Seares: If a comedian uses journalism tools, is he not a journalist? | SunStar

Seares: If a comedian uses journalism tools, is he not a journalist?

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Seares: If a comedian uses journalism tools, is he not a journalist?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

John Oliver uses humor to draw and keep his audience but uses facts and logic to drive his point home

“Stupid shows like ours lean heavily on local papers. In fact, whenever the show is mistakenly called journalism, it is a slap in the face of journalists whose work we rely on.”

-- John Oliver, host of “Last Week Week Tonight with John Oliver”

MINSTREAM journalists in print and broadcast who complain about dwindling audiences should watch comedians who in their shows deliver news and opinion and shape the nation’s conversation on major issues.

These political satirists do one-person stand-up shows or host variety shows where their monologue is often the major feature. Or they do both, with those regularly booked on TV or cable, plus replays in tablets and other platforms, getting the larger and devoted following. The quick explanation is the humor: the jokes and one-line quips they make on current events.

That started it: David Letterman and Jay Leno. . But today’s format is a lot more than the brief humorous comments on the news. The younger show hosts have been tinkering with it -- most notably Jon Stewart in Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” -- in the last few years. And now they have a package that produces good journalism and catchy humor as well.

Basic elements

Look at the flow of basic elements of the TV or cable political satire, new version:

-Intro: the news peg;
-More facts
-Joke or quip
-Argument (logic)
-Joke or quip
-More arguments (logic)
-Background to support the view or refute the other view
-Punch material (usually humorous).

The news part is simplified, supported with print headlines and lift-out quotes and video/audio clips. Still images and video/audio material deliver the intended effect of the facts of a news story.

Devices in argument

The new format enables the audience not just to know the facts of a story but also how they support the stand of the political commentator. Lies or flip-flops of a news source are called out in replays or news clips of what he said in the past. The ridicule is made not just in the joke or quip but also in technical devices such as slowing speed of speech or action to highlight the booboo.

News and commentary are there. A violation of the traditional norm of separating news from opinion? That has long been modified if not junked. What’s only required is that they’re properly identified and labeled.

Risk of confusion

How is it then that opinion columnists and broadcast commentators are deemed journalists and political satirists who use both news and opinion with the mix of humor are not?

It must be the risk of confusing the audience. Less perceptive watchers may not distinguish the jokes from hard facts, or vice versa. Some hosts now say “That’s a joke” or “This is true” when a material might be misunderstood.

But we haven’t seen a more persuasive form of opinion-making than anything else in journalism. There are drawbacks: the simplification, the “halo-halo” of facts and humor, the excess at times in clubbing an idea or opposed person to death. But its capacity to make more people listen to hard issues and enjoy it is amazing.

Credit for news

John Oliver, 2016 Emmy Award winner and the more persuasive exponent of this genre in opinion-making, doesn’t wish to take the credit for the news in his commentary.

They don’t gather and write it. But the news is sourced, usually a reliable news organization, and the argument is logic-based. We wonder if news outlets are being paid for the material (print news clips and video/audio segments) but they help prop up the commentator’s credibility.

The most compelling point for shows like Oliver’s is that it can push its argument, unmask a lie or deceit or smother an evil or silly plot, even as the listener, grasping the issue, howls in laughter.

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When headlines clash

“N. Bacalso rerouting goes smoothly”
-- Newspaper A

“Nahasol sa rerouting sa N. Bacalso”
-- Newspaper B

“Traffic gridlock”
-- Newspaper C

HEADLINES in three newspapers, as posted in their respective news sites on June 7. A possible explanation is the difference in the time the traffic situation in the same area was assessed by each paper.

Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on June 10, 2017.

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