Mark Wilson: Read, watch, and listen
Graduations are a time of happiness and hope. They’re the culmination of years of hard work, where the graduates are poised to use their accumulated knowledge to build successful, happy lives.
Those who graduate, whether it be from high school, trade school, or college, are often destined to be tomorrow’s leaders; the people who will use the skills they worked so hard to attain to shape our communities and the world for the better.
So I was puzzled to read in Dick Tracy’s column that a recent college commencement speaker had told graduates eager to leap into their new lives not to spend much time paying attention to the news.
“There’s not much you can do to change things,” he advised, “and it will probably just upset you.”
It’s difficult to imagine standing in front of a sea of eager young faces shaded by graduation caps, with happy families and friends there in support, and telling them there’s not much they can do to change things. Because each of those souls just spent years sacrificing and studying for the express purpose of changing things. Graduation is perhaps the ultimate moment in our lives when we feel we can overcome any barrier to change ourselves and our world for the better, whatever that might mean to us.
At the same time, graduation is a point in our lives when it’s most important to pay attention to the world around us, because what we don’t know definitely can hurt us. The events that appear in the news affect our lives, country, and planet whether we’re aware of them or not. The only difference is, when we know about them, we can do something about them. And if we’re informed, we’re not only motivated to make change, we’re equipped to make sure it’s a change for the better. Ignorance isn’t bliss — it’s just ignorance.
So here’s my advice for those graduating into a world where many news sources are biased or misleading: consume your news regularly and wisely. Seek out news outlets like you might seek out a new doctor — ask reliable friends, look at reviews, and visit a couple times before choosing one. Be discerning. Like settling into a healthy diet, read “junk” news sparingly, and make sure you read varied sources, not just those that support your viewpoint. Subscribe to an actual newspaper to accompany your online reading.
When we read a “paper” newspaper, we’re exposed to all kinds of news we otherwise wouldn’t seek out online, and some of those stories turn out to be gems that take our lives in new directions. Online, companies’ algorithms may funnel only certain news items your way; don’t let those sources limit the information you receive. And watch and listen to news on TV and the radio to see the images and hear the voices that help you connect with the emotions behind the stories. Make no mistake, reading the news can upset you. In fact, if some of the news doesn’t upset you, you’re not paying close enough attention. But being upset from time to time isn’t a bad thing — it helps us locate and use our moral compass.
We live in a difficult, divisive world, and some news outlets are designed to increase those divisions because it builds their readership and increases their profits. These sources should be easy to spot—they’re the ones that constantly pit their viewpoints against those of some enemy. Avoid those charlatans and seek out some of the many news organizations that do their best to provide the kind of well-researched, unbiased journalism that keeps us informed and supports our democracy. Support these news outlets by subscribing to them and recommending them to friends. Be selective, but not restrictive.
There always have been, and always will be, people who feel it is their right to exploit any situation to their advantage at your expense. They love other people’s ignorance. They promote it. Your loss is their gain. The less you know, the more power they have.
Don’t give away your power by allowing them to make you complacent. Read the news. Listen to the news. Fight back. Armed with facts, you’ll understand how events affect your life, and you’ll use that knowledge to make the changes you want to see in the world.
As Wes “Scoop” Nisker used to say to end his radio news broadcasts, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”
Mark Wilson lives in Nevada City.
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