One of the glories of the digital age is the breadth of information available to online consumers with the click of a button. But that ease of access has a cost, John Oliver warned on his latest edition of Last Week Tonight. Print news is struggling more than ever and the decline of traditional journalism could have a massive impact on your life.
To prove his point, Oliver played a supercut of various TV news stations citing traditional newspapers.
"It's pretty obvious without newspapers around to cite, TV news would just be Wolf Blitzer endlessly batting a ball of yarn around," Oliver joked. "And it's not just news outlets. Stupid shows like ours lean heavily on local papers...We try to add new information to our stories. Our researchers work incredibly hard. But the media is a food chain that would fall apart without local newspapers."
However, attempts to make journalism profitable again are also risky, Oliver noted. For digital publications, getting clicks on fluffy stories about puppies often trumps their responsibility to produce articles that cover important - yet less profitable -- issues.
One breed of journalist that has been hit the hardest is the statehouse reporter. Oliver reports that about 35 percent of full-time writers covering legislators were let go between 2003 and 2014. And that's a huge problem because those reporters help keep local and state politicians honest.
"Not having reporters at government meetings is like a teacher leaving her room of seventh graders to supervise themselves," Oliver warned. "Best case scenario, Britney gets gum in her hair. Worst case scenario, YOU NO LONGER HAVE A SCHOOL!"
But rather than faulting publishers and editors who are making difficult decisions to keep journalism alive, Oliver pointed the finger at us: online consumers.
"The truth is, a bit part of the blame for this industry's dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce. We've just grown accustomed to getting our news for free. And the longer we get something for free, the less willing we are to pay for it. And I'm talking to you, the person watching this on Youtube using the wifi from the coffee shop underneath your apartment...but sooner or later, we are either going to have to pay for journalism or we are going to pay for it."
Check out the full segment for more insights on the decline of journalism. At the end, Oliver tees up a fake movie trailer satirizing the present state of digital media.