‘The Newsroom’ and ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ 2.0

It’s been an exciting week in journalism. The same week that Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer’s characters on HBO’s The Newsroom decided to change the way news was reported in the show’s premiere episode, the real media became the news after flubbing the coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care ruling. I’m looking at you, CNN and Fox News.

One look at my Twitter feed on June 28 showed that teasing jokes about CNN and Fox may have equaled those about the court ruling most of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) constitutional.

Enough has been said about how embarrassing, disappointing and pathetic it is for two (once?)credible news organizations to make such a gaffe – many of those tweets made their way onto Buzzfeed’s “25 Funniest ObamaCare Tweets.” So I won’t add to the CNN/Fox jokes, though I did love this one:

Instead, I’ll just say this: the Twitter age is demanding instant news from these organizations that are, at the same time, failing to balance business and journalism. Journalists are human beings. I’m not trying to justify what happened, but when we as readers value speed over truth and context, there is bound to be human error. That’s what we saw last Thursday. Sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me if these major flubs become even more common. In a competitive industry where speed and accuracy (two values that hardly go hand-in-hand) are key, smaller newsrooms won’t lead to success. Until readers, owners and advertisers realize the importance of a journalist’s work and find a way to balance the need to make money with the need for accurate information, there won’t be any improvement.

Which brings me to The Newsroom – HBO’s newest drama, by The West Wing‘s Aaron Sorkin, challenging the American media and its audience to be better. It seems fitting considering the state of the news industry that Sorkin would write a show about the behind-the-scenes drama at a cable news channel. The Newsroom isn’t perfect or realistic or unbiased, and probably won’t have much of an impact on the media or the electorate, but maybe watching an idealistic take on the journalism industry will, at least, remind us all of the importance of good reporting, and for those of us in the industry, it might remind us why we chose to go down this unpredictable career path. As we move forward in defining the journalism of tomorrow, it can’t hurt to remember the journalism of the past and find a way to be better.