Nine years and 1,447 episodes after airing its first episode, Comedy Central’s news satire “The Colbert Report” has ended with the show’s host, Stephen Colbert, leaving to take the place of David Letterman on “The Late Show.” A record high of two and a half million people tuned in to watch Colbert’s final episode — more viewers than any major news program on television.
This is not the first time that a satire of the news has held a higher rating than other legitimate news sources. In fact, according to a Washington Post study in 2013, “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” are listed as the most watched late night talk shows among adults ages 18 to 49. A portion of these viewers report these satirical “fake” news institutions as their only sources of news, which raises the question: Why is comedic journalism becoming more popular than classic, investigative journalism?
Between the coverage of the OJ Simpson trial and the steady onslaught of accusations thrown at Fox News for errors in the accuracy of their reporting, it is understandable that the public questions the honesty of major news outlets. However, the mass of viewers that have turned to these satirical news programs that are not expected to be taken as legitimate sources of news is a phenomenon that cannot be fully explained by a general mistrust of major news outlets. One explanation is the appeal of watching the news be reported by a comedian who is allowed to be opinionated and emotionally affected by the stories that they cover rather than a talking head who must report the news as objectively as possible. People who have seen “The Colbert Report” or “The Daily Show” acknowledge that the hosts are openly biased in some ways.
“Yes they do convey some bias, but that’s why I like it,” said junior Laura Rae D’Angelico. “They actually spend time on the emotional impact of the story and don’t just report facts.”
By dropping the formality of classic journalism, comedians can write jokes about current events that make the stories more compelling and more accessible to certain groups. While there are drawbacks to sidestepping the formalities of classic journalism, the overall benefit is arguably worth the cost, as some information about current events reaches younger audiences who do not have an interest in watching or reading the news. “Shows like “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” make relevant news appealing to a large demographic that doesn’t really actively watch or read any news,” said senior Tariq Ali Hazarika.
“Infotainment,” defined as broadcast material intended to both entertain and inform, is undoubtedly more appealing than factual information being reported as objectively as possible through a talking head. Despite both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart’s insistence that their shows are not meant to be interpreted as legitimate sources of news, both shows succeeded in making current events a lot more fun.