I didn’t necessarily expect to recognise everything in the newsroom of BBC One drama Press. After all, this was supposed to be the storied realm of the nationals, not the rough-round-the-edges regionals where I plied my trade.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel that too much of the essence of a real newsroom hadn’t been captured by Mike Bartlett’s series opener.
For starters, there was nowhere near enough swearing. Maybe that had to be watered down for a TV audience, but for the character of Holly Evans (the deputy news editor portrayed by Charlotte Riley) to make it through the hour with barely a profanity uttered was staggering. There was far, far more swearing than we saw in either the Post or Herald’s offices in the newsrooms I worked in. Not necessarily because everyone was angry, it was just the everyday vernacular. It’s one of the things you have to learn when you leave – not every workplace deals in the same language, if indeed there are any. I’m not saying Bartlett’s script should’ve been littered with ‘C bombs’, but it all meant the dialogue felt less real to me.
Where were the cups of tea?
That wasn’t all either. These were just some of the other questions I had:
- Why was no-one moaning about the ‘content management system’?
- Where was the anger at InDesign crashing?
- Why did no-one bang their mouse in frustration?
- Why were the desks so tidy? There really should have been piles of old papers everywhere.
- Why were there no distasteful jokes and black humour?
- Where were all the cups of tea?
- Why did no-one ring in with a daft complaint?
- Why did no-one have an annoying phone call from someone in PR?
- Where was the frustration that a 17×4 had suddenly become a 17×9?
Some of those probably wouldn’t have made great drama to be fair – but a couple of them might’ve made the setting feel a little more real.
Poor design and awful writing were unforgivable
Still, worst of all was the actual ‘journalism’ shown on screen. The design of the Herald looked more like a terrible student project than a real newspaper. Couldn’t they have found someone to at least knock them up a realistic looking front page?
— Gavan Becton (@GavBecton) September 6, 2018
That was nothing compared to the intro glimpsed when our intrepid deputy news editor came to rattle out a story. Faced with writing a story about dramatic CCTV footage showing that a police officer had run over a young woman and left the scene without stopping, she churned out a plodding, rambling load of nonsense that would not have passed the quality test on any paper I worked for.
Indeed, when I was training we used to have whole sessions dedicated to fine tuning our intros. They were marshalled by a perennially angry Scotsman who pounced on any poorly constructed opening sentences and pulled them apart. These were good lessons in tackling a story’s most important – and most difficult – element. He’d have had a field day with the garbage we saw on screen I’m sure. I know it was supposed to be the middle of the night and she’d had a few drinks but surely a deputy news editor would craft something sharper than this?
— Jack Hardy (@JackHardy9) September 6, 2018
The Mirror’s Fleet Street Fox jumped straight in to correct the copy on Twitter, showing how it probably should have been done.
Could that intro get any worse. “THE HUNT is on for a killer cop who mowed down a teacher and left her to die in the road.
“CCTV shows a police car smashing into Andrea Reed, 34, on her way home – then speeding off as she lay on the tarmac… MF” https://t.co/3ewbLBBrWT
— fleetstreetfox (@fleetstreetfox) September 6, 2018
Some bits rang true, but it felt like a missed opportunity
Not everything felt alien, though. There was a death knock – more on those another time – a scruffy pool car and a disgruntled photographer (although I was lucky to work with some nice ones). Ben Chaplin’s self-assured-but-flawed tabloid editor felt like it might well be on the money. The scenes in which the journalists discussed budget cuts and finding too many errors in their finished titles probably rang most true of all.
At the end of the day, Press is clearly a drama and not a documentary. It’s possible that most of the things that frustrated me wouldn’t matter to the wider audience – and the first episode was all about setting the scene and establishing the circumstances of the hit and run. This plot shows promise and it will – along with the newsroom curiosity – have me coming back for more. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have felt a little more real.