What made Jon Stewart, and moreover The Daily Show, trustworthy and compelling to young adults?
On August 6, 2015, Jon Stewart said goodbye to the nation after sixteen years as host of The Daily Show. By his side to wish him well was previous Daily Show correspondent and soon-to-be host of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert. A fitting farewell to two individuals who were considered by many young adults not only as a comedic outlet but as a viable source for trusted news.
Through his career as anchor, Stewart has gained the trust of America not just through satire and comedy but through a direct and deeply critical approach to news other resources aren’t always willing to undertake. Even as early as 2007, Jon Stewart had won the hearts of many by finding himself rated among the most trusted men in America, alongside far-reaching news sources like Tom Brokaw (NBC), Dan Rather (CBS), and Anderson Cooper (CNN).
In a 2014 Pew Research Poll, The Daily Show was ranked sixth alongside more “serious” news sources when it came to trust in regards to government and political coverage. Also, in a 2014 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey, one in ten young adults stated they found The Daily Show or The Colbert Report as their most trusted source for television news when it came to current events or politics.
Some, with good reason, caution the danger of interpreting large scale applicability with the data from these polls and surveys, but at the same time, collectively it makes for an interesting conversation regarding where young adults seek their news and why.
While sadly no longer a young adult, I currently find myself growing weary of the 24-hour news stream, which is often overwhelmingly biased or sensationalized. As a result, while I still read the news on a regular basis, when I watch the news, it is typically delivered by John Oliver on his weekly HBO series Last Week Tonight.
Some would argue Oliver’s content cannot be considered news, but what I find draws me in is the depth to which he is willing to delve into a topic, his willingness to offer a candid opinion, and his urging to take action on issues of importance. This is similar to the delivery Jon Stewart offered as host of The Daily Show.
Maybe the interest in news delivered in Daily Show or Last Week Tonight fashion is a result not only of trust in the anchors as individuals but also as a way to counteract the sanitized learning experiences many young adults have faced to this point.
With the adoption of No Child Left Behind in 2001, preparation for high stakes testing has replaced genuine instruction and dialogue within classrooms around the United States. Instead of delving deeply into fewer topics, educators have been forced to “cover” material on a surface level. Instead of being able to speak or write candidly on topics of interest, students are led to express themselves through restricted writing prompts or five paragraph essays. Instead of being called to action within the community, the only call to action many students feel is to ensure their success on standardized tests.
Enter Jon Stewart as The Daily Show grew more popular throughout the mid to late 2000s, and there may be a correlation between students wanting something unsanitized that invites them to think deeply, speak candidly, and take action–an opportunity not being offered regularly in the classroom.
So who will replace Stewart for these young adults? Or, will we find that the format of shows like The Daily Show continue to provide an alternative that speaks to a younger generation? Let’s hope that whatever the replacement may be, it calls young viewers to think critically, dialogue openly, and take action.
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