John Oliver: ‘Malfeasance Will Run Amok' If We Don't Save Journalism

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The decline of newspapers and the rise of the brave new world of digital news — where cat videos fight it out with politicians for attention — has got John Oliver worried.

The host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” launched his segment on the scary future of journalism with, well, a dig at the publication you’re reading right now.

“Papers have been closing and downsizing for years, and that affects all of us, even if you only get your news from Facebook, Google, Twitter or Arianna Huffington’s blockquote junction and book excerpt clearinghouse,” Oliver told his audience on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” Sunday.

Hilarious, but ouch.

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A newsstand in New York, October 18, 2012. (Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Oliver makes a point that many of us in journalism have been concerned about for years: As newspapers decline, coverage of local and political issues declines, and TV and online media are not filling the void.

“Those places are often just repackaging the work of newspapers,” Oliver noted, admitting that “stupid shows” like his own are often guilty of the same thing.

david simon
David Simon, creator of "The Wire" and a veteran of the Baltimore Sun, seen here in Los Angeles in 2008, is warning that corruption could run out of control as newsrooms reduce staffing. (Photo: AP/Reed Saxton)

Oliver left it to David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire” and a longtime veteran of the Baltimore Sun, to explain exactly why we should fear the void being left by newspapers — fewer and fewer reporters are paying attention to what politicians are actually doing.

The next 10 or 15 years are going to be a halcyon era for state and local corruption. It is going to be a great time to be a corrupt politician. I really envy them.

Oliver cited data showing that newspapers’ business models are crumbling: In the past decade, U.S. papers have added $2 billion annually to their digital revenue — but have lost $30 billion in print ad sales.

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Many of Canada's biggest English-language daily papers were brought together under one roof with the Postmedia-Sun newspaper merger, but that hasn't stopped newsrooms from shrinking. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Here in Canada, the situation looks little better. Many of Canada’s big-city newspapers were brought together under one roof when National Post owner Postmedia bought the Sun newspaper chain in 2014.

But that doesn’t seem to have stopped newsrooms from shrinking. Postmedia announced earlier this year it would consolidate newsrooms across the country, cutting 90 jobs. The company recently proposed a restructuring plan that would cut its $648-million debt in half.

A 2013 study found Canada had lost 10,000 media jobs in the previous five years — 6,000 jobs in print and 3,700 in broadcast.

So who’s responsible for this mess?

“A big part of the blame is on us — people consuming news for free,” Oliver said, adding that “malfeasance will run amok” without journalists holding politicians to account.

“Either we are either going have to to pay for journalism, or we are all going to pay for it.”

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