Is what we do ‘good’?

Updated
Tom Brokaw joins The Cycle to help deliver the news.
Tom Brokaw joins The Cycle to help deliver the news.

The other night, I was with a co-worker batting around ideas about our future. We were talking about our shows, and our day-to-day responsibilities. We were blowing off steam,  and plotting our big move, and trying to figure out what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, who we wanted to be.

He talked to me about the way his show works, I talked about the way my show works.

He talked about about the way his show doesn’t work, and I talked about the way my show doesn’t work.

We were doing what all co-workers do, we were blowing off steam, and we were reassuring each other. It’s a ritual you go through when you work with people you care about. Some do it over drinks, we did it over golf balls. The driving range - while bourgeois in reputation - is actually the perfect place for meditative conversation: a mild distraction, plenty of time for conversation, natural pauses, and moments of concentration. Plus, when it’s over, and you’ve discovered the solutions to some of the world’s problems… you remember them.

And it was all going according to plan, when he asked me: “Do you ever wonder if what we’re doing is good?

“Good.”

You never expect such a simple word to lay you flat on your back. In all the years I’ve been writing, the years here at msnbc, the years doing other forms of journalism - I’d never really grappled with “good.” Hard? Yes. Stressful? Definitely. Profitable? Hell no. But, good? As in, ‘good or bad for America’? Not a lens I ever chose to look through.

Pardon my existential crisis, but I didn’t have a solid answer for him. I think that news is inherently good. I think telling people what is going on in the world is what we aim for, because somebody has to sound the alarm. I think at it’s best, news is informative, free, and honest. And I think there are people on the front lines, in far-flung corners of the earth - that put themselves is way too much danger in order to keep it that way. I wonder sometimes why I’m not one of those people.

You see, ours is a different brand of news. Our disasters are less natural. They’re man-made: legislation, speeches, campaigns and ads. Debates and appearances, polls and votes - and all of that is before you get into follies and ‘news’ that human err is responsible for. More often than not our crises are moral, intellectual, or both. And it’s amplified tenfold right now, as we bombard you with the latest facts and figures, numbers and nuance. Every movement, every decision, every action broken down into its umpteenth fraction, so we can assign a reason (or blame) for its existence.

But even as I write that, even as I think and live it - I can’t help but imagine a world where my job didn’t exist. It’s easy to pick out a particular segment or exchange, pillage it of context, and present it as worthless. But on the whole, we’re reporting on the people that are shaping and guiding our lives. And when we’re not reporting it, we’re analyzing it… or trying to.

That’s where the value is.

And, keep in mind: this is Nick talking…  I’m in the third person, and Nick’s not speaking as the writer/producer for The Cycle, and is in no way speaking on behalf of msnbc. he’s talking for himself.

So don’t get me wrong - this isn’t some self-aggrandizing piece on the greatness of our analysis. I’m not walking you down that road, because I can’t honestly stand here and tell you “we do more than anybody else.” I’m not even sure what ‘more’ would mean, in that sense. But I can tell you that - in looking at our show - we give you dialogue. That dialogue shows you what other people think about the happenings and events of our world. Maybe it’s your neighbor, or your husband or wife, maybe it’s your best friend or your teacher or your mentor, maybe it’s your co-worker, or your classmate, or your latest love interest. Maybe you haven’t even met the person yet. But that dialogue broadens your view of a topic.  The fact is you leave our show having been touched by the exchange of ideas, and if that conversation helps you crystallize yours… then it was worth it.

Even if what you’ve realized is: You think we’re all idiots.

So yes, at the end of the day I do think what we do is, “good.” You might not, and I think - finally - I’m okay with that. After all, it’s not really a dialogue until somebody disagrees. And in a world where it seems more and more, that people would rather beat you to death with their ideas, than throw something back and forth… I have to believe that has value.

Once we’ve worked through that, maybe you can help me with my latest disagreement… I keep telling everyone here ‘I’m a writer,’ and they keep calling me a producer.

Which reminds me, I have to go hit some golf balls.

Follow Nick: @Nick_NoHeart

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Is what we do 'good'?

Updated