Posted by: mbtrotter | November 16, 2010

Who’s a journalist?

While watching a lot of TV is a fun way to put off grad school assignments, this week I’ve decided to blog about a different aspect of how journalists are portrayed in pop culture. With mock news outlets — The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Onion — gaining audience members, now is a good time to ask who is a journalist and who isn’t.

The day of the 2010 midterm elections, I had the privilege of interviewing Nishani Dissanayake, a highly regarded Sri Lankan journalist who edits two newspapers in her country. She also translates popular English works of fiction into Sinhalese. The interview was part of a larger work by Arizona State University’s 2010 graduate cohort, but it took a particularly interesting turn and taught me an interesting lesson about who we regard as journalists.

It’s one thing if someone from another country respects Jon Stewart as a journalist, but Americans do, too. Check out these findings from a 2007 Pew Research survey:

  • Stewart was tied for fourth among journalists Americans admire most with Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw.
  • Overall, The Daily Show news agenda is quite close to those of cable news talk shows.
  • The Daily Show beats Hannity & Colmes in the ratings.

Stewart is quite comparable to many journalists. And if you still doubt his credibility, remember that he interviewed President Barack Obama the week before the elections. Not many traditional journalists do that, and when they do, not many do it well. Jokes aside, Stewart conducted a great interview.

In addition, the staff at The Daily Show fact check. Aggressively. Poynter Online reported:

One of the show’s rules is to not trust any source too much until it’s been confirmed by another source. The show’s 11 writers and eight producers — who range in age from their early 20s to mid 40s and four of whom are women — say they often check The New York Times and other newspapers to verify the facts and figures they hear on TV or read about on blogs. They also have a researcher and fact-checker, Adam Chodikoff, who makes sure any information that’s used has been verified by multiple sources.

And when other media outlets don’t, they call them out, whether it’s Fox News or CNN.

Maybe most people aren’t ready to embrace Stewart as a journalist, but all the hallmarks are there.

All video in this post is the copyrighted material of Comedy Central and was purchased by the author for not-for-profit use.


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