know it for the first book “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” (Don’t see the movie read the book.) Mikael Blomkvist is how I think most investigative journalists want to see themselves. Strongly principled, highly observant, loving a mystery but more than that, loving to put all the pieces together and present it to the masses in a clear and easily understood format. Blomkvist also has something else good journalists have. His principles no matter how strong are not inflexible. Sometimes things do not need to be known to the public if they don’t concern them. “Dirty laundry” is not the same as steaming piles of public dung.
Each of the books is a mystery, and sometimes there are small mysteries within the mysteries. And it’s not just the journalistic integrity of the staff of Millennium Magazine that is the example but Stieg Larsson himself. He was a Journalist first then a novelist. So when you really see the story through his eyes. For example (no spoilers) in one of the chapters there is a group of police persons sitting in a room. The people are described in the same manner as if a journalist was taking note. The “narrator” introduces each person with a very compact bio taking note of the most obvious observation and just enough history as so the reader can identify the person later in the story. Maybe those who have never interviewed a room of people won’t see it. But I did. In fact the entire series so far has to been like reading something I would hope to write (if I ever dared to write fiction which I won’t). What I mean is there are no obvious questions that are not asked. Those that are not answered you understand that the non answer is in itself and answer.
Sadly, Larsson died in 2004 at the age of 50 so when I finish the third book, I don’t anticipate anything else like it ever being published.
As to the TV Series. That would be HBO’s The Newsroom. It’s the first show that truly says some things that really need saying and understanding.
1) That there is more pressure to gain ratings than there is to get a story right. Now I know most people are thinking, yeah duh…but have they really thought about the people that are feeling this pressure. Does anyone really think that people leave journalism school saying themselves I want to make my living spoon feeding one-sided/money-censored news to the public? (And that’s both sides by the way and corporate and government money). No, every young journalist dreams of the big breaking story, that’s true, that’s pure, that will change the world. Walter Cronkite covering the moon landing. Peter Arnett covering the bombing of Baghdad in 1991…
2) The realization that the public today doesn’t want unbiased news. Just like it doesn’t want the traditional radio station. It wants podcasts, playlists, DVRs and Video on-demand. It’s entirely possible to consume a ton of news, entertainment and music these days and never once hear anything that isn’t what you like or from a shared opinion.
3) And this is purely personal but for me it captured the emotion of a newsroom. The quibbles and the camaraderie. The furor when something goes wrong, the personal issues, personality clashes and the overwhelming joyous exhaustion when they get the story right. Journalism is one of those professions where you can be right. Not kind of right, not good enough for government right. I mean 100% right, doing a public good, warning of dangers (the real ones) and making a record of history. There aren’t many other jobs that offer a chance to preserve moments in time.
Now I could talk a lot about the show’s plot and whether I do detect some political leanings but it really tries not to and I don’t want to put in any spoilers because it’s really worth watching, especially if you’ve ever spend time in a newsroom of any kind. I think what I love about The Newsroom is not that it’s completely unbiased but it celebrates the effort of trying to do what’s right, even if they sometimes get it wrong.