August 8, 2016

When John Oliver skewered the economic realities of local journalism Sunday night, there was at least one person who wasn’t laughing: David Chavern, the president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

The nonprofit (which represents nearly 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada) published a curt rebuttal Monday to the “Last Week Tonight” host, who spent nearly 20 minutes picking apart the financial woes afflicting newspapers this weekend.

In particular, Chavern and the association took issue with Oliver’s mockery of companies like Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing) that he says “are just trying to figure it out.”

However, other than encouraging people to “pay for” more news, he doesn’t offer any answers. More particularly, he spends most of the piece making fun of publishers who are just trying to figure it out. 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 also called on Oliver to “spend more time talking about what the future of news could be and less time poking fun at publishers who are trying to get there.”

The fact is that we are in a transitional phase within the entire industry. People want, need and consume more hard news than they ever have. The core demand for the product isn’t decreasing at all, and based upon that we will find our way to the far shore where the industry is thriving and growing once again. But in the meantime, there is going to be a lot of experimentation and evaluation of new business models.

The NAA’s rebuttal has been met with mixed responses on Twitter:

Chavern responded to the criticism in a phone call with Poynter.

“I think it’s been over-interpreted as me being thin-skinned or annoyed with John Oliver,” Chavern said. “The only thing I was trying to get at was, when you get into talking about companies that are trying new things, like Tronc and The Washington Post, if you don’t get across that they’re experimenting, you fall into the trap of saying, ‘well, weren’t the good old days great?'”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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