I love the hit US TV show The Newsroom. It's the tale of a news show that makes a conscious decision to shun sensationalism and ratings, and focuses on 'real' news. They lose viewers, but gain much more. I know this is fiction, but I feel inspired when I watch it.
I am proud to work at The Press. It is a paper that gives a voice to the poor, the exploited, and disgruntled red-zoners. A paper that is not afraid to question those in power. A paper close to its community. But last Friday, when the newsroom opted to cover David Bain's wedding, I did not feel so proud.
Bain may have become a public figure, but his wedding was held at a private venue. The media sent helicopters and cameras to hover above the ceremony anyway.
Maybe I feel disappointed because I'm fresh out of journalism school where I learned that an invasion of privacy could be justified only if there was strong public interest. Now there is clearly a strong interest from the public in this type of news. The story was one of the most read across all national news sites over the weekend. But did it bring positive change? Expose wrongdoing? Shed light on serious hypocrisy?
If the media uncover new elements about Bain's case, the public should know - this is in the public interest. The colour of the groom's shirt and the length of the bride's dress? I'm not sure.
One of the themes of The Newsroom is the struggle between the money men and the news team. Without ratings there's no revenue and everyone loses their job. At The Press we don't have ratings, but without readers, there would be no paper.
The line between what interests the public and what is in the public interest is a tough one to find. As a reporter, it is not my place to decide what prominence a story gets, or whether sending a helicopter is necessary. Last Friday, I was glad for it.
Some viewers find The Newsroom too idealistic, and probably I'm too idealistic too. So once decisions were made, I did my job - like everybody else - and contributed to the reporting.
However, not everyone welcomed the stories. The editor received more than two dozen letters complaining about the coverage. Some called for more regulation, others said they were disappointed, outraged, or offended.
Usually, when I see these letters published, I want to leap to my paper's defense. But when I saw these, I reflected on the role the public plays in guiding what the media cover. If the public wants to read about celebrity weddings then, as a professional journalist, I might have to report on that. But when the public demands other sorts of news, I might get to report on that instead, and I'll feel better for it.
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- The Press