HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’ and the “romance of journalism”

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As HBO launches the new season of “The Newsroom,” the infotainment  intelligentsia are all over the Internet making fun of Aaron Sorkin’s hyper-romantic Valentine to journalism.

Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan and other purveyors of news and opinion scoff at Sorkin’s “heart-on-sleeve earnestness” and “magical belief that better news coverage could fix America.”

Not so long ago, that magical belief was a consensus point of view.

Florida’s newsrooms were stuffed with shy social misfits, charismatic class clowns, outlaws and outcasts, all drawn to the business by a shared belief that journalism was an end in itself, a sacred public trust.

Small town Florida news organizations were pipelines to bigger Sunshine State newsrooms that exported talent to the best news operations in the world while keeping plenty of world-class talent here at home. 

Today’s bench isn’t as deep as it used to be. Journalists are decamping in droves to public and private ministries of disinformation, where the pay and hours are better and there’s always a chance of picking up a no-bid contract from someone you used to cover.

For people old enough to remember “Meet the Press” moderators who broke stories and opposed efforts to criminalize investigative reporting, The Newsroom’s tag line, “Together they stand alone,” is neither corny nor detached from a reality described by the late Palm Beach Post publisher Dan Mahoney as “the romance of journalism.”

Mahoney was to The Post as Will McAvoy is to Sorkin’s Newsroom.  This season, Sorkin tells USA TODAY’s Bill Keveney,“[McEvoy] really begins to take on the role of (being) the big shoulders in the office.”

Mahoney’s big shoulders were inherited from his father, a publisher from central casting whose career at Cox Newspapers included a colorful run at the Miami News.

Mahoney raised The Post’s game and the blood pressure of local miscreants when he named (former St. Petersburg Times Sports Editor) Tom Kelly as the newspaper’s editor and left him alone to muckrake as he saw fit. The miscreants hired libel lawyers and fought back.

Sometimes, when big stories were breaking and process servers were lined up at the door, Mahoney would slip an arm around someone looking especially stressed. He’d lean down and grin and whisper, “This is what you wanted … the romance of journalism …”

Then he’d depart for lunch at the Yacht Club.

Mahoney, like Sorkin, wanted readers, sources, advertisers and plaintiffs’ lawyers to see his Newsroom  as “cowboys in white hats.”  It was good for democracy… and good for business.

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