Stand-up comedy has the power to improve news audiences' perception of journalism, according to freelance journalist Kirsty Styles, speaking at Hacks/Hackers London (18 September 2019).
Styles ran comedy workshops called Stand up for Journalism over April and May 2019, as part of a research project to see the effects of showing audiences the human behind the news story.
"It starts a conversation about what we want and need journalism to do in the 21st century, and if people don’t love journalists, they definitely love comedy," she said.
Journalists learned the secret to a good punchline over the course of two weeks. The workshop culminated in a comedy gig, with the journalists performing in front of a live audience, including a former Wall Street Journal reporter.
A survey of the audience was conducted before and after the event. Styles said it found improved trust towards reporters, the biggest change being the perceived good intentions of journalists and responding to local community needs. Only a small improvement was seen in the perceived ability of the reporter to do their job.
It is worth noting that this is not a conclusive result though, as this sample of live comedy audiences is not representative of the entire population and the comedy audiences also tend to create filter bubbles.
"You’re speaking to people that already know you and potentially already agree with you, which is not necessarily the aim of doing something like this," Styles explained.
Although there has been a boost in satirical comedy shows in recent years, including The Mash Report, this type of approach may in fact do more harm than good to journalism.
"If you want to change something and make it better, you have to think about the story that you tell. That’s not necessarily the responsibility of a satirist."
While she acknowledged that studies have revealed some shows have boosted knowledge around certain topics, she said that does not mean audiences have understood the scale of the issue.
"People might get the awareness of an issue they didn’t know about before, but they might not necessarily understand how serious it is," she explained.
Ticket sales from the event itself were donated to the Lyra McKee Memorial Fund, raising £160 for the cause.
"She was someone who campaigned for conversations on the issues that she really cared about," Styles said.
Find out how to regain audiences’ trust by driving diversity in your newsroom at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets