Why Satirical TV News Programs Matter

Posted by Cassie Myers

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Photo courtesy of Cliff via Flickr

In 2013 Comedy Central announced that for the first time ever “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” had topped the ratings for late night talk shows among key demographic, Adult 18-24. That same year a Pew Research study found that the audience for three major TV news channels (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News) all declined by 11%.

While many try to shrug off satirical news programs, they have a real and valuable foothold in America. Many Millennials today are fed up with not only the media, but with politics in general. That’s where people like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and new-comer John Oliver come in.

Comedic news programs do more than make fun of the media and bipartisan political drama, they influence the way people think about political issues and figures. In 2012, Stephen Colbert used his show to educate viewers on how super PAC’s work. According to a study done by Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the Pew Research Center these segments made his viewers more knowledgable about campaign finance laws than those who watched traditional news sources.

It’s clear based off of the 2008 and 2012 elections that political figures themselves are beginning to notice the importance these shows have on potential voters. “Saturday Night Live” becomes a hub for political skits and cameos during election season and it’s hard to deny that skits such as the ones involving Tina Fey as Sarah Palin didn’t affect America’s opinion of the vice-presidential candidate.

While it’s important to realize that these shows are satirical, they can be a great source of information. They are willing to call out networks for bad reporting and often work to help their audience understand complicated political jargon.

Do you think these kind of comedic news programs can be a good source of information? Or should they leave the reporting to news networks like CNN and MSNBC?

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9 responses to “Why Satirical TV News Programs Matter

  1. I took a class on politics my freshman year of high school that covered the 2008 presidential election. One my homework assignments was to stay current with the latest in political news. After a few weeks, I learned that tuning into NBC’s nightly broadcast wasn’t going it cut it–I just wasn’t interested, and many of the issues that were covered went over my 14-year-old head. That’s when one of the seniors on my class introduced me to The Daily Show. From there, I’ve always relied on similar programs for my political news. I think it’s an excellent source of information, especially for a younger audience. Not only does it provide newsworthy updates but it also gets millennials thinking and talking about political issues–something ABC’s Brian Williams can’t do as easily. As long as these sources continue to stay accurate and fairly unbiased, I will totally support them as valid news programs.

  2. I might be a little biased, because I totally love The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but as a politics and journalism major I have to say you have to be a little careful to make sure you’re using your own reason in taking messages from satirical shows. While it’s really not likely that they would report false information, it’s important to distinguish your own views from those of television personalities. However, I understand why these shows are so popular, because they present information in an entertaining and more simplified way that we, as the key demographic, prefer as opposed to the more “boring” alternatives like CNN and ABC. I think there’s a time and a place for satirical political programs and there’s are certain topics you might be better off going to more serious stations for, but I for one will continue getting my entertainment and news package from these political satires.

  3. Personally, and this is probably bad, I really only pay attention to politics when I see it on a satirical show like the Colbert Report or The Daily show or SNL. I think the more traditional news channels don’t do enough to engage our demographic in political events by presenting them as boring and hard to understand or follow. In my opinion, the thing that makes many satirical shows so successful is the fact that they bring awareness to these often boring political events by making fun of them, or challenging what politicians are doing. It’s more interactive for viewers than simply having a news anchor spouting information at you. While I agree that certain subject matter might be better seen on traditional news sources, I feel that as young adults, we walk away with a much better sense of what’s going on from political satire shows.

  4. I think this is a great topic to think about. I love satirical news sources, but I can see where people think that they send the wrong message. Yes, they may mimic what is going on in the world, but they are also sending out information that you may not catch otherwise. I am one that does not follow politics like I should, so it is nice to have shows like The Daily Show to give me glimpses into what is going on. I then can go look it up more on the internet. I think people that watch satirical news sources may even be more informed than people that watch the news. I take in information differently from the sources that I gather it from. Being younger, it is easier for me to get information from funny or catchy sources (but still reliable) rather than cut and dry sources. I believe that it is always important to have more than one take on a certain topic.

  5. I love these two guys and their shows, but it is an interesting question a to whether or not we can learn something from them. I would have to say yes, even though a majority of their material is making fun of someone or something viewers can definitely learn about politics or the world from their material. Just because they use humor as a form of delivering the information doesn’t mean they aren’t delivering the content, they are just in a funny way! I think these shows help encourage young high school viewers get interested in politics and the world more so they can then move on to the bigger more serious networks.

  6. I think, like anything, you have to have some prior knowledge on a subject before watching satirical TV shows like these. They have strong opinions on topics, and if you don’t have any thoughts on the subject before watching them, then you could very easily be swayed by their standings on certain issues. They do have information mixed with their satirical comments, so it’s not impossible to learn anything from them. However, if you’re trying to get to the bottom of some hard news, I would check the major networks first.

  7. I think that you always have to be careful with watching these shows, but they do provide good information. These shows get risky, when they are the only place someone is getting their news. However, I have found that they do provide interesting opinions on news-matters. In J66, Blachford used The Daily Show to talk about one-sided journalism. There is definitely value to these programs, but you should watch them while also utilizing other sources.

  8. I definitely agree that these programs are a great way to gain information. However, like most people have previously said, you have to be careful. It’s easy to persuade individuals to agree with a certain topic, especially when it’s presented in a comedic manner. Viewers can easily receive bias from satirical programs, but I also know it’s possible to get bias from other news sources as well. Therefore, I think viewers need to rely on multiple sources so they can create unique, well-rounded ideas.

  9. Thanks for all the great responses! I absolutely agree that the key to watching satirical news sources is to go in already knowing a little about what they’re talking about. As Hannah pointed out that’s true of most sources as many news outlets have become fairly biased in their reporting.

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