Photo by Flickr user [ jRa7 ].
I wrote in a tweet (@profsivek) earlier today about catching up with five days of missed newspapers – specifically, the copies of the Fresno Bee that patiently waited for me in their unchanging paper format while I was visiting family in Texas. I noted that there weren’t many upbeat stories and that there must not have been much good news to report.
Later, I regretted writing that (though, to honor the spirit of Twitter, I won’t delete the tweet). I so often am frustrated by others’ comments that “the news is too depressing” or that “journalists just cover bad stuff to sell more papers/get higher ratings.” These are given as legitimate reasons for not keeping up with the news.
I find these comments frustrating because these are excuses – along the lines of “I don’t eat vegetables because they don’t taste good.” We would all love for our media consumption to be entirely entertaining and full of happiness and sweetness, but the reality of our world today is that there’s an awful lot of sadness and bitterness. What’s more, it’s journalists’ duty to bring us those topics, even when they might rather be covering uplifting tales of human triumph. There are some of those stories out there, too, but journalists can’t cover them exclusively; the issues that threaten our democracy and our environment must be their primary focus.
So why did I keep reading my Bee back issues, slogging through tales of California’s budget crisis (which is likely about to impact my own paycheck), water shortages, crime and (to top it all off) dog hoarding? Am I some sort of masochist?
The answer is that I read it because I have to know. I have to know what’s happening, even when it’s miserable to know, so that I can make up my own mind about what I think and what I want to do. I try to communicate to my students every semester that they have to know about media so they can make truly free decisions, unencumbered by what celebrities, advertisers and media producers want them to believe and do. Same goes for knowing about contemporary events and issues.
This reasoning underlies my consumption of even the most bitter news: if I don’t know what’s going on in the community and the world, I am powerless. And what’s more, others are given power over me to do things in my name and with my implied blessing.
That’s why, even on a day of relaxation and recovery from my travels, even on a bright Sunday morning, I plowed through a six-inch stack of newspapers (and then also spent a couple of hours online catching up with my usual reading list). It was worth it to me; but then, I also eat my vegetables. Almost always.