Thursday, December 20, 2007

The daily news

Now here's one of those stories that would be funny if it weren't so sad.

An article by Verne Gay in the Long Island newspaper Newsday quotes twentysomethings who are feeling adrift because the writers' strike has cut them off from their main source of news: "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, which is airing repeats. "What Walter Cronkite was to their parents and grandparents, Comedy Central's Jon Stewart is to them."

A 25-year-old radio station disc jockey named Drew Applebaum admits to being "slightly lost." Applebaum says, "I've been going as far as listening to NPR on my way home." (Oh the horor, the horror. He makes it sound like punishment!) Applebaum depended on the show, and the equally popular "Colbert Report," for some of the shtick he does on his own morning-drive show.

And 19-year-old Dennis McElhone, who's studying to be a history teacher, says, "I'd rather see a comedic spin compared to a left or right spin" on some political story. "And watching them find the humor in world issues makes them a little more straightforward than trying to figure what every other [anchor] is thinking."

Then there's this statistic: Four years ago, when the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Center for the People and the Press studied how people got their news about politics, it found that 21 percent of those between the ages 18 and 29 learned most everything they knew about the political races from "The Daily Show." Only the category of cable news - everything on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News - outranked just this one single show.

Scott Keeter, director of Survey Research for The Pew Center, which has studied these viewers' habits, insists in the article that the influence of these shows has overstated. The twentysomethings quoted about their viewing habits, are "news omnivores," who feed their news diet from many sources.

Jeff Greenfield, the senior political correspondent for CBS News, says that programs like "The Daily Show" don't necessarily get their young audiences interested in the political process. "The heart and soul of these shows is to treat politics as a fundamentally dishonest enterprise [where] politicians are fools, liars and mountebanks. Stewart's stuff is extremely funny and pointed, but that's not likely to get people stimulated to go out and vote."

Ok, listen up people. There's nothing wrong with getting a good chuckle out of "The Daily Show." I enjoy it, and Jon Stewart is great at using humor to make some very valid points about politics. But as much as I love Jon Stewart, I think he'd be the first to admit that he's no Walter Cronkite.

Stewart and Colbert are not journalists. They're comedians, entertainers. Their primary purpose is to make you laugh, not to inform you about what's going on in your community, your state, your country or your world. If they do, that's great. But I have to admit I'm a little concerned about a generation that considers them their main source of news.

I hope Drew is enjoying NPR enough to consider listening even after the writers' strike ends. I'm sure he's finding it informative and at times, even funny. Who knows, maybe he'll even contribute a few bucks when the next pledge drive rolls around.

Update: The New York Times reports that Stewart and Colbert will return to their shows on Jan. 7, without writers. The article says that the two hosts will have to improvise their monologues, and booking guests may be difficult because some entertainers and presidential candidates won't cross a picket line.

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