Sunday, April 18, 2021

Home Before Dark: The Fact-Seeking Journalist As Hero



I've just seen one of the most inspiring television series in years.  It made me proud to be both a writer and a professor who teaches about journalism.   Home Before Dark is a 10-episode first season of a series that debuted on Apple TV+ about a year ago, a fictionalized narrative of a real 9-year old girl, Hilde Lysiak, who in real life when she was a few years older won the Junior Zenger Award for Press Freedom in 2019, aptly described on Wikipedia as "given to a journalist who fights for freedom of the press and the people's right to know."

There’s been a lot of remonstrating in the past few years about how satisfaction of partisan public opinion has replaced the investigating and reporting of truth in print, televised, and most of all social media, including by me (The Opinionization of Journalism) and in bold new books like Andrey Mir’s Postjournalism. It was therefore profoundly reassuring and a call back to truth to see Home Before Dark, all the more so because the protagonist is nine years old and a real person.

The fictionalized narrative is quite good, as well, harkening to Stranger Things as Hilde and her nine-year-old friends investigate a kidnapping that haunted and pulled apart a small West Coast town for decades. There's teenage angst and romance with her older sister Izzy,  a questionable older sheriff, racism and sexism and snobism effectively mixed into a riveting mystery that Hilde and her parents and friends attempt to solve.  Brooklynn Prince was fabulous and deserved an Emmy for her performance as Hilde.  The whole cast was excellent but I especially also liked Kylie Rogers as Izzy, and Joelle Carter (Justified!) and Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue!) back on the screen.

But the paeon to truth-seeking journalism is what puts Home Before Dark over the top.  Hilde's favorite movie is All The President's Men, and tells the jaded sheriff  "The truth is what makes everything work right ... it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than all of us".  He unsurprisingly, patronizingly replies, "that's adorable".  But we know better, or should know better.   It's no surprise that those words about the truth come from a 9-year old girl, fortunately not yet bitten by the cynicism that afflicts so many adults.   We should know better, and I surely do now.

PS: Season 2 will be on Apple TV+ this June 11.




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