The cable channel FX announced today that it is launching a weekly documentary series focusing on the inner workings of the New York Times. This is not to be confused with the new Showtime documentary series about the New York Times. Unfortunately for these desperate, gullible TV executives: media is fucking boring.
Do you think that working in media is like “All The President’s Men,” sneaking around to secret spy meetings and banging on tables DEMANDING ANSWERS for the PUBLIC, SIR? It is not. The cinematic world of working in the media is mostly like:
SCENE: A room full of computers.
[People typing quietly for nine hours]
FADE TO BLACK
If you want to make a fictional movie or TV series about hard-charging, hard-drinking swashbuckling reporters who are constantly rushing around making urgent phone calls to high level top secret moles that they later fuck, forbiddenly, though their lives may be in danger, that’s fine, and also it’s called House of Cards Season One. But if you think that you are going to make a documentary that is gripping and stunning and intriguing about the behind-the-scenes action of newspaper reporting: you are not. If you insist on making a nonfiction TV show on this topic, you can either have it be accurate (extremely boring) or exciting (fictional). Not both.
I worked for a long time at Gawker Media, one of the swashbucklingest American media outfits of this century. What was it really like? It was like a room full of people typing quietly on computers for nine hours. Sometimes there was free lunch. If you think that the New York Times is more exciting than that, brother, you have a lot to learn about the media. The New York Times is full of absolute fuckin nerds in blue Oxford shirts. If you think that covering the White House means your job is exciting, I pity your pitiable, and pitiful, ignorance. Covering the White House—or, for that matter, a major political campaign—is the worst job in journalism, combining long hours, the endless tedium of stage-managed events, and a total lack of news. The biggest scoops that White House reporters get amount to office gossip. It is prestigious warehouse of the damned. You could make a better documentary following around the high school sports reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. At least he gets to watch volleyball.
Because journalism looks fascinating from the outside, and because TV and movie people are for the most part not all that creative, we will continue to be forced to learn this lesson anew. Remember the smash hit Bravo reality series about the New York Daily News, “Tabloid Wars?” Exactly. (Again, tabloids are more interesting than most aspects of the media.) Just five years ago there was another documentary about the NYT, “Page One.” That one was pretty interesting. Why? Because it was about David Carr, a colorful and charismatic character. A primary subtext of the film was, “Check out this colorful character, surrounded by absolute fuckin nerds in blue Oxford shirts.” You can make an interesting documentary about a colorful and charismatic garbage man as well. And you should, before you make any more documentaries about the media. Your ceaseless films about journalists only encourage them to be more self-obsessed and ponderous than they already are. It’s bad for America.
The journalism that you consume is the interesting part of the media. Everything that goes into making the journalism is a fucking job. If you want to make a documentary about a job, at least make it about lion trainers or professional sky divers or treasure hunters. And when you do, contact me for my screenplay about an intrepid reporter who trains his lion to jump out of a plane—directly into adventure.