By Kyle Austin
Like everyone else who was living with PTSD (Post- Traumatic Sopranos’ Deficiency), I was eagerly anticipating the return of HBO’s “The Wire” on January 6. Four weeks into the fifth and final season and it has not disappointed, even though the hometown Baltimore Sun notes that viewership has declined. The Sun’s coverage of the show continues to be ironic, as the fictionalized Baltimore Sun newsroom has taken a leading role in the final season.
After four seasons of covering the drug dealers, police and politicians of Baltimore it is no accident that cities journalists are getting the spotlight in season five. Producer David Simon spent 12 years at the Baltimore Sun as a police reporter before being the victim of a buyout in 1995. His unique look into the newsrooms of America in 2008 has been a highlight of the final season and has been praised by many as the most honest and comprehensive look at journalism in television history.
However, there are others that wonder if it is only us within the industry that like the new twist, and others still who wonder if the only reason we are watching (and blogging) is because nothing else is on (Yes that strike is still going on). David Carr of the New York Times took a detailed look at the Simon’s examination of journalism early this week in a column titled “Ex-Newsman Laments a Dying Craft.” In which he exquisitely notes Simon’s love and loathing for his original craft that that has been brought to light in this final season:
“There are gorgeous, loving grace notes in “The Wire” (reporting, for instance, is exalted as “the life of kings”), but the newspaper business is depicted as the playground of the venal, the inept and the cynical.’
Simon himself published an Op Ed in the Washington Post just last Sunday entitled “Does the News Matter to Anyone Anymore?” In which he finally faces what me be the toughest thing for him and other newsroom journalists to face – The Internet will eventually kill off every paper in the U.S. outside of the New York Times.
“Perhaps it was all inevitable. Perhaps the Internet is so profound a change in the delivery model that every newspaper — even the best of the best — is destined to face retrenchment and loss. Perhaps all of this was written in stone long before I was ever wandering around a student newspaper office with a pica ruler sticking out my back pocket. Perhaps everything written above is merely Talmudic commentary.”
Simon, as the New Yorker recently and exhaustively portrayed, is a “Stealer of Life.” He has the unique ability to capture real life events and re-create them for his audiences in gripping reality. That intense ability makes his newsroom re-creation almost too close to home, as David Carr also describes in his piece.
You get the feeling that the current state of the newspaper business and its firings (Hello LA Times), buyouts (You too Boston Globe) and turn to sensationalistic reporting (Let’s get after Britney AP), is almost too much for him to take.
Anytime you hear an editor at the fictional Sun say “We have to do more with less” or “We have to cut our foreign bureaus and offer buyouts to senior staff,” you almost feel Simon snarling in the background. I mean the guy even takes time to respond to posts on Romenesko from (real) Baltimore Sun writers that argue that his newsroom scenes are drab. That my friends, makes for good television and an authentic look at newspapers circa 2008.