What the Mainstream Media Can Learn From Jon Stewart
Asking what the mainstream media can learn from Jon Stewart may sound like asking what nutritionists can learn from Cookie Monster, but there's quite a bit of logic to it. Anyone who has to constantly remind people that he's not a real journalist (and downplay the extent of his influence) must be doing something right. However, what precisely is Stewart doing that should be emulated? Chances are, it's not his sock puppet routines.
Humor The fact is, Jon Stewart's deceptively careless presentation camouflages a very smart tactic that has applications far beyond "The Daily Show." An examination of what he does reveals where the mainstream news fails. In fact, the major news programs could win back the viewers that they've lost to niche programs like "The Daily Show" if they started following his model. "I know!", you cry "You're going to say that the secret weapon is HUMOR! If only Brian Williams had a sock puppet!" Nope.
Humor is the least of it. Sure, getting a chuckle out of you helps Jon Stewart keep your attention, but "The Daily Show" isn't merely humorous. Furthermore, we all know that sometimes his jokes aren't funny; sometimes, they're so true that it's not clear where the funny part is supposed to be.
Analytical depth and brevity. No, what Jon Stewart really does is combine two things that may seem irreconcilable: analytical depth, and brevity. The depth is there because Stewart isn't hampered by the need to appear impartial, and can go into detail about his views without the fear of delivering a 'biased' account of the news, nor is he limited by the rules of decorum; the brevity is because people like their content delivered in easily digestible morsels.
Commentary In the mainstream media's view of the world, you watch the news for facts, and when you want commentary with some depth to it, you watch hour-long magazine shows. However, when was the last time you sat down to watch "Washington Week"? Have you ever? If you're below the age of 50, the answer is probably no.
While it's important that we retain some news outlets that aim to be impartial, news without commentary isn't terribly valuable these days-if you need to actually watch the news to find out what's going on, it's probably because you were away from your computer that day. Commentary, on the other hand, is highly desirable but tends to come in only two varieties: intellectual (but dry and obscure), or a bunch of morons screaming at each other around a table. In both cases, watching them in full takes up more of your time than you can afford. Even if you're up for a long round of commentary, chances are you just don't have the time and inclination to watch it all the time. You can't watch it every day.
One-stop shopping. That's where "The Daily Show" with comes in: It's one-stop-shopping for the news and commentary, and it's fast. You're not just getting the news, you're getting what intelligent people think about the news (albeit intelligent people you might not always agree with), and it's over practically before you've finished your tea.
The Man In regard to Stewart himself, the non-news portions of the show are what give him so much credibility as a news filter- we see Jon Stewart in so many different contexts, we know he's intelligent. Anyone can read prepared material and sound intelligent (well, almost anyone), but we watch Stewart swapping one-liners with witty guests, improvising when he needs to save a comedy bit that's failing, and out-arguing pundits who disagree with him. That kind of consistent, inter-disciplinary intelligence just can't be faked. When Jon Stewart gives you his take on the news, you aren't listening to someone whom you think might be pretty smart; you can see it for yourself.
If you only have a little bit of time available for both news and commentary on that news, you want to get both in one shot. You also want to get it from someone intelligent, and whom you trust. This is the service that Jon Stewart provides, and until the rest of the media catches up, he's the only game in town.