Satire is not an alternative to journalism

Does anyone have faith in the media anymore? According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2016, only 32 percent are holding on to a glimmer of hope, down 8 percent from the previous year. That is the lowest percentage of support recorded since Gallup started keeping track back in 1976.

Jon Stewart (Photo by Comedy Central)

That number is even lower among those aged from 18 to 49 years old whose trust is at an astoundingly low 26 percent. You think that’s sad? Try grappling with the fact back in 2011, Daily Mail reported Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” saw a larger audience than “Fox News’ primetime and daytime lineup by 450,000 viewers.

More young people had faith in a comedian than they did in actual journalists. And they still do. They appreciate satire’s role in finding what is ridiculous and exposing it as just that.  In a Vox interview, Sophia McClennen said she isn’t seeing that in journalism.

“Traditional journalism, on the other hand, doesn’t always know when to laugh at the absurd … The news media sort of seems like it has to take it seriously in order to be taken seriously,” she said.

This is where journalism begins to lose its audience. Twenty-four-hour news cycles saturate stories that can be addressed in one segment. That system of needing to fill time forces audiences to believe every issue is more important than it actually is and when everything is addressed in the same tone, meaning is lost.

Over time, people begin to recognize this storytelling gymnastics. They become frustrated and look for something to help ease their tension. And what better way to do that than through laughing at it?

The problem starts when people begin to disregard journalism and only look to satire as if it’s some sort of saving light. In an interview with Fusion TV, political satirist Bassem Youssef talked about why people should be cautious about doing so.

“People put too much weight on satirists because they are frustrated with their politicians or their journalists on the news. But at the end of the day, satirists are actors; they are not politicians, they are not journalists. They just put stuff on the table … if they continue to use satire as catharsis, it’s just going to be laughter at the end of the night,” he said.

It is up to the people to be motivated through the rhetoric used by satire for it to be useful. But it’s hard to say if even that is being done, based on a report by CNN saying the voting turnout in 2016 was the lowest in the past 20 years.

Being frustrated is OK. Turning to satire to see what is truly absurd about our country should be recommended; but as a symptom reliever, not a cure. The only way to positively deal with that frustration is being vigilant to the cause of it and, in this case, all eyes should be on journalists. Because just like the election, the only way to fix what you think is broken is by participating in the rebuilding process.

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