Our current president openly displays his disdain for the media, and his supporters have jumped on the journalism-bashing bandwagon. Students and colleagues alike know I enjoy politics and am a journalist, so, even though they tend to know where I stand on many issues, they seek me out to discuss topics of the day. I do my best to educate them about pertinent aspects of journalism while dancing around politics. In all of these conversations, it is clear to me the people I am surrounded with also question the validity of the media.
Journalism in the United States has existed since the birth of our country. It plays a pivotal role in the democracy, and it witnesses some of the most significant moments in history. It keeps the public informed. The role of journalism is to be the Fourth Estate and keep those in power honest, truthful and conducting business out in the open, but some political figures seem to have launched an all-out war on industry, making it difficult for the work of journalists to be conducted. How did this happen? How did journalism become so targeted and denigrated?
I don’t have an answer, but I aim to at least get my students thinking about these things.
Because journalism pervades all aspects of daily life, it often shows up in entertainment as well. Since the 1900s, journalism and journalists have appeared as characters in popular culture. There are some great films with journalists as the leads (you can see a fairly comprehensive list here), and this affords an interesting opportunity to learn from these depictions. With entertainment being a reflection of the times, considering how journalism and journalists are portrayed provides insight into the psyche of society.
I recently launched a series of assignments with my students to look at the influence of popular culture on society. Celebrities and stars carry immense weight in public perception. If they get behind a social cause, public support swells. Has the way journalists are depicted in movies and television created the groundwork for the way journalism is currently regarded? Though there is not a definitive answer to be found, we will explore the idea and develop our own conclusions.
In order to develop my students’ thoughts on this, they are taking part in a blogging initiative. After each pre-defined portion of our study into the the depiction of journalism in movies and television, they write a blog post either addressing a specific question or sharing their thoughts on how the portion of the production depicted journalism and journalists. We started with “The Newsroom,” which was produced for HBO. It ran for three seasons from 2012 to 2014.
In using “The Newsroom,” I’m not proposing it is a shining star for how journalism is depicted in popular culture. I recognize its hits and misses, but I think it is an engaging and entertaining show my students will actually get into, which will make for fertile discussions. I know the show never received extremely high praise. The reviews were always mixed, until the third season. Then, it began to be better received. Sadly, by that point, the show was winding down. Some believe the show failed (“Why did Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom Fail?”), and journalists chimed in about the show as well. Some loved it, some thought there were lessons to be learned from the show, and others hated it because it was “an homage to everything that’s wrong with TV news.”
After “The Newsroom,” if this project goes according to plan and seems to be succeeding in spurring a deeper discussion about how journalism is portrayed, I plan to do continue with journalism-orientated movies. This type of project isn’t my norm in teaching journalism to my students, but I felt I needed to do something different to reach my students about what journalism really is and should be . . . entertainment seemed like an area where it might be easier to start the conversation.
Obviously, if they are in the class, they probably view journalism a little more favorably than others. However, they may not have the words or background to intelligently discuss journalism with people who look down upon it. I don’t believe this is the magic bullet. I just hope it will open a door for deeper discussion that can then seep out into the rest of the school and the discussions taking place. It’s an experiment. I hope it works, but I’m prepared for it to fall flat on its face.