Keeping It Democratic: John Oliver on Journalism

“We have been slow to learn that liberty, like nature, demands a relationship with us in order for it to continue to sustain us.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                    – Naomi Wolf, Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

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M M. Reporters. 2010. Web. Flickr.com. 14 Aug. 2016.

In a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight”, the comedian John Oliver broached the very problematic and troubled state of journalism in his half-hour HBO show. While the program has taken on a variety of current issues ranging from Televangelism to Abortion to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, there is something that is much needed in Oliver’s presence on the scene, and those like him. As the amount of time we read thins out, the need for satire to explore the issues that may not be getting clicks at least begins to broach the problems, albeit with laughter.

Fortunately, Oliver’s show on the decline of the written word – which would have been relevant at any point in the last 10 years – comes at a time when things are becoming even worse. As Oliver highlights, the crunch for greater profit due to online ad revenue has led to an increase in what is easier to sell and what can generate the most overall revenue. But, given a lowered attention span, this imperils the stories that will be researched and written, and this has a wide reaching impact on a society.

The impetus to squeeze extra pennies from everything that can be squeezed is not a new one, but the online availability of journalism has led to financial losses owners are trying to mitigate. People may still be reading, but few of us are paying for it nowadays since it’s often not necessary. But, as Oliver points out, “We are going to either have to pay for journalism, or we are all going to pay for it”, and he is eerily correct in this assertion. If the only things being written are the things people are most likely to click on, there will be more cat videos – with exposition, no less! – and celebrity gossip. Unfortunately, it is journalism and the exploration of social and community issues that can reveal and even stymie injustice and corruption.

The satirist Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” However, everywhere today we work towards this reality, a world where there is no binding and no gag, but where there is nothing more to say – no profits to endorse it, and no curiosity to feed it. There are few things our culture seems to have more reverence for than the concept of freedom, but without having a real relationship with us, as Naomi Wolf suggests above, without us sustaining it, it dissolves. A world free of ideas and their exploration cannot be free.

I must confess that I am among those who watched John Oliver’s journalism segment on YouTube, a thing he hilariously lambasts during his segment. But, irony aside, we all have a responsibility to pay into the things which matter the most. Without investment in the things that truly feed our way of life – getting beyond goods and back to concepts – we get nothing that plumbs the depths; we get cat videos as intellectual entrée and demagogues as presidential candidates. And that’s a world we may not recognize, and may not want to live in.

Journalism to subscribe to today!

 The Tyee
The Washington Post
 The Guardian UK

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