Jon as Journalist? Station Anchors Assess Stewart Legacy

'Daily Show' host figured out a way to make political news tasty for the apathetic
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As Jon Stewart preps for his final Daily Show performance, I checked in with some respected local TV anchors to get their read on the host’s legacy. Opinions varied as to whether they consider Stewart a journalist, yet all appeared to agree that Stewart is a master communicator—and a truly funny guy.

“Under his stewardship, The Daily Show has mastered the art of holding elected officials accountable,” said David Carroll, WRCB Chattanooga anchor, via email. “When many traditional news outlets were simply running the daily soundbites and talking points, The Daily Show was scouring the archives, revealing that what an official said today directly contradicted what he said five years ago. Many of us sat back and said, ‘Hey, why aren’t we doing more of this?’”

Down in Spartanburg, South Carolina, WSPA anchor Amy Wood is reluctant to label Stewart as a journalist due to Stewart’s opinion often being obvious in his bits. “A comedian who delivers the news,” she says. “A columnist-comedian.”

Stephen Clark, anchor at WXYZ Detroit, admits to some frustration in the way Stewart is perceived by a younger generation. “A lot of people consider Stewart as a reputable and trusted source for news, which only makes my job harder,” Clark says via email. “I believe that people like Stewart and [Stephen] Colbert have forced TV journalism in a direction that, while more entertaining, is certainly not as enlightening.”

Carroll sees it differently. “I think he has done more for journalism than many network news executives and major market editors,” he says.

The anchors give Stewart credit for making politics and current events palatable for the otherwise apathetic, and getting them to tune in to news—even if it’s, well, fake news. “He engaged a whole generation that had left news behind,” says Wood. “He leaves a big void. Where are they going to go? I pray they’ll come back in some fashion; hopefully we’ll be able to connect with some of those folks.”

Finally, lessons learned from Jon Stewart? A dogged social media presence, though the anchors in this post all happen to be tenacious on that front. While not every anchor is blessed with his comedic chops, Wood says Stewart’s accessible manner is something to be emulated.  “We have to look to be more engaging in delivering the news,” she says, “in a way people can really grasp.”

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