ARTICLE: Combining investigative journalism with stand-up comedy can improve public engagement

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“Dirty Little Secrets” was a project from 2015 bringing together New Jersey news organizations, comedians, two universities, and a national investigative journalism organization CIR. The project turned investigative news material about New Jersey’s toxic contamination areas into stand-up comedy routines.

Caty Borum Chattoo of American University and Lindsay Green-Barber of The Impact Architects, examined this collaborative project, and the stand-up shows that were performed in front of two live audiences. The researchers did surveys after the viewings and in-depth interviews with a participating journalist and four comedians.

The results show that audiences learned factual information and saw the comedians as credible sources of information. The majority of the show attendees had not heard about the toxic contamination issue before.

The audiences generally saw the show more as entertaining than persuading. Some perceived the show’s goal to be more about informing than entertainment. Most of the viewers of July (77%) and September (95%) shows said they would talk about the show with other people. The comedy did not seem to reduce the perceptions of severity about the issue, despite the entertaining nature of the routines.

Comedy is not a substitute for investigative journalism, the researchers conclude. It could provide an effective way to engage local audiences in important issues.

The article “An investigative journalist and a stand-up comic walk into a bar” was published in Journalism and is available on the publisher’s website (free abstract).

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