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The Power of the News - By Maria (Mia) Lysfjord

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    The news plays a vital role in keeping us informed about events in our communities, countries, and the world. It offers awareness about what's happening beyond our immediate surroundings, which would be difficult to obtain otherwise. As someone who regularly watches the news, I strongly believe in the importance of staying informed and I deeply respect the journalists who sometimes risk their lives to raise awareness and keep us updated. Often, the news affects me so profoundly and makes me so upset that I question why I subject myself to such emotional distress. It frequently includes distressing images and stories about child fatalities, terrorism, war, and tragic accidents. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that ignoring suffering is worse than experiencing the discomfort of witnessing it. In these moments though, when I take in the tragedies that I am watching, I sometimes question the accuracy and impartiality of the news. I wonder if it is presented from all perspectives or if there is a subtle form of propaganda or bias aimed at manipulating our opinions. Are the news channels presenting theories as facts before they have been properly researched? Can we trust that we are getting the most accurate information possible when it is presented?  It is crucial for us to be aware of what we consume and to conduct thorough research to truly understand the conflicts or events being reported, in order to avoid jumping to conclusions right away. Despite these considerations, the power of the news cannot be underestimated, as it significantly shapes our understanding of the world and influences the decisions we make.

    If I were to define humanity, it would mean caring about people whom we don't know and recognizing that the individuals we see on the news are someone's mother, father, or child. They were once innocent babies, just like our own children, nieces, and nephews, and they are most likely loved by someone. These are people whose lives started with the same innocence as ours, unaware that tragedy would strike. Humanity is really feeling and understanding that the mothers and fathers who lost their children in school shootings dressed them up that morning and sent their precious little ones to school, kissed them good-bye at the door, and never imagined that they would never see them again. humanity is realizing that innocent people in a region of the world wake up one morning to find themselves in a war, and suddenly their entire existence changes. These emotions, individuals, and events should not compel us to take sides based on how the news of these events is presented to us. Tragedies should not be exploited as a means to further divide our opinions.

    It was not long ago while watching a news story about a tragic event, that I realized how subtly the narrative was attempting to influence my opinion on the event. An incident that really stuck with me was the school shooting in Nashville. It deeply affected me as I tried to comprehend the enormity of the tragedy and make sense of it all. However, of course, there was no logical explanation to be found in something so devastating. In response, I posted a comment on Facebook, urging everyone to hug their children a little tighter when tucking them into bed that night. Almost immediately, my comment section was flooded with responses. Some simply agreed, probably experiencing similar emotions to what I was feeling. But a significant portion assigned blame to politicians, gun laws, mental health care, and even entertained conspiracy theories. It was overwhelming and disheartening to witness the lack of empathy in such heartbreaking circumstances and I wondered how we had gotten here. While some parents were unable to retrieve their children from school that day and would never have the opportunity to drive them to school again, we were caught up in assigning blame, fueling division, and engaging in heated arguments in the media on the eve of this tragedy. The very next day, as I flipped through different news channels, I noticed the subtle digs, underlying insinuations, and anger directed at people who had no direct involvement in the tragedy. It was a realization of how easily one could be swayed by the media. If I had chosen to exclusively watch one news channel, my opinions on what should or shouldn't have been done would have been influenced accordingly. On the other hand, had I focused solely on another channel, my perspective might have been entirely different. This phenomenon occurs so subtly that one often remains unaware of its impact. It is presented so logically that if I hadn't been someone who consciously switches news channels when tragic events occur, I know my opinions would have been influenced and I understood how we were all so deeply divided.

    Furthermore, I am extremely troubled by the selective prioritization of specific tragedies by news organizations, as they often opt for stories that they know will attract the highest viewership. While I understand the constraints of limited airtime and the inability to cover everything, there are cases where one story dominates the majority of the coverage. Although I could give numerous examples, I will focus on recent news. It is important to note that all the tragedies that I am about to mention deeply affected me, as they involved the loss of human lives, which is always my main concern.

