Pew’s journalism center is right to take comedian Jon Stewart’s Daily Show seriously 5/8/08Posted by Steve Boriss in NewsStyles.
When comedian Jon Stewart showed-up on a Pew Center survey last year as the 4th most admired journalist — tied with Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Anderson Cooper — it was no laughing matter for journalism. To their great credit, Pew studied the content of The Daily Show for an entire year and compared its news agenda with that of mainstream outlets. Strangely, their findings suggest that other than its satirical and comedic style, it was hardly different at all. It had a greater focus on politics, provided no coverage at all of some big events like the Minneapolis bridge collapse, and targeted Republicans for ridicule more than three times as often as Democrats. Oops, scratch that last one as a difference — there was that recent Harvard-Pew study showing that on network evening news, twice as many stories about Democrats were positive, while twice as many stories about Republicans were negative.
So it seems like Jon Stewart’s show is just like the mainstream media, only more entertaining. It may not fit Modern Journalism’s definition of news, which requires a serious, authoritative, quasi-scolding style, but who gave them the right to define what news is? In fact, cable is introducing us to a whole range of acceptable news styles including crusading (Olbermann, O’Reilly), sensational (Van Susteren, Grace), and drop-dead gorgeous (the foxes on Fox). Who knows? Maybe Couric would be doing better if CBS let Katie be Katie. Being serious all the time is no way to attract friends, nor is it a way to attract viewers.