Despite insisting to Fusion’s Jorge Ramos he’s “not a journalist” but a “comedian,” Last Week Tonight host John Oliver and his team have produced some hugely significant (and popular) stories since 2014. From the viral “Donald Drumpf” segment to the show’s forgiveness of $15 million in medical debt, it seems the former Daily Show correspondent can only use his powers for good. (Even if said powers include discussing privacy in the digital surveillance age with Edward Snowden, a la dick pics.)
As Oliver himself admitted on Sunday’s episode, however, much of this — even the research conducted by the Last Week Tonight team — rests on the shoulders of newspaper journalists. Even 24-hour cable news networks like CNN are guilty of this, as evidenced by the above segment’s opening montage. So in the spirit of the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, Oliver begins his “Journalism” deep dive by giving full credit to Harry Esteve, a former political reporter for The Oregonian who left in 2014. Esteve’s work on state lotteries served as the basis for one of the show’s first longform pieces.
Touching nods aside, the rest of Oliver’s comments on the state (and future) of newspaper journalism are anything but positive. Much of this has to do with billionaire investors like Sam Zell, who purchased the Tribune Company in 2007 and subsequently obliterated several major papers. That, or modern readers’ penchant for cat videos and viral news stories, which the show lampoons with a parody Spotlight trailer starring Jason Sudeikis, Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne.
“The truth is, a big part of the blame for this industry’s dire straights is on us, and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce,” Oliver concludes. “We’ve just grown accustomed to getting our news for free. And the longer that we get something for free, the less willing we are to pay for it.”