John Oliver turned his relentlessly critical gaze upon the state of journalism in the latest episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. The segment, embedded below, took news institutions to task for dumbing down their content in an effort to compete with flashy online publications. The Hollywood Reporter details the response:
Newspaper Association of America CEO David Chavern… published an earnest rebuttal Monday morning, taking issue with several points of Oliver’s scathing assessment.
“[O]ther than encouraging people to ‘pay for’ more news, he doesn’t offer any answers,” the newspaper exec. retorted. “More particularly, he spends most of the piece making fun of publishers who are just trying to figure it out.”
Chavern added, in reference to a widely mocked recent move by Tribune Publishing to change its name to tronc: “Whatever you think of the name ‘tronc’ and that company’s announced growth strategy, at least they are trying new things and trying to figure out how to create great news journalism in the digital era. John Oliver doesn’t seem to have any better ideas.”
Clearly, Chavern has never watched Oliver’s show before. Highlighting problems in comic detail, while offering no solutions, is the whole shtick.
Journalism is in no danger of extinction. There’s simply a shift in context and format taking place. Social media has dumped a lot of noise into the information ecology. But people still need credible information, and will be willing to pay for it where they can find it. That’s the tone Chavern should have struck in response to Oliver. It has twin virtues of confidence and truth.