I do not feel that I consume most news, especially that of a political nature, from any site or sites in particular. I try to avoid online echo chambers and try to always take into account that I do not know the biases of those that have created whatever media I am consuming. One source that I do frequent, however, is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, especially the portions of the show that are uploaded to YouTube.
Most likely, the first reason I keep coming back to Oliver’s show is that I find it very entertaining. Oliver himself has stated that he considers his show first and foremost a comedy show. He is a comedian by profession and has little to no background as a proper journalist. I think this helps make his content relatable and entertaining to me and a broader audience that dislikes most news content. Beyond just the comedy, Oliver has a particular way of framing and reporting stories that makes them engaging. He starts his stories at a very basic and easy to understand level without ever seeming to talk down to me as an audience member. He expands his ideas well in a way that is easy to follow and is rational. His relatable comedic approach is what causes me to frequently watch his show, even when the topic being discussed is not of particular interest to me personally.
They news that Oliver covers in his show varies pretty drastically from episode to episode. He has done several shows on the same subject and featured recurring segments, but from episode to episode he usually focuses on different topics. Most of his stories concern recent events or things he identifies as problems in our world, often times shining a light onto things that most people do not realize are issues. I get the sense watching the show that what he covers tends to be what he finds and his team of writers, who I imagine to primarily be people he got to know when working as a correspondent and occasional host for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, find most interesting or important to talk about.
Oliver’s main audience is basically people like me. I think he aims for younger viewers from high school kids to millenials, especially on the show’s YouTube channel, where I usually watch. I imagine the actual show’s broadcast draws a slightly older crowd as it requires an HBO subscription which requires the means to pay for said subscription and is a decidedly old-media format as compared to online sources like the YouTube channel. Regardless, I believe most of his audience to be on the young side, to include many education levels due to the broad appeal of his delivery and comedic stylings, and to be heavily liberally skewed. Oliver’s rise to fame largely occurred on The Daily Show, a very liberal show that frequently mocked conservative politics and news sources. Oliver has also frequently focused on pieces criticizing Donald Trump and other conservative politicians, again suggesting a liberal-leaning audience. Along with this history, he also seems to agree with whatever the liberal stance is on any given topic.
In large part due to his leanings, I believe one of the shortcomings of Oliver’s show is that he has added to outrage culture. The way he formats many of his segments tend to lack nuance and balance that I believe would more holistically represent his topics. Oliver often focuses on the negative aspects of a situation and usually conveys a pessimistic view on his subjects. While I typically find this entertaining and more often than not agree with what he is saying, I find myself wondering what is left out, and feel that too many people find his coverage of a story sufficient to have an understanding of a topic, regurgitate his talking points and become angry at whatever subject he covered. I think this reductive approach can sometimes cause as much harm as good and leads to what he is covering being discussed temporarily by his base, causing many of them to become outraged and engage in online activism for a week, to only to forget soon thereafter; being substituted by whatever new thing that other people online or on TV tell them to be outraged over.
I believe Oliver in many ways simply contributes to a left-leaning online echo chamber and lacks balance. In many ways, however, it is hard to criticize Oliver too much over this. He does not claim in any way to be a journalist, and most people, whether they realize it or not, are drawn to his content because they are likely to agree with him and are entertained by his personality and delivery. I believe that a balanced view is missing from his show, and he would be likely to agree with that sentiment. In order for his show to be the type of news reporting that some of his viewership pretend it to be, it would need to include more pieces highlighting shortcomings of liberal politicians and more conservative viewpoints.