Media Matters

Watch John Oliver on what's wrong – and what's right – with newspapers (and why it matters)

The host of 'Last Week Tonight' devoted 20 minutes to what will happen if the problems of journalism aren't fixed.


John Oliver has often claimed not to be a journalist. He is more of a comedian, he says. Despite that, the host of Last Week Tonight deeply cares about the media. In a previous episode, Oliver covered the issue of native advertising and how it was compromising the news industry.

This time, in an entire episode devoted to journalism, Oliver bemoaned the demise of local news reporting – and not just because most of Last Week Tonight's facts, figures, numbers and research is based on reports published in local newspapers. His targets: not only media owners unwilling to take risks with local reporting that matters, but also readers everywhere who consume news for free. (Reading this here may appear ironic.)

"Because it affects all of us, even if you are getting your news from Facebook, Twitter, Google and Ariana Huffington's Blockquote Junction and Book Excerpt Clearing House." According to Oliver and the montage that follows, newspapers are cited as the source of news very often.

"Without newspapers to cite, TV news would just be Wolf Blitzer endlessly batting a ball of yarn around."

There was the time when former Tribune CEO Sam Zell told reporters why puppies were just as important as them for covering the Iraq war: "You’re giving me the classic, what I would call journalistic arrogance, of deciding that puppies don’t count...Hopefully we get to a point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. OK? F**k you!" In this situation, the future of journalism is Tronc, the future of content, which no one, Oliver included, can make head or tail of.

The lack of news reporters in government meetings has created a situation which, predicts David Simon, the writer of The Wire, will be "one of the great times to be a corrupt politician".

As usual, Oliver ended the episode with a celebrity spoof. This time, it was Spotlight in the age of clickbait.

The result? There will be no Spotlight in the future. Instead, there will be "Stoplight: He tried to break the news" because more important than unending corruption in the government is a raccoon-cat video that will "get them the clicks".

What about journalism in India? Says rural journalist P Sainath, the founder of People's Archive of Rural India, the digital news site with stories from rural India, "You've got a society that is incredibly diverse, heterogenous and complex and you have got a media that is shrinking to narrower and narrower control."

On being asked about the business model for his archive, Sainath says, "I don't have one. Which work of art would be in existence if the creator were to have a business model? If Valmiki had to get approval for the revenue model before writing the Ramayana...I know one guy who had a very good revenue model. It worked for 40 years – his name was Veerappan."

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