PAPER DROLL: It was with a sinking heart a few months ago that I read the announcement of The Paper, the latest from MTV’s reality TV mill, which debuted on the network last night. MTV has been underestimated as a force in the reality TV revolution; while it wasn’t the first show of its type, the onetime music network’s Real World suggested how potentially creative – and tawdry – the new genre could be, and was one of the first reality shows with a consistent buzz, especially among young viewers.
From The Osbornes to Jackass to Making The Band to My Super Sweet 16, MTV has been everything from creative to canny to crass, divining trends in their audience that the major networks - even Fox, the reality behemoth – have consistently managed to miss. I’m even forced to give a grudging nod to The Hills, the most conspicuously staged reality show ever produced, and one that, thanks to its continuing popularity, must surely give the networks pause, as it suggest how primetime drama could potentially be created without stars or even plots.
With “scripts” that only faintly resemble the sort of structured drama that writers spend years studying, reading Shakespeare and Chekhov and O’Neill to grasp the building blocks of their craft, every new season following the well-financed but strangely aimless lives of Lauren, Heidi, Jordan and Brian suggests a nightmare future where blog posts and instant message threads will replace King Lear and The Cherry Orchard as the inspiration for a new generation of writers.
But I digress. I somehow doubt that The Paper will have the same cultural resonance as The Hills, as it has to do with a group of young people aspiring to careers in journalism. Not to disparage my industry, but on some days it feels like any similarly disposed young person might as well apprentice themselves to a cooper or a buggy whip maker.
"Journalists are the most important part of the world,” says Amanda, a copy editor at The Circuit, the newsprint voice of Florida’s Weston Bay High. “They really are." Rob Owen, TV critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recounts this sweetly idealistic yet clearly misguided opinion with the sort of wide-eyed incredulity that only a journalist could muster, after watching a preview screener of the show.
Owen says the show makes “aspiring journalists look like a bunch of gossipy, backbiting over-achievers,” adding that “I'm not saying it's inaccurate, just a bit unseemly.” Amanda desperately wants to be The Circuit’s editor-in-chief, but faces stiff opposition, since all of her colleagues would rather see anyone else get the job. “These are real kids, and none of them come off well,” reports Owen. “Amanda does suffer from a superiority complex while her rivals seem like immature bullies who feed their resentment by ganging up on Amanda.” It doesn’t have a whole lot to do with journalism, but does resemble the average newsroom with frightening accuracy, though Owen adds, as a small consolation, that “in the professional world, the haters tend to be more discrete.”