Last Week Tonight returned with an important discussion on the continued relevance of print journalism, even in today's internet-based society. Before launching into his main segment, host John Oliver and the team at Last Week Tonight spent some time discussion the 2016 Summer Olympics, currently being held in Rio amid a lot of controversy.
Oliver began by talking about the opening ceremony, typically an extravagant event introducing each country. This year, however, NBC's announcers seemed to have studied each and every depressing fact about each country and relayed that to viewers instead of the usual inspirational tidbits typically conveyed. Oliver also chastised the announcers for making childish jokes about country names, and blatantly objectifying the flag carrier from Tongo.
Last Week Tonight also mentioned the various political situations facing Brazil at the moment, from its President being suspended over allegations of corruption, to the poor conditions many athletes have faced, to the poverty facing many citizens in the country itself.
The games still have a chance to be inspiring - and in fact, this year are featuring a team of refugees competing under the Olympic flag. Each one has an amazing story, and has survived under incredibly difficult circumstances.
The show's main segment dealt with the importance of print journalism, a sadly dying industry. Oliver highlighted the frequency with which television and online journalists rely on print sources for their own stories, making print journalism under appreciated and used way more often than the average person would think. Last Week Tonight itself relies heavily on local newspapers to present many of its stories, including their piece on state lotteries. That piece extensively sited from Harry Esteve's work for The Oregonian in order to substantiate its claims.
The media is a food chain which would fall apart without local newspapers.
One of the problems facing print journalism is revenue. Print ad costs have gone way down, while online ad costs have improved, but not nearly enough to make up the difference. This leaves many newspaper budgets short, resulting in cuts and layoffs. The current trend is for papers to go "digital first", meaning that their content goes up online before it goes to print. This can create additional pressure to create more content, which will undoubtedly result in lower quality of work.
These budget cuts have also resulted in the removal of statehouse reporters in many papers, with a nationwide decrease of 35% being reported. Statehouse reports are needed to report on local governments, and serve as a conduit between local government and the community at large. In many cases, these reporters hold local politicians accountable, and keep them in line. Oliver likened it to a seventh grade teacher leaving a class alone to supervise itself. It isn't going to go well. One journalist said that without reporters there to keep local politicians in line, it will become a fantastic time to be corrupt.
Oliver stressed the importance of newspapers being lead by individuals who can recognize that "what's most popular isn't always what's most important" and can find a balance between getting the most clicks and informing one's audience. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. In one particular case, Tribune, which owns many papers across the States, rebranded itself "tronc" and has placed a huge focus on following online trends.
Having your paper purchased by a wealthy benefactor is one way to keep print journalism afloat, but it doesn't always work out to the paper's advantage. For every story about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post, there is another story about the Las Vegas Review-Journal being purchased by Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is a billionaire casino owner whose businesses were often covered by the Review-Journal reporters. After being purchased by Adelson, the articles written about his companies were often changed so much that the original writer asked to have their name removed from the piece.
Oliver placed part of the blame on those who consume the news, but who are unwilling to "pay for the work that journalists do". He pointed out that as a society, we are used to getting our news for free, and that we are often reluctant to start paying for something we are accustomed to getting without cost. The alternative is to have the quality of journalism reduced, the removal of entire, vital departments, and an industry wide shift to click-bait. Oliver closed the show by previewing a fake trailer to a different type of Spotlight - one based off of what journalism in the future (and of today, to be honest) may very well look like.
You can watch the segment on journalism below. Last Week Tonight will return next week at 11:00 p.m. on HBO.
...at least when seventy-something American politicians get creepily handsy with thirty-something women they have the decency to do so with their own daughters.
...it's like a citizen of Pompeii saying 'What I love about this city is how volcano-proof it is.'
'Digital first' sounds like a high school euphemism for sucking on a finger.
They decided to call themselves 'tronc' which sounds like the noise an ejaculating elephant makes. Or, more appropriately, the sound of a stack of print newspapers being thrown into a dumpster.