John Oliver’s 19-minute riff about what’s become of local newspapers made me laugh. Parts of it also made me want to cry.
But it did not make me want to complain — even for one second — about the comedian’s acerbic commentary on journalism in his “Last Week Tonight” show Sunday on HBO. Because the whole Oliver piece was a pitch-perfect ode to how important newspapers are to their communities, and how troubling it is that they are fading.
Chavern wrote a post Monday on the NAA website, the headline of which accused Oliver of “petty insults and stating the obvious.”
He wrote that Oliver’s “making fun of experiments and pining away for days when classified ads and near-monopolistic positions in local ad markets funded journalism is pointless and ultimately harmful.”
Actually, no. What Oliver did was precisely nail everything that’s been happening in the industry that Chavern represents: The shrinking staffs, the abandonment of important beats, the love of click bait over substance, the deadly loss of ad revenue, the truly bad ideas that have come to the surface out of desperation, the persistent failures to serve the reading public.
Oliver — who is, after all, in the comedy business — did indeed make fun of Tronc, the renamed Tribune Co., whose incomprehensible corporate jargon thoroughly deserves the drubbing it’s been getting in recent months. And he took some well-deserved shots at media’s addiction to content that generates digital traffic, particularly ever-weirder stories about cats. And Oliver’s final sequence was a brilliant send-up of the movie “Spotlight” as it would be in the new newspaper environment.
In short, Oliver’s piece — widely read and talked about on Monday, not only in media circles but among lots of nonjournalists who value good journalism — was pretty much a love letter to newspapers.
And those who saw it might even realize, more than ever before, that they have to do something about this demise — something involving opening up their wallets.
Chavern, whose organization represents nearly 2,000 newspaper publishers, came to NAA last year after 10 years at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He is not, therefore, a newspaper guy and it shows. (For the record, he did say, in passing, that he liked parts of the Oliver piece, but that was very much not the point of his response.)
After crumpling up Oliver’s love letter and sneering at its author, he had a suggestion for his next installment.
“I would just ask Mr. Oliver to spend more time talking about what the future of news could be,” he wrote, “and less time poking fun at publishers who are trying to get there.”
And I, in turn, have a suggestion for Mr. Chavern. When someone hilariously and poignantly celebrates the industry that you are paid to defend and protect, you ought to laugh at the funny parts and then simply say “thank you.”
Or maybe nothing at all.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan