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Inside the newsroom with BBC One’s ‘Press’

A new BBC One drama on the enthralling life inside two fictional daily British national newspapers made its long-awaited debut last Thursday.

Press revolves around the day-to-day life of journalists at The Herald, a broadsheet newspaper, and The Post, a tabloid paper. The pressure to gain exclusive stories, alongside the financial demand to sell papers while still holding some form of journalistic integrity features heavily in the first episode entitled “Death Knock”. With the papers situated close to one another, viewers are immersed into the fiercely competitive and ruthless industry.

The show’s creator, Mike Bartlett, also known for Doctor Foster, spent ten years trying to turn his idea of producing a newsroom drama into reality.“It’s such an exciting world and one I’ve wanted to write about for a long time,” he says.  It seems now, more than ever, a show like Press is needed, given trust in the British media fell from 36 per cent in 2015 to 24 per cent in 2017, according to findings from the Trust Barometer Survey. When asked about the show’s purpose, Mr Bartlett said: “Everyone is going to need news because we need facts more than ever, and therefore we need journalists finding those facts more than ever”.

Everyone is going to need news because we need facts more than ever

Press boasts many talented British actors. Charlotte Riley stars, playing Holly Evans who is the deputy news editor of The Herald. Her character is a workaholic, seemingly confined to the desk despite revealing her desire to report on the ground. Riley’s character endures a turbulent personal life which becomes exacerbated following the death of her best friend and flatmate. The actress met Lisa Markwell, former editor of the Independent, to gain a greater understanding of the job. Upon their meeting, Charlotte revealed that Lisa “was very forthcoming re: the personal effects [of work] on her life.” Meanwhile, Priyanga Burford’s character (Amina Chaudury) is the editor of The Herald. The first episode portrays her as a generally good-natured and intelligent journalist. Her biggest challenge so far has been finding a solution to her paper’s falling revenue.

The Herald’s professionalism yet almost mundane nature is immediately contrasted with the glamorous and vivacious atmosphere at The Post. Editor Duncan Allen (Ben Chaplin) is a ruthless yet respected individual who knows how to cater to his readers’ views. In such a demanding position, he struggles to balance his personal life which becomes deeply affected. Joining the team is young reporter Ed Washburn (Paapa Essiedu), an Oxford post-graduate who has recently landed his first job on a national newspaper. He originally applied to work at The Herald but was rejected. “Death knock” follows his task of door knocking on the home of a young boy who committed suicide. Renowned actor David Suchet plays the paper’s owner, George Emmerson. He is the CEO of Worldwide News- an empire of multimedia companies.

Her character is a workaholic, seemingly confined to the desk despite revealing inner passion of reporting on the ground

Portraying the newsroom requires an in-depth understanding of the industry. Mike Bartlett, director Tom Vaughan and some of the actors sought to gain this by visiting several national newspapers, including The Mirror. The show’s creator also spent a year interviewing journalists in an attempt to precisely convey their fast-paced lives. The first episode can only be watched for a matter of time before noting striking comparisons. The Post bears an uncanny resemblance to Britain’s largest-selling newspaper and tabloid, The Sun. Its strapline, ‘For a better Britain’, is a slight alteration to The Sun’s ‘For a greater Britain’. David Suchet’s role as George Emmerson is clearly based on Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation who has had an indelible control over British media. The Herald is most likely modelled on the broadsheet-recently-turned-tabloid, The Guardian.

Some of the most important issues affecting journalism are exploredOne of the long-standing debates has been ethnic diversity within the newsroom. While The Post’s news editor, Raz Kane (Shane Zaza) and newly-recruited reporter Ed Washburn (Paapa Essiedu) are two BAME journalists at a national newspaper, some critics have accused the show of being too far from reality. In 2016, a study conducted by City University London found that British Journalism is 94 per cent white. By contrast, 2.7 per cent of working journalists identified as BAME. Upon reflecting on the composition of the newsroom, Mike Bartlett said: “It’s changing, but nowhere near fast enough. It’s not just about having a diverse cast, it’s about leads who aren’t white. They do it much better in America. It’s also about crews – they’re mostly white in this country. I feel like going forward, as a writer and an executive producer, I’ve got to insist on it [diversity].”

The first episode can only be watched for a matter of time before noting striking comparisons

Another prominent aspect tackled by the BBC drama is journalism’s gender imbalance. The Herald’s editor, Amina Chaudury (Priyanga Burford) is a female and BAME journalist in a senior position. However, the same City University London study showed that 55 per cent of journalists were male. And only 25 per cent of front-page stories in daily national newspapers during June and July 2017 were written by women, a shocking Guardian study revealed. Press clearly attempts to shed light on these matters as stated by Mike Bartlett. “That’s true of journalism, it’s true of TV, it’s true of theatre. Maybe [in Press] we are a bit more diverse than the real world but it’s really important. I just write the characters I want to see”.

One of the most deep-rooted industry trends are reflected. The Post’s Ed Washburn’s imminent rise from a post-graduate to a reporter on a national newspaper characterises some why still perceive the top newsrooms as being “too exclusive”. A 2016 report from Sutton Trust found that 54 per cent of senior print media were from Oxbridge while 51 per cent attended private schools. Hence, Ed Washburn’s inclusion as a junior reporter serves as a powerful reminder that the news industry is still dominated by a particular strand of society.

Only 25 per cent of front-page stories in daily national newspapers during June and July 2017 were written by women

Twitter timelines were flooded by journalists on Thursday evening. In a harmless dig at the introduction’s length, Press Association reporter Jack Hardy tweeted: “Sub-editors are going to be working overtime sorting out this copy from the star reporter in #Press”. And TV critic Paul Whitelaw also gave his review: “Mike Bartlett’s new BBC drama, Press, is an undisguised assault on the right-wing media. Good. It will annoy The Daily Mail. Good. It has a blatant left-wing bias. Good. The BBC is usually so timid, it rarely stands up to its most vociferous and powerful critics.”

Press may be the perfect antidote for an industry that is said to be dying. Popular Guardian columnist, Owen Jones, recently remarked how the “British mainstream media is broken”. It follows on Tom Watson’s comments to the House of Commons, as the Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. He said: “300 newspapers have closed in the last decade and there are six thousand fewer local journalists since 2007”. And given how much of the Donald Trump’s premiership as US President has featured controversial diatribes on the “dishonest” and “fake news media”, the new TV drama has come at such a critical moment when public trust in the media is declining.

Press may be the perfect antidote for an industry that is said to be dying

The show has said it wants to convey relevant and current issues. Parliament returned from recess last week which coincidentally timed alongside Press’ premiere. A *spoiler alert* for the first episode, if you have not already seen it, is the scandal surrounding Carla Mason (Lorna Brown). She is an MP who  becomes pressured into resigning once deeply incriminating and historic pictures of her surface. They vary from semi-nude to drug-taking images which are uncovered by Post reporters before being splashed on their front page the following day. These events were strikingly to the Damien Green scandal. He was called to resign as Minister of the Cabinet Office in December 2017 after an inquiry concluded he had breached ministerial code on a string of incidents. Most damning was pornographic material found on his office computer in 2008.

The BBC is enjoying riveting times whereby their dramas are attracting vast popularity. Fellow show Bodyguard has taken the nation by storm with its gripping storylines. Mike Bartlett will hope his show becomes a conversation starter, just as Bodyguard starring Richard Madden and Keeley Hawkes has.

Press will be back on TV screens later today for its second episode, airing today at 9.00pm.

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