My first day of Journalism 101, the professor asked each student how often they read the news, and what kind– actual news articles, by established journalistic organizations, blogger news, or viral posts in their social media feeds?
A surprising amount of the (presumably) aspiring journalists and reporters in the class confessed they did not actually read news articles. When pressed, the general consensus of the class was that the news is depressing and scary. One classmate asked why they can’t cover “nice” stories, like kittens or puppies or something.
Paraphrasing a bit here, because it’s been a few years, but essentially my professor said, “Take comfort in knowing that puppies are so commplace, their mere existence doesn’t merit headlines.”
Basically, no matter how frequent protests and riots and earthquakes and corruption and crime may seem in the news, there’s a reason they make headlines. On a planet with 7.4 billion people and counting, events such as these are remarkably out of the ordinary for large segments of the population.
Tragedy is not ordinary, like puppies and kittens and joyful things are. Cruelty and selfishness are not expected as the default interaction, the way we expect civility, kindness, charity, love, and acceptance to be.
If cruelty and bigotry were expected as the default mode of human interaction, we would not be so outraged by their presence. We would not be shocked into stunned silence, or driven to passionate outcry.
And were it not for our expectation of civility, there would not be those among us who are so exhausted by the vicious and depressing weight of the news who sigh and say, “It’s just too much; I don’t like to talk about it.”
I can understand the impulse to hide; to bury ones head under the covers and hope the monsters have gone away by the time you come out.
But we are not children any more. And ignorance, though bliss, never solved anything. All it did was delay the moment of reckoning and–too often–prevent those who could have acted from doing so in a timely manner.
“But what can I do? It’s so depressing, and I don’t have enough money or power to make a difference.”
Well, the first step is staying informed–which means reading the news, and not just from sources you agree with. A broad cross-section of sources, both local and international, to get a nuanced and realistic sense of the issues.
And the second step is recognizing the power of organization. In Newsies, there’s a moment when Davey asks Cowboy how he’s going to get the heads of the biggest, wealthiest newspapers in New York to listen to the demands of a couple of street kids with no money. Cowboy replies, “We’ll go on strike!”
“How?” Davey demands. “We’ve got no money, no union.”
“Well, if we go on strike, then we are a union,” reasons Cowboy.
And though Davey scoffs, at the core of it, Cowboy’s right. That musical may be a Disney-fied version of a historical event, but as far as the core message goes? It’s kind of spot on.
One ordinary voice against the corrupt institutions of the powerful and wealthy isn’t going to change anything. But if you add another, and another, until that voice becomes a hundred voices and those become a thousand, and then a million–that is where our power is.
Not in turning our eyes away with an unhappy sigh and plugging our ears to the cacophony of news in order to focus on tending to our own gardens, but in solidarity. In raising our voices in common cause to demand better for our neighbors, our communities, our coworkers — ourselves.
So listen. Be informed. Make your voice heard. And get involved in your community.