A file picture dated 12 October 2014 shows US political satirist, writer, producer and director Jon Stewart arriving for the premiere of 'Rosewater' at the 58th BFI London Film Festival, in London, Britain. Jon Stewart announced on 10 February 2015 that he will step down later this year after more than 16 years as host of The Daily Show. (EPA Photo/Andrew Cowie)

Stewart’s Satire, News Took Genre to New Level

FEBRUARY 12, 2015

Washington. More than comedy, more than news: Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” took the genre of satirical journalism to new heights, becoming an important element in American political discourse.

The 52-year-old Stewart, who announced this week he is leaving the Comedy Central show this year after 16 years, created a widely acclaimed program that gave many viewers, especially young ones, a reason to care about the news.

Stewart and the show “made the news more relevant for a lot of young people,” said Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum’s First Amendment Center and former editor in chief at USA Today.

”It created an incentive for people to learn more about the world around them.”

While the genre of satirical news is not new, “Stewart did it better than anyone else,” said Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University.

”He just seemed to have a smarter and more analytical take on the news than any of the predecessors, and as a result, I think Stewart emerged as our most perceptive media critic.”

Stewart’s show became a key stopping point for political leaders, including President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain and others.

The host offered an unabashedly liberal political slant, but was nonpartisan in his satire, poking fun at Obamacare as well as right-wing commentator Bill O’Reilly.

”The Daily Show” was not just fun and games. Media researchers discovered that satirical programs like Stewart’s often informed viewers better about important topics than traditional newscasts.

According to figures released by the Pew Research Center, around 12 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from the show — about the same level as USA Today and the Huffington Post.

Pew found the median age of Stewart watchers was 36 — or about 15 years younger than most cable news shows.

Some 16 percent of those surveyed said they trust “The Daily Show,” more than some news outlets such as Bloomberg. But liberals were far more likely than conservatives to trust the show.

Bruce Hardy, a research in political communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, said Stewart’s show and its spinoffs essentially created a new kind of news program.

”We used to have a few minutes of satire on the late-night talk shows but to have an entire half-hour program of satire on the news, that’s a new genre which has emerged in the past 15 years,” Hardy said.

Hardy said satire is a positive force because it finds a way to engage viewers.

”Much of comedy is based on the element of surprise, and when people are surprised that increases their interest and engagement,” he said.

Hardy said some research has shown that when people might watch these shows for the humor but then “went out to get more information” about a topic raised during a satirical news show.

Stewart “gave the news a comedic payoff and that kept people coming back,” Paulson said.

”It’s dismaying to learn that an entire generation gets their news from Jon Stewart but that’s a lot better than not getting news at all.”

”The Daily Show” has been a launchpad for numerous comedians over the last decade and a half, including Ed Helms, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver.

Stewart and “The Daily Show” have won 20 Primetime Emmys over the years, as well as numerous other awards.

His departure comes with the news media in a state of re-examination following the announcement that NBC television anchor Brian Williams was being suspended for six months off without pay for embellishing an Iraq war story.

While Stewart  has been lauded for transforming modern TV journalism, his roots were in standup comedy, not the news industry.

”He came along at time when the media were fracturing into many different audiences,” Kennedy said. “He was able to take advantage of that and he developed his own audience.”

Paulson said Stewart’s appeal was based on his ability to show that the news matters to people.

”He conveyed every night that this was not a civics lesson, that the news had something to do with the way we live and what we value,” Paulson said.

”That’s the challenge for traditional news media. They need to convey why news matters.”

Agence France-Presse

Jon Stewart