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HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’ and Media Credibility

If you haven’t tuned into the Aaron Sorkin-penned drama The Newsroom on Sundays, you’re really closing out your weekends wrong. The critically acclaimed HBO series starring (the superb) Jeff Daniels details the inner-workings of a major news network struggling to find its identity, with Daniels’ portrayal of cynical lead anchor Will McAvoy firmly entrenched in a mental tug-of-war between ‘newsman’ and ‘political attack dog.’ One episode gave us insight into the announcement of the near-fatal shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. When many of the other leading cable news outlets announced that Giffords had perished (based on one false report), McAvoy resisted making such a claim, much to the dismay of his producers who often put ‘being first’ over ‘being accurate.’

“Every second that you’re not current, a thousand people are changing the channel!” exclaims a furious Reese Lansing, President of the news network.

The response: “It’s a person. A doctor pronounces her dead, not the news.”

And so began our interesting conversation in this morning’s staff meeting, where we discussed an ongoing trend since social media was accepted as a viable form of receiving news: timeliness trumping accurate reporting. An unfortunate side-effect of the second-to-second news cycle now available via Twitter and the like is the chaotic flurry of information immediately following a breaking story. In the struggle for news superiority, often, the facts take a backseat.

This is one of the negative aspects of social media. With smartphones and a culture that’s plugged in 24/7, everyone is a reporter; and while John Q. Public isn’t required to answer to an editor or confirm the facts, word still spreads like wildfire on the Internet and influences public knowledge and opinion.

The attention gained from being the initial whistleblower is negated when the facts you presented were unfounded or off-base. The reputation you’ve crafted as a reliable source of news is diluted by your desire to be the face presenting the news. Confirm the facts before blasting to your followers online.

The gripping seven-minute scene (warning: language) surrounding Gabrielle Giffords in The Newsroom is as much Sorkin’s social-commentary as a plot-point. In the race to be first, in the monetization of the media, the truth is sometimes the casualty. This indictment of the news business can serve as a cautionary tale going forward, where confirming the facts returns to the industry standard and emphasis on ‘being first’ is put on the backburner.

-Carter Breazeale

PR/PR Public Relations

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