The Washington Post’s motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” is an ominously accurate warning about the perils of an uninformed society. But not only does democracy die, so too does justice, empathy, engagement and diverse thought. It is critical that citizens be informed, in order to uphold the values mentioned above. A great start is through reading the news.
Few things at Westmont have frustrated me like the generally uninformed student body. We seem able to know entire sport datasets or the intricacies of celebrity gossip, but not ground-shattering events affecting millions of lives. When I ask why students purposefully avoid the news, most arguments fall into three categories, to which I will respond.
The first argument I’ve heard from Westmont students is that news is too negative or depressing. It’s true that most news stories are negative. The ability to share information has revealed tragedies and injustices that would otherwise be unheard. The high number of negative stories has skyrocketed, filling the headlines. So in the name of emotional protection, many students avoid the news.
But are we not called to “weep with those who weep?” Is it not our responsibility to speak for the voiceless? If so, the above argument is merely an appeal to comfort. Running from real issues does not fix them, only leaving us weak and unprepared. It also insults those living through the horrors people choose not to read about. Can the survivors of violence, xenophobia, or oppression by their own governments hide from their trials? Their stories must be recognized, if for no other reason, than allowing us to stand in solidarity and advocate on their behalf.
The second argument Westmont students use is that news media is too polarized. Increasingly partisan opinions, reporting on specific issues while ignoring others, and the advent of fake news in mainstream American news sources have hindered the delivering of consistently clear news to the people.
However, these issues are not difficult to solve from a reader’s perspective. Reading only from reputable sources known for journalistic professionalism and detailed investigation negates the vast majority of fake news. The BBC, Associated Press and the Washington Post are titans in this area, though not the only ones. Controlling for polarization only requires a reader to seek different perspectives on any controversy, critically reading for bias. With a little practice, it becomes an effortless ability to distinguish facts from opinions.
The last major argument I hear is that there is too much information to keep up with. I get it. News stories develop quickly, and keeping up to date takes effort. But honestly, anyone at Westmont is capable of this. Keeping up with news is far easier than the coursework most students handle every day, and students already do it with sports or pop culture.
Additionally, no one is expected to know everything about everything. It’s alright to only be informed on certain topics. For instance, Dr. Chapman, at the Stand With Hong Kong event, said focusing on a few issues in addition to general knowledge is a great way to be informed without getting overwhelmed.
Being informed, especially in an age of misinformation, is the responsibility of every person, Westmont students included. This is a problem our community faces, but with intentioned effort, it can be easily solved.