Press' opening episode last week introduced a tale of two papers, The Herald and The Post. The Herald, as run by Amina Chaudury, is an attempted bastion of decency, trying to do the right thing. But it struggles in the face of it not selling papers. The Post, as run by Duncan Allen, is everything the Herald is not, trashy and nasty. Though, to be clear, its owner, George Emmerson, does wish it would run some real news.
This week's episode opens with the differences between the two papers highlighted in sharp relief. When Holly Evans arrives at work, it's in the middle of goodbye to yet another buyout. The retiree's been there 20 years and has the look of a woman walking towards the gallows as she leaves with her box of stuff, clearly not by choice. The editorial meeting that follows shows Evans fighting to get real news on the front page about disabled people protesting Parliament's stripping their protections. Chaudury knows it won't sell. She knows what will — a picture of a polar bear, or better yet, young celebrities. So Evans gets a young celebrity to comment on the disabilities story and gets herself a front-page berth.
Meanwhile, at The Post, the disabilities story never even comes up. It's all down in the dirt, exposing the head of the steelworker's union who's threatening strike action. (Because god forbid anyone doing something for the working man goes unpunished.) Allen, too, is also about the young celebrities, or, once again, the polar bear. Unlike Chaudury, who dismissed the animal, Allen is all in on the bear, deciding to turn it into a campaign to get it a home in the zoo, giving it a name, etc. And then, in a stroke of extra cruelty, forcing newbie cub reporter Ed to humiliate himself by dressing up as a sad polar bear, crash a party with young celebrities, and get himself a "Bear + Celeb" photo, for double the sales. It's bizarre genius, in its way. But it also explains why Ed, who reveals he's an Oxford grad, is lying to his mother about his new career.
It doesn't help that Press seems more on the side of The Post, pouring the more interesting narratives into its dirty dealings. Allen's disintegrating marriage to Sarah (Natasha Little) gets screentime this week, affording the show a chance to dig into the psyche of a man hellbent on destroying the lives of others. And there's the angle that everyone is in on the take. Ed secretly records children's TV presenter, Belle Hicks (Lauren Drummond), at the party dishing on how crap her job is. When he turns it into a front-page story, it recalls the scandal that inspired the series. But then it turns out Belle wasn't so naive and saw right through Ed, and figured the scandal might do her some good, pulling her out of the CBBC wasteland. In the end, everyone is in it for the front page.
The Post does whatever it damn well pleases with a joyous nihilism. Meanwhile, The Herald spends the episode making what the audience recognizes as foolish choices in the name of "real news" and "journalistic standards." Confronted by the reality that their board demands new revenue streams, Chaudury is forced to accept wrap-around advertising of a children's clothing company. James then comes in with a story about exploitive child labor in India with clothing companies. Chaudury spikes it because his interview methods could be questioned, but it's pretty apparent the two are going to connect. But, considering James' sources, could his story have been trusted anyway? Perhaps it was the better choice all round to run the lesser accusatory story where the advertising partner had discovered irregularities and cleaning up its act, in exchange for scraping the wrap-around.
The series also gets its digs in when Holly attempts to send her young cub reporter, Leona Manning-Lynd (Ellie Kendrick), to chase down a hospital story. The millennial stand-in refuses to pick up the phone to interview anyone, shrugging when "email and social media" fails. Holly of course, catches the last train, talks to those down below in the cleaning trenches, and finds the story. It turns out the new maintenance company willing to do the work for a fifth less the price, but using half the cleaning solution as a cost-cutting measure, causing patients to sicken and die while under NHS care. The head of the hospital, Linda Parks (Lucy Briers), tries to stall, but faced with the story decides to resign instead.
In short, Press wants to have its cake, discussing the horrors of the journalism industry. But it doesn't want these characters to be viewed as terrible people. It attempts to split the difference, suggesting that those who tangle with them know what they are doing, and shouldn't be considered to have clean hands either. Holly's story may cause a good hospital manager to resign over a giant mistake. But we're supposed to see the work as a bastion of "holding people accountable," and "preventing anyone else from doing it" even as Leona's eyes looked troubled as she's told to write up the story. Ed is ashamed of what he's doing to get ahead. But he's just as much a patsy for the celebrity who sees his morals as ridiculous as his colleagues do. And The Post may be seen as silly, running trash polar bear stories. But the takedown of the man spearheading what could have been a general strike doesn't go unnoticed by a grateful Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, even while at dinner with Chaudury, Allen keeps up his campaign to slowly win over Holly Evans to his side of the divide...