Americans have an increasingly diverse selection from where they can get their news, and most are turning away from established outlets to look at multiple alternative sources.
Cable news remains the most popular source, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, but more readers are moving online and taking the audience away from print.
The migration of eyeballs away from print is no new fad, but the change from hard news to soft news is something that astounds many journalists. “Hard news” is news that is purely meant to inform without biases and opinions while “soft news,” is meant to entertain and make a profit primarily. Soft news is not inherently bad, especially in an election cycle in which the traditional news media has played a more prominent and controversial role.
Comedy programs provide an alternative to the nightly news, a comedic roundup of the most important topics. While they should not serve as the only source of news, late night comedy is a way for those disenchanted with the system to laugh at the things that ordinarily keep them up at night.
John Oliver hosts the popular “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on HBO and recently produced a segment where he emphasized the importance of investigative journalism. In the segment, he celebrated the work done in newsrooms because it appears in other news sources, including his own comedy show, so often. That being said, newsrooms are investing less and less in investigative reporting. Cutbacks in profit result in cutbacks in programs that do not see immediate returns, including investigative journalism.
Comedy is, in a way, investigative. Writers search for ways politicians have lied or contradicted themselves and provide the evidence as a way to educate and get a laugh.
But why are people not going directly to the primary source? Pew found that 57 percent of American adults often get their news from television, while only 20 percent of adults often get their news from print newspapers. Readers are turning to digital platforms, and digital platforms can push soft news content more easily than some hard news.
Another reason could be trust. According to the same Pew poll, 74 percent of American adults believe news media tends to favor one side. Comedy programs make no claims of unbiasedness and attract those with the same opinions who are looking for a source of relief.
Jon Stewart was an alternative voice during George W. Bush’s terms as president, and many hold him in high regard to this day for his comedic relief. Stewart’s “The Daily Show” is now headed by Trevor Noah, who at times seems as if the negativity of the news overwhelms him, but the mission of “The Daily Show” remains the same — that comedy is a way to express anger and frustration at those in power for their failings.
This election cycle will go down in history for many reasons, and with new controversies happening every day it is hard to keep up. Sometimes, all anyone can do is laugh at what is happening. Comedy programs allow us to laugh at the game and its players, which is also a chance for relief from the negativity of many serious news programs.
News can be dominated by negative or violent content. “If it bleeds, it leads” is meant to quickly summarize the priority of many newsrooms. Now, Americans can get their breaking news sent right to their personal devices and can rely on local sources for community issues.
Americans are also disenchanted with news organizations because many on the left blame them for highlighting Donald Trump as a viable candidate in the sea of established Republicans who were running for president. Others on both sides of the party lines see the media as increasingly biased. Comedy programs can poke fun at anyone and everyone from politicians, journalists and the voters themselves.
Hard news is essential for keeping our society in check, and the companies behind it provide for the legitimate investigative work that it takes to do so. However, in an election year, Americans relying on comedy for news may be making a smart and conscious decision to stay informed, all while retaining their sanity.