The Colbert Report as “Soft News”
Guest Author: Angela Hart
The Colbert Report airs at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central Monday through Thursday. The program is hosted by Stephen Colbert and can best be described as a “politainment,” . The Colbert Report is unique; it approaches news stories in a humorous way, making them more light hearted and enjoyable to watch. Most importantly, Steven Colbert is portraying a character, an upper class partisan who lacks worldly experience and often, common sense. The satire genre utilizes irony and sarcasm; Colbert’s supposed lack of knowledge, while he delivers the news, underscores the tone of the program – how can someone who doesn’t understand the story inform others? This element of satire creates an interesting dynamic, influencing Colbert’s interviews and jokes.
While Colbert may seem like a regular reporter sitting behind his news desk with videos and photos shown in the left upper quadrant of the screen, his delivery is what makes him distinctive. He frequently curses, incorporates props, and makes jokes. Colbert interacts with his studio audience, thanking them for chanting his name, and has a low-key approach to the stories he reports.
Factors like these are why many scholars have deemed The Colbert Report soft news. Market-centered journalism, or soft news, is defined as “(a) journalistic style and genre that blurs the line between information and entertainment.” Although the term soft news was originally synonymous with feature stories placed in newspapers or television newscasts for human interest, the concept has expanded to include a wide range of media outlets that present more personality-centered stories . Ultimately, soft news helps reinforce ideas, prompt discussions, and inspire viewers to become politically active.
Academics often credit Colbert with helping educate the public on Super PACs through the creation of his Super PACs, “Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” and “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” He went so far as to launch his own website, http://www.colbertsuperpac.com/, receiving thousands in donations. Through this joke, Colbert shed light on an important issue regarding the financing of political campaigns. His super PACS helped people understand the unfair and dangerous precedents set by unchecked funding for political campaigns and parties.
Another important element of the program is the lack of time Colbert spends with his guests. Most reporters conduct in-depth interviews prior to air, and then have them edited to convey the most relevant pieces of the person’s response. Similar to a talk show format, Colbert takes approximately five to seven minutes interviewing his guest. Moreover, he usually focuses on topical issues relating to the guest such as an upcoming film, book, company, or product. His discussions only take a political turn if his guests are in the political arena. However, if his guest is an actor or a singer, the conversation will tend to remain light hearted and be “softer” in approach.
It is worth noting that The Colbert Report airs on Comedy Central. The program is a late night format geared towards a younger demographic who are likely to have full-time jobs or attend school during the day and are in need of an outlet prior to going to bed at night. The show is meant to make people laugh rather than scare them about a growing disease or threat.
Since the first episode aired on October 17, 2005, The Colbert Report has been nominated for seven Emmys and won two for Outstanding Variety Series and Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series. Audiences respond to the format because of its easy approach to difficult issues. Even though the program is a soft news show, viewers still have the opportunity to watch and learn about current and hard-hitting events.
“Soft News.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1858930/soft-news>.
Carston Reinemann, James Stanyer, Sebastian Scherr and Guido Legnante. 2011. “Hard News and Soft News: A Review of Concepts, Operationalizations, and Key Findings,” Journalism, vol. 13, no. 2, 1-19.
Lehman-Wilzig, Sam N., and Michal Seletzky. 2010. “Hard News, Soft News, ‘General” News: The Necessity and Utility of an Intermediate Classification,” Journalism, vol. 11, no. 1: 37-56.
”Soft News.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1858930/soft-news>.
 Lehman-Wilzig, Sam N., and Michal Seletzky. 2010. “Hard News, Soft News, ‘General” News: The Necessity and Utility of an Intermediate Classification,” Journalism, vol. 11, no. p 38.
This past May, Angela Hart graduated magna cum laude from Bentley University, earning her Bachelors in Liberal Arts concentrating in Communications, with minors in English and Law. She is a first year Georgetown CCT student, who enjoys political satires, studying film adaptations, and learning about new media platforms. Currently, Angela is working on completing several screenplays and novels.