John Oliver's Journalism Segment Draws Ire of Newspaper Association

John Oliver TRONC logo Screenshot H 2016

Newspaper exec David Chavern asked Oliver to spend "less time poking fun at publishers."

When it comes to the financial plight of the struggling newspaper business, John Oliver's "Journalism" segment on Last Week Tonight seems to have hit a nerve. 

The nearly 20-minute segment aired by the HBO show on Sunday night was an in-depth dissection of the economic woes of print journalism and the pressure to skimp on quality in favor of content.

It included Oliver's satirical movie trailer for Stoplight, a spoof of the 2015 Oscar winner for best picture Spotlight, about a reporter who has to abandon his corruption investigation of city hall so that he can make cat memes.

Newspaper Association of America CEO David Chavern, however, was less than keen to take a joke. The trade association head published an earnest rebuttal Monday morning, taking issue with several points of Oliver's scathing assessment. 

"[O]ther than encouraging people to 'pay for' more news, he doesn't offer any answers," the newspaper exec retorted. "More particularly, he spends most of the piece making fun of publishers who are just trying to figure it out."

Chavern added, in reference to a widely mocked recent move by Tribune Publishing to change its name to tronc: "Whatever you think of the name 'tronc' and that company's announced growth strategy, at least they are trying new things and trying to figure out how to create great news journalism in the digital era. John Oliver doesn't seem to have any better ideas."

Chavern said that he "actually loved how the piece starts" but faulted Oliver for not having more solutions about how to improve newspapers' revenue streams.