21st Century Citizenship

old-gloryI read an article this morning that bemoaned the increasing distrust Americans have of the news media.  At first, this seems scary.  We as a nation have relied on Freedom of the Press for decades, relying on the news to educate ourselves, so that we might perform our civic duty at the ballot box.  If we distrust the news, who can we rely on to educate ourselves?

Looking closer, this distrust may be a symptom of a healthy electorate, much like a fever in someone who is ill. After all, editorial decisions made by this station or that newspaper, even when reporters are covering the same events, can change our opinions. Just compare the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, a local Fox news broadcast, a local NBC news program, and NPR radio on the same day.  Not only is the same news reported differently, with different headlines, but you can see what is not being covered, as yet another editorial decision.  Isn’t distrust an appropriate response?

Yes.  And no.  Like a fever that has gotten too high and gone on for too long, there’s a point where the healthy response becomes dangerous. We need the media to help us be aware of what is going on in the world, and to distill it down into digestible pieces, yes, even sound bites, so that we can make informed choices.  But we can’t delegate the role entirely to one source.

We, as Americans in the 21st Century, have many choices of mainstream and alternate media, and if we choose, we can also stay connected to many different personal sources of “what is going on in the world.” So what can we do?  Two things:

  1. Remind yourself that your experience of the world will define your world view, and other Americans are limited by this same reality.  What I experience in my county is not the same experience as someone else fifteen minutes away in the same county — much less someone half way across the country.  This is not “right” and “wrong” — this is just reality.
  2. When your news sources are completely in synch with your experience of the world, Fix It.  Start reading articles from other friends.  Read another newspaper, watch a different channel, or listen to a different radio station — not exclusively, but enough so you can hear the voices of people in different neighborhoods, who have different experiences.

In the end, We The People need to be an informed electorate.  If we allow our distrust of the media to turn into demonization, if we only listen to voices that have our own world view, then We The People will have a much harder time working across the aisles and zip codes, to find solutions to the problems we all share.

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