The Political Stage

Meg Heckman

Edited from a longer piece by Jody Record in UNH Today

Even if you haven’t seen the “Saturday Night Live” sketches featuring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton, it’s likely you’ve read about them. But there is more to it than the laughs. For students in Meg Heckman’s journalism classes, these shows serve another purpose.

“They’re a way to help make sense of things that feel far away or are hard for students to wrap their heads around,” Heckman says.

As part of their homework assignments, she asks students to follow — and to be able to criticize — the news. More than once in this election, political satire has become the news, leading Heckman, who teaches reporting, editing, digital storytelling and media entrepreneurship, to use clips from several comedy shows as teaching tools.

“They are good discussion starters,” Heckman says. “We talk a lot about false balance in journalism — about the problems of seeking objectivity and fairness. These shows can be useful in helping students make sense of what they are hearing.”

What is important, she says, is to make sure voters know how to think critically. “I don’t think satire and humor can be the only mechanism we use, but it can be part of a broader conversation.”

“Our job is to have conversations around the news that students are consuming on a daily basis and, where it’s appropriate, help them to draw connections and ask the questions about what it means to be human now and what society is facing now,” Heckman says. “If we are mindful about what they are seeing and hearing, and ensure they can ask good questions, we can help them find the truth.”

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