The NYT’s Thomas L. Friedman holds forth (in part) on Jon Stewart and the Daily Show as a source of news. I add my own thoughts.
First, many educated people seem to be getting their news from Comedy Central. Say what? As any author will tell you, the best TV book shows to be on have long been Don Imus, Charlie Rose, C-Span, Tim Russert on CNBC, “Today,” Oprah and selected programs on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. They are all still huge. But what was new for me on this tour was the number of people who also mentioned getting their news from Jon Stewart’s truly funny news satire, “The Daily Show.” And I am not just talking about college kids. I am talking about grandmas. Just how many people are now getting their only TV news from Comedy Central is not clear to me – but it is a lot, lot more than you think.
Doing some Web searching, I found a CNN story about a Pew Center for the People and the Press survey from March 2004.
A poll released earlier this year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 21 percent of people aged 18 to 29 cited “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live” as a place where they regularly learned presidential campaign news.
By contrast, 23 percent of the young people mentioned ABC, CBS or NBC’s nightly news broadcasts as a source.
Even more startling is the change from just four years ago. When the same question was asked in 2000, Pew found only 9 percent of young people pointing to the comedy shows and 39 percent to the network news shows. …
Stewart’s success at skewering news people, and not just newsmakers, has particularly scored with his audience.
“They poke fun at how cheesy the regular news shows are, and somebody needs to do that,” said Joe Van Vleet, a 25-year-old Californian attending college in New York City. He mimicked a news anchor’s voice and marveled at how they all sound the same.
Nicole Vernon, a 24-year-old bartender from New York City, said she finds much of television news “silly.”
Stewart, she said, “keeps it very truthful and straightforward.”
Hold on there, said Ben Karlin, the show’s executive producer. A “Daily Show” viewer who doesn’t supplement it with real news isn’t very well-informed, he said. Pew confirmed that; its survey showed that people who regularly learned news from the comedy shows were less likely to know basic facts of the campaign.
Jim Murphy, “CBS Evening News” executive producer, read the Pew study closely. “I’ve passed being depressed about that,” he sighed.
Karlin’s right: To get the satire properly, you should already know the news.
But I suspect the older part of his audience (late 20s, early to mid-30s) are actually taking in some news too. But they probably aren’t doing it from network newscasts; they’re probably hitting the Internet or watching U.S. cable news channels.
(Note: In Canada, The Daily Show is carried on CTV. I work for CTV News Online.)
But I suspect what the audience — and I watch the Daily Show pretty much daily — appreciates about the work of Stewart and his crew is that while they claim to be fake, they seem to tell the truth and call bullshit when it is richly deserved.
Or at the very least, what the show says resonates as truth with the audience.
One issue for U.S. network news shows to grapple with is while they strive to appear even-handed and objective, they look really boring while doing so.
When you look boring and then commit errors that make you look asleep at the switch (watch Daily Show out-takes of newscasts to see what I mean), your credibility erodes.
Here’s two charts taken from the Pew survey:
This chart below, taken from a June 8, 2004 Pew survey, shows that big media has been losing market share:
Here is another chart that shows the impact of cable news:
I await the results of the anticipated revamping of the CBS Evening News to see what ideas they come up with to turn that show around.
My one recommendation would be, when you see bullshit, call bullshit.
My gut says the most media-savvy generation in history will respond to that.