I have no clue who writes Neal Sampat’s part in The Newsroom and also do not know if there is a special writer in charge with inserting new media issues in the series’ script, but if there are people doing this, they are doing a masterful job while leaving some of us downright frustrated.
Not sure if you guys have seen the Newsroom, Sorkin’s latest TV hit series, starring Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels, but if you haven’t and are interested in the whole debate over journalists vs bloggers, citizen journalism and crowdsourcing, you should give it a try because it lays on the table some interesting scenarios.
So, here’s the deal (no spoilers, don’t worry): the ACN works with a bunch of editors and assistants to put together a news show based on news that matters. Among these people who have spent time in war zones, embedded with soldiers or covering the Courtroom beat, we have Neal, who is the guy maintaining the show’s website AND writing Will McAvoy’s (the main anchor) blog. Neal is the new media guy and the one writers use to raise issues related to social and new media.
To start off, what’s wrong with this picture? One guy? To maintain a whole website and a blog? Okay, because sure enough new media is cheap, free and easy to do. Will and the show also have Twitter accounts, as we see in Season 2 when @pepperberg send a tweet to Will with the #ACN. Who mans these accounts? It seems the same guy, Neal who is also a consultant on what the news show’s and Will’s reactions on new media should be.
Neal Sampat also gets in touch with Wikipedia page editors – so he has privileges and knows something about creating back links (Season 2, when Mac’s Wikipedia page needs altering), knows how to manage “complicated information” like phone aliases (Season 1, when Mac accidentally emails everyone using an alias), can unblock phone numbers (Season 2, when two pranksters try to get on air), monitors tweets (Season 2, when Jesse hashtags ACN when trying to come out on air), follows Reddit and other aggregators and is involved with OccupyWallStreet (Season 2). Again, this is ONE guy.
Meanwhile, Will does not know he has a blog, (“Will cannot find Will’s blog”, quote Mac in Season 1), he is amazed there are more than a thousand websites in the world, has no idea you can have an authentication system for comments (Season 1) and while pondering on the importance of communicating on Twitter eventually gets sidetracked by the more important problems of The News.
In turn, every single major character of the show goes through what seems to be a crazy display of unawareness of the use, importance, role or new/social media while, at the same time, being helped, tipped off, taught lessons by the same. Mac makes fun of Anonymous and Jim brushes off Wikileaks, Leona and Rebecca shamefully mention Twitter as a source of info and Jim and Don use Twitter tips in the show without giving credit to the source. Don is actually involved in a textbook situation where a rumor he starts gets picked up by a random site, which gives him (or the show?) the opportunity to point out just how unethical online journalism is. Sloan’s broken relationship gets exposed on a photo share site and really, the incident that sets off the entire series is Will’s breakdown captured on phone camera and SHARED on Youtube.
One cannot help but feel that whoever is writing this stuff is trying to raise a lot of questions about online and new media. The problem is that most of the questions raised do not seem to get a real answer and Neal Sampat’s struggle is never vindicated by a win. What also strikes me as odd is the speed at which a bunch of ultimate professionals [as the guys in The Newsrooms supposedly are] catch on. It takes 20 episodes (!!!) for anyone in the studio to start really discussing new media as MAYBE something one should pay attention to. That’s a long long time. BTW, no mention of Facebook. Probably the writers didn’t get to find a way to insert that into the conversation.
If anything, The Newsroom only works to show how difficult it is to position new media within the Media landscape. It’s like they cannot decide.
But frankly, by this time some things have been decided.
[images from Hollywood Reporter and HBO Canada - I liked them both, but together ]