The New York Times has been showing signs that it’s ready to expand its iconic slogan ‘All the news that’s fit to print’ beyond print, and journalism as a whole is that much stronger for it. With the success of the Times’ excellent (and aptly named) move into podcasting, ‘The Daily,’ hosted by Michael Barbaro, the Gray Lady moves into television with The Weekly, which delves into a single, deeply researched feature story in a rare feat of bringing quality journalism to the television.
Don’t worry, there are no pundits here yelling at each other — The Weekly is a deep-dive look both at the story itself, and how that story was reported. (Journalism nerds rejoice!) What truly differentiates this from a story in the paper or even the podcasts, is that you get the best context available for this story. You see the faces of the journalists and the effort they put in to get to the truth. Even just seeing a reporter traveling many miles to get to a rural small town lends perspective to the dedication it takes to unveil the first draft of history or the injustice in our society.
Even more important though is seeing the faces and hearing from the people at the center of these stories, the people most affected. Hearing a journalist’s perspective in a podcast is one thing. Reading their words are vital. But the impact of hearing their trials and journeys straight from the source makes the everything feel much more immediate; this series makes you feel like you are on the ground with the journalists.
This sense of urgency happens from the very first episode when education reporter Erica L. Green and Justice Department reporter Katie Benner travel to a rural Louisiana town to discover the darker truth behind a viral-marketing school that gets students admitted into elite colleges.
Much of the conversation around corruption in college admission this year has revolved around wealthy former television housewives paying for their kid’s college admission. The Weekly tells a different story, one that brings race, abuse, and poverty to the conversation: Many students of the T.M. Landry School, founded by Tracy and Mike Landry, posted viral videos of themselves learning they’d been admitted to elite colleges like Harvard, Stanford and NYU. While the feel good stories got all the way to Ellen, the Times reported that many of these students got into college on false pretenses.
The Landrys would embellish their students’ transcripts with classes they never took; many of the students didn’t know their transcripts were falsified until they got to college. Worse, the leaders of the school ruled with verbal and physical abuse to create a culture of fear. This is all laid out in Green and Benner’s excellent reporting, but in this episode we get to find out what happened to these students who were less prepared for higher education than they originally hoped, and we also get to hear from the Landrys. In one stunning moment caught by The Weekly‘s camera, Mike Landry compares himself to Jesus.
Many of the students risked their eligibility at their universities to tell their truth and be a part of this story. The only thing that outshines the care these journalists took and the balance they strove for is the bravery of these students.
The second episode in this series is about how the medallion system for New York cab drivers has led to not only to an American dream deferred but driven some to suicide. There is an excellent Daily podcast on this but in a similar vein to T.M Landry, there is nothing like seeing the faces of a story. This is must-see television because the changes need to happen now. Walter Cronkite said “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.” The Weekly is getting us one step closer.
New episodes of The Weekly airs at 10pm ET Sundays on FX; recent episodes are available on demand.