In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, the waves breaking in the media industry over President Donald Trump’s ‘fake news’ allegations are ironically steering audiences to a new source of media digestion. Satirical journalism. Since the mid 2000’s, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report have worked to cement the role of satire news into the mainstream. Now, in the midst of a battle between what’s real, what’s fake, and what’s funny, the funny is winning. Such shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver are not technically considered news programs. While they do inform, the shows are not required to hire investigative journalists even though they delve further into background research than most straight news sources do today, and they do it all for a joke. In the midst of ‘alternative facts’ being presented by ‘fake news’ outlets, the media industry seems to currently be one big intertwined farce, and the satirical programming making fun of the situation, is the only outlet remaining true to informative nature.
In June of 2014, a study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania dutifully titled, Stephan Colbert’s Civics Lesson, revealed that Stephan Colbert was doing a significantly better job at informing audiences about political policies, specifically in the realm of campaign financing, than CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, broadcast nightly news, talk radio, and newspaper sources. The study conducted between Dec. 13, 2012 and Dec. 23, 2012 surveyed 1,232 participants aged 18 and over by phone to determine how informed they felt after watching The Colbert Report as opposed to viewing a straight news program. Bruce W. Hardy, head author of the published results and senior researcher at the Annenberg Public Policy Center concluded, “It’s the first actual study showing that Colbert is doing a better job than other news sources at teaching people about campaign financing”. In other words, people are more inclined to watch and learn from a satirical news program because the comedians are doing a better job at explaining complex policies than straight news channels are. With an inclination toward understanding rather than just knowing, the American public is currently shifting into a realm where a joke is taken more seriously than a ‘fact’.
Although the study was conducted and published in 2014, the results remain just as relevant. The trend of satirical news outlets has yet to die out and since the study was published, the number of such programs has increased. The Daily Show has remained but has been taken over by Trevor Noah, The Colbert Report is now The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Real Time with Bill Maher has been on air since 2008, and two more shows have been added into the mix; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Of course, the forerunner of satire news remains on air on Saturday Night Live as the famous Weekend Update and we must not forget to classify Late Night With Seth Meyers as a satirical program. The shift in news preference is interesting to study and understand because it seems to be an odd phenomenon. Audiences are more inclined and more comfortable to view satirical news programs that engage them in the process of learning through the use of humor. After all, with a world as devastatingly serious as ours, laughter may be the medicine that saves the media industry.