Why Follow the News?

By Robert Bernstein   |   February 15, 2022

I have friends who proudly say they shut out following the news. They find it depressing. I have another friend who is on top of everything in the news.

Why should we follow the news? Democracy requires participation. And participation requires informed understanding. My friend who is on top of the news does not attend political rallies or even write letters to the editor or to elected officials. This seems a great shame as her understanding is valuable.

Those who find the news depressing may be depressed because they don’t know how to act on the news in a meaningful way.

I propose that a healthy balance is to allocate a finite amount of time to being a good citizen. And to divide that time equally between staying informed and taking meaningful action.

What is meaningful action? That is a real challenge. Some may feel drawn to direct action. They hear about people needing food and they volunteer with a food bank or with an organization like Food Not Bombs. Others will feel that these are just Band-Aid solutions to deep economic justice issues. They may work for institutional change.

That might mean advocating for a living wage or a Universal Basic Income and/or working to elect people who will make those things happen.

How wide should our concern be? Should we care equally about the suffering of a person on the other side of the world as we care about someone in our neighborhood?

One could argue that it is best to direct one’s efforts locally. We have a better understanding of local circumstances and needs and it is more efficient to help locally. But the world is far too connected for such a simple view.

Our government is involved all over the globe in terms of trade and military entanglements. Our “local” policies in the U.S. can easily affect people very far away.

Refugees on our borders make the news with no context. Are you aware that Reagan funded terrorists, dictatorships, and death squads in Central America that directly led to the current crisis?

Are you aware that the U.S. is supporting the Saudis in their brutal war in Yemen? In the words of UNICEF: “Yemen remains one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, with around 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 11 million children.”

Elected officials often think that voters just care about their “pocketbook” issues. Even a few letters can help change a humanitarian crisis being caused by U.S. policy. But you have to let them know you care!

But it is not just government policies. It is also corporate policies. Most manufactured goods we use locally came from far away. Sometimes with components from many faraway places.

Raw materials may come from slave labor, virtual slave labor, or child labor in mining operations in Africa.

We often hear about the brutal working conditions in factories in China or Vietnam. Are you aware that Walmart actually forces its suppliers to enforce such policies in order to maximize profit and minimize cost? Have you written to Walmart and let them know you care about human rights and not just saving a few cents on your Rubbermaid products?

Corporations are actually afraid of bad publicity and boycotts.

Another issue: Where do you get your news? The corporate media is funded by corporate sponsors who offer a very narrow range of what counts as “news.” Much of the “news” consists of weather, crime, car, and plane crashes and other incidents disconnected from any broader context. How often is the Climate Crisis tied to extreme weather events?

The corporate news is also full of “feel-good stories” such as children raising money with a bake sale to help a neighbor with their cancer treatment. Shouldn’t civilized countries provide that care to their citizens?

Are you familiar with “Democracy Now”? For 25 years they have provided listener-funded news on hundreds of radio and TV stations and free online. They cover national and global news and make connections to U.S. government and corporate policy. You can watch, listen, or just read the written summary on their website.

Some have dismissed this as a source because of an alleged “liberal bias.” In the words of Stephen Colbert: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” You are always free to fact check yourself. But you first have to know what you are missing in the corporate news!

Get good quality news. Act. Feel better!  


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