How to create change one behavior at a time.

Why We Love John Oliver's Journalism

In a media landscape owned and operated by very few corporate conglomerates where all journalists are forced to contend with the 24-hour news cycle, how do you decide where to turn?

Maybe you stick with the traditional stalwarts of broadcast news? (Even though NBC lead anchor Brian Williams was placed on leave earlier this year for exaggerating his role in news stories.)

Or maybe you opt for the constantly-refreshing, Twitter-sourced approach to the news? (Where Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemmon and the CNN crew comb through Malaysian Airline tweets for 700 weeks straight because nothing else is happening in the world.)

Or maybe you already know how you feel about the world – terrified that ‘Merica is being taken over by gay, Black Muslim terrorists, waging a war against Santa Clause? (Welcome Fox News viewer. Please, never change.)

It’s difficult to decide, honestly. All the television news options are all so abundant and all so terrible. But in the end, we end up choosing a news option less to be informed but more to be rewarded for our effort. You might watch to feel better about being informed. Maybe you watch so you have something to contribute to the broader conversation. Or maybe, like most people, you watch to reinforce your opinion.

Personally, I watch to laugh. Which is why I don’t watch TV. I watch HBO.

Last week with John Oliver

Ever since America’s Most Trusted Man in (Fake) News retired (and even before he left), John Oliver and the Last Week Tonight crew have been producing the funniest and most ironic take on the news since Fox News used the tagline “Fair and Balanced.”

Yes, the show is hysterical. But more importantly, it’s informative. Each week, Oliver delivers an in-depth examination of a single topic. Whether he is exploring the militarization of local police forces, the complexities of transgender identity or the crumbling infrastructure that is our country’s roads and bridges, Oliver provides actual context and real research – oftentimes much more than you find through other traditional cable news giants.

His “reporting” packs a punch too. Often Oliver’s segments are punctuated with a social media call-to-action that quickly goes viral. His coverage of the net neutrality hearings and televangelism have been linked to actual real-world movement.

Jon Stewart used to argue that The Daily Show was not a “news show,” because it aired after a show about “puppets making prank phone calls.” Stewart’s point, at the time, was that he wasn’t doing the news, he was satirizing it. He was skewering our media by exposing it for its failings and hypocrisy. While his definition of satire is probably much more accurate than mine, it is hard to argue that The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight are simply just making fun of the clowns on the other side of the news desk.

They aren’t. Whether Jon Stewart or John Oliver like to admit it or not, they’re reporting the news. And they’re doing it for an audience that needs some rewards with their reporting.


Behavior change audience research guide