Late-night comedy programs are informative, not journalism

Brian Williams on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Sept. 2, 2008.

In the age of technology, it’s easier than ever to get your hands on a reliable news source. Since 2004, more and more young adults (as many as one-in-five) are getting their news from Jon Stewart as opposed to Brian Williams. “At this point there must be some teenagers who think Brian Williams is a sketch comedy actor who has a really dry nightly parody news show,” Mindy Kaling of The Office said via Twitter.

Kaling’s observation isn’t too far off the mark. In a 2007 poll, Jon Stewart was ranked as the people’s fourth most admired news figure, tied with Williams (among others).

Regular viewing of Nightly News and The Daily Show proves that there is a fair amount of overlap in top stories. Last week, both Williams and Stewart addressed the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Obama’s new tax plan, and the start of the UN General Assembly. What differs is how the stories are presented. Williams presents the facts, while Stewart presents a comedic social commentary/criticism based on those facts.

Despite the fact that Jon Stewart himself insists he is not a journalist, those who watch The Daily Show regularly are very well informed about current events. Among regular viewers of The Daily Show, 54 percent scored in the “high knowledge” category, answering at least 15 out of 23 current events questions correctly. By comparison, only 35 percent of those who regularly tune into Fox news scored in the “high knowledge” category.

The goal of The Daily Show is more to get people’s minds off the news than actually tell it. Making people laugh at the news may reduce how stressed they are about it. While it’s okay to supplement your news with parodies, you won’t get the full story relying solely on Jon Stewart. The goal of news programs is to educate you on things you don’t already know; parodies expect you to have prior knowledge so they can simply makes jokes without having to inform first. Parodies will be funnier and more effective if they are watched in conjunction with a daily news program.

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