STORY BY EMMA MUTH
Mass media have unprecedented influence across the globe. Media affect peoples’ thoughts and actions more than nearly any other force mankind has come to face.
Comedian John Oliver helps lead audiences through the media storm on his show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” with professionalism, tact and lots of sarcasm.
“Last Week Tonight” covers the previous week’s events with a healthy dose of satire-anything from salmon cannons to the Canadian election to the refugee crisis.
Beyond the show’s witty banter, Oliver’s coverage has started making a real impact on various social institutions and policy decisions.
On one episode, Oliver bashed mega-churches, particularly televangelists who exploit their audiences for money. To prove how easy it is to bypass US tax law and create a mega-church, Oliver founded his own church on-air, which was able to legally collect thousands of dollars from audience members.
Oliver dissolved the church soon after and donated the money to Doctors Without Borders.
Oliver’s most notable story covered net neutrality. Last year, the FCC proposed new rules that would allow large Internet providers to charge tech companies more money in exchange for faster Internet speeds.
Thousands of people commented on the FCC website after Oliver’s segment aired, crashing the site in the process.
Less than a year later, the FCC voted to pass rules protecting net neutrality.
In many ways, Oliver’s humor works to his advantage. While traditional news sources may be perceived as boring by younger audiences, comedic newscasts are able to keep viewers engaged. This allows more people greater access to education on issues they may not have known about otherwise.
“I love John Oliver because his show sheds light on serious issues in a hilarious context,” said junior magazine media major Molly Longman. “He makes you die laughing about the Russian import embargo, while making you understand and care about it — which is quite a feat.”
Humor certainly does not disqualify a journalist from being reputable, and the proof is in the pudding. Oliver’s unique reporting style has brought attention to obscure issues that are seldom covered on other media outlets.
By bringing attention to these issues, Oliver is able to encourage audience members to take action and make a difference in the topics he discusses.
Oftentimes, humorous news sources are able to convey a message more effectively than other news organizations.
“Jon Stewart was always very careful to be accurate in the actual claims he made. John Oliver is as well,” said politics professor Arthur Sanders. “People who watched The Colbert Report when he formed his own PAC learned much more about PACs than anyone who relied exclusively on traditional network newscasts. John Oliver teaches people about issues every week.”
The entertainment factor of Oliver’s reporting allows him to incorporate tactics traditional reporters cannot use.
These tactics contribute to the depth, thoroughness and discretion used in the stories covered on “Last Week Tonight.” This often makes Oliver’s reporting more successful than that of conventional news reporters.
“One thing that he does that makes him successful is spending an extended amount of time on a single story,” Sanders said. “His review of issues of the week that starts the show does look more like a ‘regular newcast,’ although even there he can spend more time on any story than the networks can. And when he gets to his ‘main story of the day’, he is clearly more like ‘60 Minutes’ than any network newscast.”
In today’s media climate, people are oversaturated with content, particularly millennials. Unable to navigate the tumultuous environment, the younger generation is out of touch with the issues that may influence their lives.
Through his focus and entertaining persona, Oliver makes approaching current events much less daunting.
“I think Oliver stands out because, unlike other late night comedians, he doesn’t just skim over issues. He picks one topic, and makes you really understand it and care about it,” Longman said. “Topics like government surveillance and oil company monopolies are not things you’re going to look into in your down time — unless John Oliver is presenting them to you. Basically, he makes learning about subjects that lack luster fun. He’s like the Bill Nye of the modern, adult world.”