The Colbert Report Goes Glossy

Hive 2
Emma Lee/Newsworks.org

The oft-repeated exaggeration that many Americans get their news solely from "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" is getting an unlikely infusion of truthiness.

Stephen Colbert will serve as guest editor of the recently overhauled Newsweek for the issue set to hit the stands Monday, The New York Observer reports. The Comedy Central star will write an essay, and have a hand in the cover -- and the coverage.

“I’m confident we’ll have mixed results!” he told The Observer's John Kolbin.

The move comes with Newsweek in the early days of a major transition that includes a redesign and a repositioning of itself as a more analytical, insider's read as print is ailing and the Internet is becoming a prime platform for hard news.

Recruiting Colbert, undoubtedly, will bring a nice shot of publicity for the new Newsweek.

But will the stunt tarnish the Newsweek name, as the magazine targets an admittedly smaller, more segmented audience?

The guest-editor gimmick has been trotted out before, most infamously when Tina Brown brought Roseanne into the hallowed halls of The New Yorker in 1995. Contrary to predictions, Western Civilization didn't collapse.

While Roseanne didn’t seem to meet most folks’ definition of New Yorker material, Colbert appears to be a better fit for Newsweek.

“The Daily Show” and its “Colbert Report” cousin now rank, if only by default, among the few major entertainment-based forums for authors and ideas, even if the interviews are filled with more ha-ha moments than a-ha moments.

It’s a good bet that the reader Newsweek wants to attract – or keep – is a fan of Colbert, whose faux conservative blowhard character has struck a nerve on both sides of the political aisle.

Colbert, a deft satirist of TV cable news and talk shows, also regularly targets the silliness of celebrity. His campaigns to stuff virtual ballot boxes for Internet-based naming contests – he notched the most votes for an International Space Station module naming competition, and eventually got his moniker on a NASA treadmill – are a biting commentary on what constitutes fame.

Colbert’s “editing” of a major newsweekly represents bizarre melding of the worlds of news, satire and the growing cult of celebrity the comedian lampoons in an age where Bono enjoys an occasional perch on The New York Times’ op-ed page.

The Colbert-influenced Newsweek issue should make for some interesting reading, even if the move doesn’t necessarily signify a great moment in journalism. Just as long as he doesn’t try to rename the magazine “Colbertweek” …

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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992

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