Cooke: Disliking the news is not an excuse for ignorance

Cody Cooke

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

These days, it’s all too easy to neglect our democratic duty to stay informed about the world around us — which isn’t too hard to believe, considering we have limitless distractions right in our pocket.

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Faced with the option of either critically engaging with the world around us or consuming only the media that doesn’t stress or depress us, the choice appears heavy-handed to the side of comfort. However, a democracy doesn’t operate on comfort. Bad news is not an excuse to avoid news entirely.

It’s true that keeping up with the news can be a downer. One of the key findings of a survey published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2017 was that almost one-third of respondents worldwide said they often avoid the news, many of them because it negatively impacts their mood. But bad news should not be a deterrent against any news.

Good or bad, knowing what is happening is crucial for being a responsible citizen.

Results from the 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey on Trust, Media and Democracy shows that more than eight out of 10 Americans think the news media is important to our democracy. While we mostly agree on the significant role the news plays in our country, we also tend to believe that the news doesn’t do its job of keeping us objectively informed.

Never before has there been such a vast Amount of information available to us at such an astounding convenience.”

For some, this may be reason enough to avoid the news. After all, if it’s not doing its job, then why bother with it? However, there’s a huge difference between knowing information might be skewed and choosing not to absorb the information at all.

Social media plays a huge part in this. The number of Americans who are getting their news via social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter is on the rise. At the same time, most people don’t think this is a good thing. This could be due to potentially inaccurate information.

Again, this trend seems to offer justification for some who may be looking to dodge their democratic duty. But the only thing more destructive than a country full of misinformation is a country half-full of citizens unwilling to point that out and seek the facts for themselves and their peers.

There is also an extremely important difference between having an informed opinion on a topic and simply knowing what the topic is. It can be easy to mistake reading a Twitter headline or understanding a meme reference for responsible media consumption.

News websites and social media are growing among younger generations as places to stay up to date on the news (Courtesy of Pew Research Center)

But the actual substance of a piece of news is never absorbed that fast. Being up to date is not the same as being informed. With increasing numbers of Americans getting their news from social media, it’s important that we understand that one source is never enough, especially when it’s a source where a quick scroll is the norm.

Never before has there been such a vast amount of information available to us at such an astounding convenience. We literally have the world — and all of its news — at our fingertips. But this overwhelming cache of knowledge shouldn’t discourage us.

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In the digital age, citizenship comes with the responsibility to inform ourselves with the technological privileges we’ve been given. Everyone has a duty to know what is going on, and there’s no excuse otherwise.

Cody Cooke can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CodyCooke17