The Newsroom: How to improve our election coverage, Aaron Sorkin-style

Under fire … Mackenzie McHale sits uneasy about the Genoa coverage on The Newsroom.Dibs on Aaron Sorkin’s crystal ball.
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I mean, his foresight when writing this show is uncanny. Those that have been following this season’s Newsroom will have no doubt looked to the recent goings-on in Syria – the military intervention and the accusations of chemical warfare – and seen the outrageously close resemblance to the fictitious Genoa storyline that Will McAvoy and the ACN crew have been investigating (albeit with some roles reversed).

And in another act of sheer serendipity, Sorkin and Co. have teed up a two-parter season finale enmeshed around US Election Night 2012, while the remains of our own sit freshly in the subconscious.

Save for an overly patriotic motivational speech (“Our elections are the envy of the world!”), we are privy to a grippingly tight broadcast – executive producers swimming in voices and numbers cannoned across the newsroom floor, a chaos filtered through to the anchor’s desk.

They’re fascinating beasts to watch, these election coverages. It shows off our news and media hacks as real people after all: off-the-cuff, prone to gaffes, slipping-up over sentences. Everything is flowing, responses are dynamic, and dead air is forbidden. It’s beautifully unscripted drama in itself.

So, as I watched this week’s episode, amidst desperate pinings that our election coverage and results were only halfway as dramatic as this, it made me ponder: what can our media networks learn from the drama-fuelled bombastic bubble that is The Newsroom about covering an election? Or American coverage in general?

Yes, the arguments that our coverage is more balanced and less sensational than anything they can muster will abound in the comments below, but you can’t deny the Americans have got this dramatic formula right, even outside the realm of drama.

Here’s how they do it:

Get Angry

It seems everyone on air is ready to detonate with the slightest provocation. Perhaps it’s because these broadcasts are sans bathroom breaks, or perhaps it’s the prospect of a near six hours of content to fill, but everyone is on edge. Sloan and Elliot duke it out on and off-air for the right to retell clever anecdotes, and screech at producers around them. Injecting a bit of ferocious personality would be a welcome addition – for mine, I couldn’t get the thought of the ABC’s Annabel Crabb and Kerry O’Brien in make-up duelling over witty anecdotes (from my head); “No, I want to draw the analogy that Kevin Rudd casting his vote today was a metaphor for his entire campaign.”

Anger = tension = good television.

Get Partisan

One thing the Americans networks have often shown us is that objectivity is dead – BUT they’ve replaced it with the notion that competing subjectivities is just as good. We can debate the media ethics of that somewhere else, but thank the stars for having guests that can speak their minds, and not speak in riddles, rhetoric, or bland reassurances!

Having Republican strategist Taylor Warren (Constance Zimmer) go into bat for the conservative agenda was compelling to watch against the left-leaning ACN. She even celebrated Republican seat victories with a fist-pump – and come on, if she gets one, you’ve got to at least allow Australian Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells a fist-pump, surely!

Antagonism = tension = good television.

Get Personal

In The Newsroom world, personal on-air attacks are a dime a dozen, and the election night was no different. Whether it be accusations of bias, scutinising personal politics, or bringing up the monumental, if not multiple, ‘elephants in the room’ without the slightest of hesitations, election coverage cries out for the casting of heroes and villains. Panel animosity is the lifeblood of gripping broadcasts.

Controversy = drama = good television.

Get Suspenseful

No offence to ABC commentator Antony Green, but those numbers and the ol’ slide animations we parade around on election night are drab. I mean, ACN have a ‘decision room’, the pumping antechamber of the whole operation, where statisticians debate over when to call a seat. That’s a pearl of a dramatic device right there.

Let’s inject some of that suspense into the decision process – I want to see some Sorkin-style verbal sparring over whether to call the New South Wales’ electorate Eden-Monaro. Just don’t be culturally reductive in casting your primary statistician – because, in Sorkin’s world, apparently the only person who could possibly be the head of stats division is an Asian woman.

Suspense = tension = good television.

And to next week’s season finale…

There’s a few loose storylines to wrap up. Will invoked the dismissal clause in Mack’s contract, and absolved her from the pangs of her own guilt after Genoa, but no-one will bet on that lasting.

Meanwhile, Don’s now being sued in a separate action by the disgraced Jerry ‘No Smiles’ Dantana for giving him a malicious job reference, and the irrepressible Don delivered one of my favourite lines of the season to lawyer Rebecca Halliday (“You’re a member of a godless, soulless race of extortionists”).

And everyone’s waiting to discover whether News Night will regain the trust of the public, and that may start with breaking the news of director of the CIA David Petraeus’ extra-marital affair, as was revealed in the closing scenes.

Just to end on a high note (something that may have slipped under the radar)…

The Newsroom has been renewed for a third season! Jeff Daniels tweeted the news a week ago, despite HBO having not confirmed it, but if The Newsroom has taught us anything this season, it’s that tweets are valid sources now [HBO did later confirm it was true].

It’s official. #Newsroom coming back for a Season 3.— Jeff Daniels (@Jeff_Daniels) September 4, 2013

So, tell us what you think in the comments below – does our election coverage have a thing or two to learn from America?

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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