boler/research on TDS cited in CTV

i was thrilled to be asked by CTV journalist Andrea Janus to comment on yet another academic study on the effects of The Daily Show…and, the story accurately captures my concerns about how these social science studies reductively misrepresent the cultural significance of “fake news” and satire…

Is ‘fake news’ informative? Study tests fun vs factsUpdated Sun. Sep. 14 2008 8:31 AM ET Andrea Janus, News

[i am posting the second half of story…for full version see link below]

In a study of about 85 people, Kim and Vishak found that fake news show viewers:

  • Retain more information about a political candidate’s personal life and less about their positions on political issues.
  • Retain less information about political issues and processes compared to viewers of network news.

Mock news shows may not be the best way to learn about political candidates and issues because viewers watch the programs to be entertained, Kim said. So they may not be paying attention to all of the details.

Are comedy viewers also news consumers?

Megan Boler, a professor of media studies and philosophy of education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, disagrees and points to other studies.

A 2007 Pew Research Center study found that fans of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report rank high in surveys of public affairs knowledge, she said.

Viewers of the shows are already informed before they tune in, Boler said.

“The Daily Show is not watched to the exclusion of other sources,” Boler said in an interview with “In order to appreciate satire you have to have background knowledge. You’re not going to have pleasure watching The Daily Show if you haven’t been talking to your friends about what’s going on, following other kinds of news sources.”

Boler argues that Kim’s study, which showed viewers 20-minute video segments from either NBC and CNN or The Daily Show about a Supreme Court nominee, fails to take into account how viewers gather news.

More people are getting their news from a variety of sources, including blogs and Internet media outlets, in an attempt to be more politically engaged, she said.

Therefore, reaction to a single news clip cannot accurately evaluate a subjects’ political knowledge because it does not reflect the fact that people rarely gain that knowledge from a single source.

And the study ignores the fact that many viewers watch the programs online, which has spurred a whole online, user-generated media industry.

“Through that online watching there’s a level of citizenship engagement where people can comment on it, they can link to it on their blogs, they can talk to their friends about it online, so there’s an intense kind of community building,” Boler said.

At the end of the day, the role of satirical news shows isn’t to be a single source of information for viewers.

“Most people are aware that part of the pleasure of watching the Daily Show or Colbert is that it’s making fun of news formats. It’s doing that both in content and form,” Boler said.

“It’s doing that by pretending to be news and it’s doing it by using clips from actual news and then making a joke about how straight news is doing its job. And it’s urging you to ask questions about the role of media in a democracy.”

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