For his latest trick, John Oliver has tackled how internet virality is killing journalism. He correctly indicts his own show as a cog in the machine that is dismantling local news, and now you’re reading about it on one of the million news sites to post the clip. It’s all very meta.
It’s also a pretty good segment. If you’re reading this website but are for some reason unaware of the economic factors that have decimated the municipal newspaper industry, this is a decent primer. There is also a funny Spotlight parody at the end starring Rose Byrne and the very good boy Jason Sudeikis. John Oliver is very popular among celebrities, too.
Last Week Tonight’s success in contextualizing complex and wonky news stories is perhaps unmatched in mainstream media. But Oliver and his team rely heavily on local news reporting to spin their YouTube gold, in the process receiving far more acclaim (to say nothing of money) than the local news reporters who write those stories. The same is true, of course, for Gawker, which has always augmented our own reporting and gossip hounding with heaping ladles of aggregated news stories of all kinds. Gawker went bankrupt before the Chicago Tribune only because a lunatic billionaire vampire has chosen to sue us out of existence. We didn’t even get the chance to rebrand as gonc.
But as nice as it is for Oliver to turn his sizable following onto the plight of court and city hall reporters, you’ll notice the segment lacks a solution for how to reverse this problem. He offers an answer that’s such a non-starter as to amount to a cop out: “Sooner or later, we’re going to have to pay for journalism, or we are all going to pay for it.” By “we” he means “you,” and anyway there will be no great reawakening among the consumer public that leads to a newly robust local news industry. There will only be podcasts.
Oliver would probably say he has no real solution because he’s an entertainer and not a media theorist, though those two things are not mutually exclusive (just kidding, yes they are). But Oliver, as the segment implies, has a dog in this fight: the continued deterioration of local news infrastructures will make his show harder to produce. Will John Oliver eventually employ an army of investigative reporters in cities across America? I doubt it, but I’ve heard worse ideas for saving journalism, honestly.