Popularity of 'Daily Show' is a reminder of shifting influencers

Recently, The New York Times devoted a healthy amount of space to ask a question that many media pundits, professors, journalists, consumers, and perhaps even politicians might be asking lately.

Recently, The New York Times devoted a healthy amount of space to ask a question that many media pundits, professors, journalists, consumers, and perhaps even politicians might be asking lately. No, surprisingly it wasn't about Sen. John McCain's or Sen. Barack Obama's respective choices for running mates. Instead, the piece – which first ran online and later in print, and has remained one of the site's most e-mailed in the days since – featured a picture of the host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, accompanied by this headline: “Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?”

The reader's initial response might be to scoff at the mere suggestion that the same man that appeared in such “treasured” cinema classics as Big Daddy and Death to Smoochy could even be considered as anything more than a comedian who delivers the “fake news” to diehard, often left-leaning Gen X and Millennial viewers.

Yet, as the piece pointed out, over the past few years, the show's influence has grown. Part of that might have to do with its “something for everyone” approach.

Recent guests ran the gamut from New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to comedian Seth Rogen.

When the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press asked Americans in 2007 who their most admired news figures were, Jon Stewart came in fourth, tied with Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather. Sure, they each only got 2% of the votes out of 1,000 people, and 44% of Americans could not even name a news source that they admired, but that's fodder for another column.

A few months ago, the Project for Excellence in Journalism did an analysis of the program's episodes from 2007 and presented the findings in a paper titled, “Journalism, Satire or Just Laughs? The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Examined.” Researchers discovered that the top 10 topics covered by the show are virtually the same as those on traditional “real” news broadcasts. They wrote, “[A]t times, The Daily Show... performs a function that is close to journalistic in nature – getting people to think critically about the public square.”

Indeed, while I certainly don't consider Stewart my primary conduit for news, I'm not ashamed to admit that very often my first thought when hearing about news is, “I can't wait to see how The Daily Show covers this.”

What this all reinforces is the fact that in today's society, influencers change. Newspapers, TV shows, radio programs, or blogs that were relevant a year ago might not be as important today. Eight years ago, when The Daily Show first began its “Indecision” election coverage, it's probably fair to say Stewart and his team didn't imagine it would one day be a program presidential candidates would be clamoring to be on. And while The Daily Show is often partisan in presentation, looking beyond the usual avenues to place news is something that everyone can agree on.

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