While CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC are valuable sources of information for what's going on in the world today, they may not be the best news stations to watch if you actually want to learn something. They, along with local news stations, are great at grabbing your attention, but if you truly want to learn something about recent events, you're tuning into the wrong channel.
If you like watching the NBC Nightly News before you go to bed, don't. You're better off switching to Comedy Central, because comedy-based news programs help you retain information and actually have a higher educational value.
Although news channels are perceived as fronts for information, in reality they provide very little substance. During the last presidential election cycle, Dr. Bruce Hardy and the Annenberg Public Policy Center discovered that Americans who watched The Colbert Report were better informed than those who tuned in to the nightly news. These Comedy Central viewers understood important political concepts such as super PACs and campaign funding more so than those who watched traditional political news shows.
On traditional news shows, a team of anchors and reporters share daily events with the viewing audience. Typically, news anchors and broadcast journalists employ an inverted triangle method when presenting stories and issues to viewers.
As explained by reporter Chip Scanlon, the inverted triangle method means that the most crucial news comes first. Anchors will tell you what you need to know before they even discuss a story. The goal is to "wow" first and explain second.
Unfortunately, this method of presentation does nothing for our brains. Viewers immediately hear what they need to know and move on. It's what makes news shows so boring—who wants to keep listening to a story if they already know the best part?
The difference between Colbert's show (which will be replaced soon by the The Minority Report) and traditional news channels involves more than humor—viewers of The Colbert Report learned more because of the host's ability to relate to the audience.
Colbert, unlike news station anchors, jumps headfirst into topics. In his aforementioned study, Dr. Hardy argues that because host Stephen Colbert puts himself in the midst of news stories as an active participant, he shows viewers both the details and the lasting effects of the issues presented. When super PACs were in the news, Colbert created one of his own. When protests occurred during the Sochi Olympics, Colbert created one of his own. These step-by-step explanations, along with a side of jokes, get the audience interested and understanding.
To get the most out of your TV time, choose shows that actively engage you as a viewer. Look for shows that feature a host whose explanations are clear and who offer detailed dissection of featured topics. You should be a participant in the news rather than a mindless bystander.
Unfortunately, other popular television shows aren't educational, so if you're looking to learn while being entertained, your best bet is to stick with those shows that feature some kind of political discussion (HBO's The Newsroom being one example, though, of course, it's fictional).
Compared to shows on channels such as CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, and your local news stations, The Colbert Report, as well as other shows like it (e.g., The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, etc.), helps viewers learn about both domestic and international issues.
If you're looking to add some education to your TV routine, skip the standard news—expand your knowledge by choosing shows that bring you out of your neighborhood and onto the world stage.