News media outlets are increasingly adding light-hearted programming. While it might be easy to blame the ongoing Wall Street turmoil, the public's growing distrust of journalists and a need for comic relief plays a role as well.
A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press revealed that more than half of consumers are distrusting of both print and broadcast media. It was one of a number of studies indicating a decline in public confidence in the major press.
That fracturing relationship between consumer and journalist means that a rising percentage of the public now feels that satirical “anchors” have its interests in mind as much as the traditional media does, says Judy Muller, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communications, explaining why outlets like CNN are turning to comedy shows.
“I think there's a certain cynicism about the mainstream news... people don't trust it. I think that many people [believe] that there is more honesty grounded in substance rather than politics grounded in prejudice,” she says. “In a way, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are doing what the main-stream media should be doing – showing the hypocrisy and telling the truth. And my students find more honesty in the parody shows than in the straight-ahead news shows.”
A general, growing interest in comedic relief also seems to be taking hold, with even the more mainstream CNN getting involved.
Actor and comedian DL Hughley, best known as a member of The Original Kings of Comedy, is scheduled to host a weekly show on CNN, tentatively called DL Hughley Breaks the News, beginning October 25. However, that program will more resemble a late-night talk show, rather than the satirical Daily Show or Colbert Report, Hughley said in a CNN report.
The show will provide comic relief for CNN's news junkie viewership, network US president Jonathan Klein told CNN.com.
“When you watch as much news as our audience does, there comes a time you just want to stop and laugh,” he added.
Meanwhile, Comedy Central, the home of both Colbert and Stewart, recently added to its roster of comical news shows with the launch of Chocolate News, a faux news magazine show aimed at blacks and hosted by David Alan Grier of In Living Color fame. Among the program's writers is Jeremy Bronson, former producer at MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews.
Other news sources have experimented with comedy, too, with varying degrees of success. Fox News, for example, cancelled its take on a satirical newscast, The 1/2 Hour News Hour, last year. However, 23/6, a satire news and opinion site launched by The Huffington Post last November with , is growing in popularity, according to Sarah Bernard, the site's president.
She attributes the success of the site to both distrust of the media and a declining economy, but also to the emergence of previously unheard opinions on blogs, YouTube, and other nontraditional outlets.
“I think that in the past few years, people have wanted expanded commentary in the news,” adds Bernard, “and you've seen the rise of new outlets, blogs, and aggregators while people are either apathetic or distrusting of traditional news sources. So I think it's natural that comedy is benefitting.”
Bernard notes that 23/6 can also thank the recent emergence of a certain widely satirized politician for an increase in page views. “We've doubled our audience in the past two months, and the [Gov.] Sarah Palin [R-AK] storyline, no matter how we've treated it, consumers just wallow in it.”