Baum. Soft News

The Daily Show: our new Teacher in Politics?
October 16, 2015 – 04:32 pm
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This paper will work to establish whether or not The Daily Show (TDS) can be considered responsible for providing politically inattentive individuals the tools in order to become politically aware. In order to do so, this paper will discuss academic papers and viewpoints concerned with soft news, TDS, and effects on the politically inattentive.

Soft news can be defined as “…a set of story characteristics, including the absence of a public policy component, sensationalized presentation, human-interest themes, and emphasis on dramatic subject matter, such as crime and disaster” (Baum, 2002). Soft news encompasses both television and print in the forms of daytime/ late night talk shows, tabloid news programs, and network news magazines. Due to its vast number of mediums and its enticing story lines, large numbers of Americans consume soft news, and as a result, they consume a lot more soft news than hard news (traditional news).

Importantly, soft news is much more complex than being just “entertainment-based”. Quite the contrary, soft news actually engages and presents its audiences with relevant political information by piggybacking (attaching politically relevant information to entertainment information) and cheap framing (framing issues in incredibly accessible terms). Soft news sneaks the veggies onto the dinner plate when it comes to politically educating the public. Given the fact that soft news is extremely predominant in the media, and, that on average consumers are more interested in being entertained rather than being informed; it is only reasonable to study the effects that soft news has when it comes to politically informing individuals and thus, influencing policymaking.

Within this understanding of soft news, it follows that late-night political satire like TDS can be identified as soft news. Although scholars have argued whether or not TDS can rightfully be deemed soft news or should be considered alternative journalism, for the purposes of this paper we will assume that it can be placed in the category of soft news. “The humor of The Daily Show is more dependent on irony, parody, and satire than the simpler jokes of late- night talk show hosts, like Leno and Letterman, and viewers are more cognitively engaged; yet, the complexity of its humor is achieved during a shorter time frame: a thirty- minute program versus the hour- and a- half format of most late- night talk shows”(The Stewart/Colbert Effect, 2011). Accordingly, TDS appears to play much more than an entertainment role, but actually plays the role of a “…“rhetorical critic... who creatively guides audiences toward democratic possibilities” (The Stewart/Colbert Effect, 2011). In regards to this, TDS has acquired a lot of academic attention regarding its influence on both the politically attentive and inattentive segments of the population.

Matthew Baum’s 2002 “Sex, Lies and War: How Soft News Brings Policy to the Inattentive Public” argues that Americans who are termed politically inattentive, and therefore do not subscribe to or follow conventional hard news media, are likely to acquire information concerning foreign crises and other similar issues through soft news. Baum’s research and statistic-based findings show that soft news appears to increase political attentiveness in traditionally non-political American viewers (Kennedy, 2012). Moreover, Baum emphasizes in this article that politically inattentive individuals acquire such information as a “...incidental by-product of seeking entertainment” (Baum, 2002).

Since this paper’s objective is to establish whether or not TDS indeed informs politically inattentive individuals, it appears as though Baum’s general findings support TDS’s educational power. In an attempt to try and confirm this statement, it would be beneficial to assume that Baum’s findings are true. This would mean that TDS informs a politically inattentive segment of the population and thus influence their political opinion/actions through the provided content and quality of news. I mention the quality of news along with content to communicate that content alone cannot deliver the results necessary to satisfy Baum’s conclusions. “If TDS simply informs viewers enough to be able to identify certain people, places, and events, to know what certain things are going on in the world, it’s not clear that the show provides a valuable public service” (Zinser, 2007). Moreover, TDS possesses the virtue of being unburdened by objectivity. By being unburdened by objectivity, TDS is “…unfettered by the typical constraints of traditional news…” possessing the ability to “…impart a kind of information inappropriate and unavailable to conventional news outlets” (Zinser, 2007). In regard to Baum, it seems apparent that Zinser’s analysis of TDS further supports Baum’s theory. Thus, from these two perspectives of soft news, it becomes clear that TDS has the ability to influence politically inattentive individuals, but also possesses the virtue to provide them with some of the most honest political information.

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How To Find Soft News

Soft news is commonly referred to as infotainment. It usually features light topics such as entertainment, celebrity news and other news about human interest. Although they are factual, most of the items in this type of news are a product of the reporter’s curiosity.

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