Opinion: Why every journalist should watch ‘House of Cards’

Photo by Matteo Bittanti

Photo by Matteo Bittanti

There aren’t many good political dramas left out there, but House of Cards is definitely one of them. It’s an important show that viewers should pay attention to, especially journalists.  

It involves a level of congressional intrigue and governmental insight that is rare territory for entertainment. It’s important that people see and understand the amount of betrayal and self-interest that goes on behind closed doors in places like the White House. It fosters a deeper understanding of how politics are done, such as the amount of time and manpower thatcan go in to the crafting of a single bill. But that’s not why I think every journalist should be tuning in.

The real hook for someone in the journalism field is how the show addresses their chosen line of work. Through two characters in particular, the program manages to hit on the majority of hot button issues plaguing the industry today.

First, we have Tom Hammerschmidt, the no-nonsense chief editor of The Washington Herald. Hammerschmidt is old school. He believes that journalism is still 95 per cent foot work. His staff refer to him as “The Hammer” because of the high standard he holds them to. Forcing his staff to edit and re-edit their work a minimum of three times, he believes in getting the news right the first time.

The problem with Hammerschmidt is he believes solely in forms of journalism that are getting quickly becoming outdated. He allows his paper to have an online presence, but the electronic archive lags sorely behind their print copy and is poorly curated. He does not like his reporters making television appearances, either. He believes in the written word and removing the author as much as possible from the story, to the point his paper has lost its niche and its character. Because of his inability to adapt to an evolving market and audience, The Herald experiences heavy losses under his leadership. Hammershmidt epitomizes the dangers of the old-school mentality and shows how easy it is to become obsolete in this fast-moving information age.

On the other hand, we have the character Zoe Barnes. She is a young, tech-savvy journalist who feels she is being underutilized covering the metropolitan beat for The Herald. She believes in getting her stories out fast and often, be it through an article, blog post or even a tweet. She’s hungry and she wants to climb the ladder quickly. Because of this she puts herself out there in situations she would not normally find herself and makes contacts quickly.

The problem with her approach is she is too concerned with being the first on a story.Her contacts sense her eagerness and feed her information they know she will print right away because the piece is too juicy to pass up. She allows herself to be manipulated and bought off by information, thus infecting and twisting the story she brings to her readers. She demonstrates the dangers of getting to wrapped up in a source and their information. A journalist’s first duty, especially in regards to political writing, is to the reader, and rushing to press can have real and heavy ramifications.

Barnes’ character illustrates another issue with journalism today: the desire to be a celebrity through the press. News icons from Walter Cronkite to Jon Stewart have helped to nurture the twisted notion that if you are a talented enough reporter you become an important aspect of news yourself. After Barnes’ character enjoys some initial success with her first political article, she becomes somewhat of a celebrity herself, simply for being the first to report the story. As she is questioned about her journalistic techniques, sources and aspirations, the story she was covering quickly becomes lost in her five minutes of fame.

This issue of the desire for fame was recently put under the spotlight by the events involving Toronto-based journalist Vandon Gene and his desire to take a selfie with Anderson Cooper in front of parliament in Ottawa after the terrible attack last week. Journalists are not news, and the desire to inject themselves into the story they are covering cheapens the story they are there to report.

House of Cards hits all of these issues facing journalism head on. It doesn’t pretend to be a show based around journalism and it doesn’t proclaim any solutions, but it paints all these problems with the same brush. It won’t tell journalists which school of thought is right for their field, but it will do a very good job of reminding them these problems exist.

David Bauerfind

Journalism and creative writing student with a healthy addiction to television and movies.


  • Nikki Lin
    Reply November 13, 2014

    Nikki Lin

    i like the show. the point in this article is very interesting. i didn’t thought about the journalism in this show before.

  • Sascia Smith-Jensen
    Reply November 27, 2014

    Sascia Smith-Jensen

    Interesting article. I have heard mixed reviews about “House of Cards” and have yet to dive into watching it. But this article is a different look into what the show actually depicts and it certainly makes me curious as to see what I could learn from it within the context of journalism. It would be interesting to see the two characters that you mentioned, and how different they are. What you wrote about them really is the struggle of the world of journalism at the moment. On one hand, many people want to stay with the traditional way of journalism and media, but with technology, we are seeing large shifts. I’ll have to check this show out now.

  • Daniella Javier
    Reply November 30, 2014

    Daniella Javier

    I’ve heard a lot of great reviews about this show, however I’ve never managed to watch it yet. I think that as journalists, we need to have a good grasp on what’s going on in politics. I’d really like to check this show out on Netflix now!

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