New York Times story confuses journalism jobs in 'The Newsroom'

In a piece about the "The Newsroom", The New York Times' Mike Hale makes an error that should set actual TV newsrooms aflutter:

The scenes between Jeff Daniels as Will and Sam Waterston as the cable network’s unbelievably supportive news director, Charlie Skinner, range from charming to hilarious; Mr. Sorkin, whose repartee is still sharp, gives them the best lines. (An exchange initiated by Charlie — “I was in a bar in Danang.” “Just now?” “1969!” — with its Vietnam-era flavor evokes Mr. Waterston’s role in “The Killing Fields.”)

Hale, you gotta get this stuff straight (though Muphry's Law clonked onto Poynter's noggin this week, too). Charlie Skinner is not the "unbelievably supportive news director," he's the "unapologetically old-school president" of the Atlantis Cable News network's news division! (What are the non-news divisions at a news channel, you ask? 1,500 words by Monday, please.)

In an email to Poynter, Hale explains what happened:

I haven't worked in television, but I do know that news directors work at local stations, not networks. (In fact I have friends who are news directors. Hello to Stanton Tang at WZZM in Grand Rapids.) The odd but not unprecedented thing here is that as I was watching the most recent episode of "The Newsroom" and starting to write the piece in my head, I thought to myself, "Make sure you call him president of news, not news director." Really. I think that pretty much guaranteed I would do the opposite.

The Times' corporate sibling has this description of a news director:

A TV news director may be sitting in a department head meeting talking about budgets when she has to respond to breaking news by dispatching crews and getting someone on the air with an immediate bulletin. She must remain calm in the face of chaos because she has dozens of people to lead.

Skinner might be on the other side of the table from the news director in this scenario. Except, as Hale knew and Poynter's Al Tompkins explains to me, "news director is more a local term." Cable networks generally don't have news directors, Tompkins tells me. So who does that job at a cable network? "Usually the president of the news division," Tompkins says.

Cable news org charts, Tompkins says, are "more complex...than a drama would want to take on."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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