There are basically two types of newspaper editors as depicted in movies and on TV. The ones who will stop nothing to get a story, such as J.J. Jameson, martinet in the Spiderman universe, and Walter Burns in the various iterations of The Front Page and His Gal Friday, and those who always have the backs of their staff members, a la Gus Hayes on The Wire, and, of course, Lou Grant. (We’re not mentioning shows based on real life incidents such as All the President’s Men, The Paper, and Spotlight, among others.)
When it comes to reporters, most are dogged researchers who are looking to bust the bad guys, the greedy, the corrupt politicians, although there are a couple of “fabricators” tossed in for variety. They share one characteristic: they are all a pain in the ass for their bosses.
The latest in this mix are editor Gus Reardon and ace reporter Harriet Dunkley of the Canberra Daily Journal in the Australian thriller, Secret City. Canberra is the capital of the country, which, I, being educated in the U.S., did not know. But it makes perfect sense in that most of the action involves the government (think House of Cards with cool accents). I chanced upon this Netflix release — now in its second season — thanks to a story in The New York Times.
A quick recap: there’s an Australian college student who’s being held captive in China for protesting on behalf of Tibet. This has a hand in difficult relations between the two countries which allows members of the Australian parliament to battle over an all-encompassing security law that would allow the government to vastly widen surveillance, yada yada yada.
Harriet is played by Anna Torv (Fringe) and has a good deal of bad history with one of the main pols. Gus (Huw “Not a Typo” Higginson) is her exasperated boss with a heart of gold; no matter how many times Harriet gets in trouble, he always has her back. She is supported by a spunky assistant (Lou Grant famously said to Mary Richards say, “I hate spunk”) and opposed by a competitive writer for the top stories. In fact, she’s assigned “less important” pieces almost as punishment for her stepping out of bounds.
The Daily Journal seems like a good size paper and, true to the current situation, is having difficulties, according to the boss. Yet when push comes to shove, they engage, to paraphrase him, the most expensive lawyers to get Harriet out of some hot water over sources. These are actually my favorite scenes, a they argue over what stories to cover, Gratefully, the Journal is more interested in getting to the truth than getting clicks online.
One minor complaint is that Harriet is perhaps a bit too conveniently connected to several individual threads in the story (I won’t want to spoil the fun by going into too much detail here).
Suffice it to day, I highly recommend Secret City, season one. If it’s any indication, season two, which came out recently after a two-year gap, “I’d put that in the pool room,” as the Aussies say.