Finding unbiased and factually accurate information has become progressively more difficult to find in this new age of information. The days of tuning in to CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the Nightly News are quickly becoming a thing of the past. With progressively declining numbers in viewership, more news outlets are aggressively seeking out new digital platforms to reach the masses. It is a daily fight for networks to hold their viewer base. News outlets are looking for an edge to keep numbers from declining. Shows are riding a wave to find the most extreme stories just to keep their numbers up. Well-researched, fact based news is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Rasmussen reports that only 6 percent of viewers trust their news sources as trustworthy. Such statistics have made way for a new trend reaching the masses, news via satirical outlets.
Satirical news is not a new phenomenon. Saturday Night Live paved the wave of political satire in the 1970’s with its humorous news segments and headline news based skits. HBO followed with a long running sketch comedy series called Not Necessarily the News in the 80s. But the trend hit new highs when The Daily Show starring Jon Stewart premiered in the 1990’s and a spin-off with The Colbert Report featuring Stephen Colbert hit the airwaves in the 2000s. With faith in receiving spin-free, unbiased news from conventional news organizations fading; shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher have flourished stealing away viewers at record rates.
As fact checking and reasonable investigation becomes a thing of the past, more news seeking audiences are tuning into these satire based programs feeling more informed and politically aware over any other information source. But television news networks are not the only sources hit by the new satirical news trend, newspapers have cut back significantly on hard copy publication opting to take their work online. Yet competition is high in the digital format with sites like Funny or Die. Taking on hot button issues such as California’s ban on gay equality and the global international crisis, comedy videos are aimed at a younger new generation of voters. These videos have opened the playing field into a whole new political environment reaching a larger viewership through viral sharing. The satirical news trend has been so successful in reaching the masses that high-powered figures in news, politics, science, and business are making these outlets a priority in their PR strategies.
In light of the power behind the viral media source, President Barack Obama used the platform to fix the failing PR mess around the Affordable Care Act with a highly successful video on Funny or Die featuring Actor and Comedian Zach Galifianackis. Appearing in Between Two Ferns broadcast Funny or Die, the President used his own sense of humor on a subject he felt needed to reach the widest possible audience. The video was so successful it reached over 5 million viewers and secured over 4 million new hits to the recovering healthcare website. Political activists are not the only leaders seeking the PR power of satirical media, environmental activists have taken to the airwaves to broaden the scope of awareness on various environmental causes such as Will Farrell and Robert Redford’s support for regenerating the drying Colorado River. Dr. Neil deGrass Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium, has become a regular on both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to spread awareness of new scientific findings and even Bill Nye “the science guy” took to the satirical circuit to bring awareness to his cause of evolution over creationism.
The reach of satirical news has taken the power out of the hands of the established news brokers and put the strength of the media in the hands of the people. The general masses are reaching out for these new trends to stay fresh; using satirical methods to awaken awareness in a new digital age.
Opinion by Kimberly Beller