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"The media is a food chain which would fall apart without local newspapers."

That line is the gist of John Oliver's impassioned defense of journalism Sunday night on his HBO series "Last Week Tonight." With his blend of razor-sharp insight, satire, and tossed-off jokes, Oliver paid tribute to local newspapers and reporting at a moment when they are struggling to survive.

Oliver began with "Spotlight," the Oscar-winning movie about The Boston Globe's Pulitzer-Prize-winning series of stories on clergy sexual abuse. He used the movie to draw a contrast with the current dire state of the industry nationwide, which can make it harder for many news organizations to afford such serious investigations.


In a rich spoof on the "Spotlight" movie, Oliver gives us a newsroom featuring Jason Sudeikis, Bobby Cannavale, and Rose Byrne. Cannavale wants to break a story about corruption at City Hall, but the editors aren't excited.

"Yeah, I'm just not sure what kind of clicks we're gonna get on that," Sudeikis says.

"I've got a thing about a cat that looks like a raccoon, or it could be a raccoon that looks like a cat," Byrne says.

"Now we're talking," Sudeikis says. "That's great."

Oliver makes a point of recognizing the work that local journalists continue to do, noting that many media organizations merely repackage the stories local newspapers have broken. He mentioned how he also relies on local journalists, pointing to his piece on state lotteries and its debt to the work of Oregonian reporter Harry Esteve. Actually, make that former Oregonian reporter Harry Esteve.

"The truth is, a big part of the blame for this industry's dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce," Oliver says. "We've just grown accustomed to getting our news for free. And the longer that we get something for free, the less willing we are to pay for it."


Also in the clip:

A look at Sam Zell, the Tribune Company, and the new entity "Tronc."

Comments by David Simon, former journalist and creator of "The Wire."

Former Globe editor and current Washington Post editor Marty Baron talking about the burden on newspaper journalists, as staffs shrink.

A funny, sympathetic mention of a Globe gaffe: "If journalists are constantly required to write, edit, shoot videos, and tweet, mistakes are going to get made," Oliver says. "Perhaps that is how The Boston Globe wound up tweeting following a shooting in Tennessee that the FBI had 'investifarted' about 70 leads."

Watch the clip:

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.