Media market has gap for a new kind of show
I have always been a big fan of Jon Stewart. To many, he represented the voice of reason in a very turbulent and confusing time. While presenting “The Daily Show” from 1999 to 2015, he combined sarcasm with a nuanced view of current affairs in the US and the rest of the world, at a time when many channels were busy sensationalizing news and looking for the next trend to increase viewership.
Shows like “The Daily Show” and “Last week Tonight with John Oliver” are late-night entertainment. They are not political shows, nor are they news, despite their content. The show hosts themselves continue to maintain that they are not journalists and they probably do not have the influence to sway public opinion. Stewart, for example, continuously claimed he was not the news. However, he can demur as much as he wants that he was just a fake news person, but there was no doubt his voice carried both local and global influence and was probably one of the most trusted in America.
To claim that these are merely entertaining late-night shows is to admit you do not really watch or understand them. The shows frequently highlight and discuss topics and cases that are often shelved or unknown. In fact, reporters have argued that these shows actually engage in journalism and investigative reporting. Among many other topics, they have investigated Facebook’s global expansion and its links to political turmoil overseas, sexual harassment in the workplace, gene editing and its risks and rewards, the ugly truth of fast fashion, mental health, the dangers of the unregulated rehab industry, China’s one-child policy, pharmaceutical conglomerates, vaccinations and herd immunity, and one of my favorite topics: The roles that gender and racial bias can play in medical treatment.
They have received widespread critical and popular recognition but, more importantly, they have influenced legislation and policymaking. Stewart, for example, became a vocal advocate for the passing of a bill to create the Victim Compensation Fund in the aftermath of 9/11. He used his show as a platform, even devoting an entire episode in 2010 to lobby for the then-stalled bill and to codify the health benefits into law.
Whether you tune in or not, late-night hosts play a key role in keeping the public informed and entertained.
Asma I. Abdulmalik
The crews working on these shows include incredible writers who can take complex issues and break them down for the public to understand. There are also researchers who are little short of journalists, interviewing sources and digging for insights. These shows also serve as a laid-back platform for interviews with a wide variety of influential and high-profile individuals, from presidents and legislators to entertainers.
It is also important to note that, despite these shows acting as a gateway into actual news sources and informing about real political and social issues, they are not held accountable professionally, a la traditional news outlets. They are also clearly biased.
Observing the contemporary landscape, it comes as no surprise that traditional news mediums — including newspapers, radio and linear television — are in decline and in danger of being consigned to the past. In fact, the level of reporting and non-existent investigative journalism has been the center of debate for some time now. Whether you tune in or not, late-night hosts play a key role in keeping the public informed and entertained.
It is difficult to understand why we have been unable to create more shows that enrich viewers with knowledge of culture and current affairs while they sit back and relax on their couch laughing along with a live audience. In addition, while we do acknowledge there have been a few regional attempts to create satirical programs, it is important to emphasize that these shows do not necessarily have to be political. They can be informative or educational. What is stopping us from creating programs that educate the public on subjects that affect their lives, such as climate change, pensions, and the importance of vaccines? Such shows would be perfectly attuned to an era in which the media is suffering from fatigue and monotony.
With the abysmal state of social media, the rise of internet journalism, and the desperate need to rethink the traditional media, a niche has been created for a new kind of medium that marries journalism with social media’s avant-garde approach. It allows for a new kind of programming to take place, in order to reach out a wider, more contemporary audience. It also pushes traditional media to step up and reclaim its guts in terms of investigative journalism.
- Asma I. Abdulmalik is an Emirati civil servant and a writer interested in gender and development issues. Twitter: @Asmaimalik