    Several months ago, a submarine that was descending to explore the remains of the Titanic vanished. The entire world held its breath as rescue efforts raced against time to locate the submarine before the air supply of the submarine ran out. We were exposed to the challenges they might have been facing, saw their faces, and listened to their stories. Every day, tears welled up in my eyes as I imagined the difficulties they were enduring in that exact moment if they were still alive and trapped at the bottom of the Atlantic. Each morning, I woke up with the hope that the day would bring news of their successful rescue. Unfortunately, this hope was never realized and we were eventually informed that the submarine had imploded during its descent to the wreck. Meanwhile, as news outlets focused on the rescue mission for these five individuals, a migrant ship carrying approximately 750 people embarked on a journey from Libya to Italy. Tragically, the ship capsized, resulting in the deaths of over 600 people. Sadly, I was unaware of this event at the time it occurred as it received minimal coverage, overshadowed by news channels captivated by the suspense of locating the submarine. While we knew the names and stories of these five men, I never heard a single name of any of the 600 who perished that week, nor do I know what compelled them to embark on such a dangerous journey.

    I have often wondered why these individuals received less airtime on the news channels I was watching compared to the coverage of the men in the submarine. I had friends who were completely unaware of the tragedy until I informed them about it due to the limited news coverage. Tears streamed down my face for the men in the submarine, a profound sadness weighing heavily upon me. Similarly, when I finally heard about the people aboard the fishing boat, I wept for them as well. It is because of events like these that I strongly believe in taking the initiative to research stories beyond what is offered by mainstream news, as failure to do so perpetuates ignorance of the suffering endured by many people around the world.

    Presently, an ongoing genocide has been plaguing Sudan for decades, resulting in more than 3 million victims. While the awareness of war and unrest in various African countries exists, it seems that the attention given to these conflicts is less than that given to countries closer to home, such as Ukraine. War, irrespective of its geographical location, remains one of the most abhorrent things we are exposed to. However, it appears that when the conflict is situated in a region where we have become accustomed to unrest or in a place that feels more foreign, there is a lack of emphasis on discussing resolutions or finding ways to aid these countries, in contrast to other discussions that feel more personally relevant. Has our exposure to images of starving children in Africa and the constant stream of information made us desensitized? Could it be that this is why the majority of news outlets are now focusing on different areas of turmoil instead of providing comprehensive coverage of all ongoing conflicts? Personally, I believe that I have the capacity to engage and care about all these conflicts, although I acknowledge that this may not be the case for everyone. Nevertheless, I don't think we can ignore ongoing unrest simply because it has been previously reported on.

    Finally, I would like to discuss the impact of news and media in the past and how it has in fact influenced public opinion. During the 1920s and 1930s, the eugenics movement in the United States was a widespread and influential social movement that aimed to enhance the genetic composition of the population through selective breeding and forced sterilization. This movement was greatly influenced by scientific theories and beliefs regarding heredity, evolution, and race. It received significant support from prominent figures, academic institutions, and government policies during that time. The media played a crucial role in shaping the eugenics movement in America. The representation of eugenics in newspapers, magazines, and films helped to popularize the concept and gain public approval. It is essential to acknowledge that the media's portrayal of eugenics was often biased and relied on sensationalism rather than scientific accuracy. Nevertheless, it gained momentum and garnered widespread acceptance, and the American eugenics movement was a huge influence on Nazi Germany's Holocaust. I often pondered how such circumstances could occur and how individuals could be so indifferent to the suffering and hardships of others. The more research I conduct on these subjects, the more I comprehend that the masses have been heavily influenced by the news they have consumed, leading them to support something as inhumane as eugenics, which was normalized and accepted at that time. I understand and acknowledge that this is an extreme example, however, I believe that it is important that we remind ourselves that this happened not that long ago in the grand scheme of things and the influence the news has on normalizing things over time.

    This essay initially highlighted my commitment to staying informed through news consumption and following current events. I stressed the significance of news channels in providing access to unfolding tragedies and preventing individuals from being confined within their own bubbles of information. I want to reiterate that I deeply cherish the freedom to watch the news without any restrictions and to form and express my own opinions. However, in moments like the recent incidents in Israel and Palestine, which unfolded right as I started writing this essay, factual accuracy becomes my primary concern, rather than being influenced by the political biases that different news channels may exhibit. While I reserve the right to explore and engage in political discussions during my leisure time, moments of tragedy require a nuanced understanding of the events, free from partisan narratives. It is important to comprehend how we can contribute to aiding those affected rather than allowing our opinions and emotions to be clouded by unrelated matters or unverified information. In matters of humanity, diverse opinions may exist, but we must never devalue another person's life based on our individual beliefs or the beliefs of the person or company presenting the news to us.

    Although I hold my own political perspectives on how certain matters should be handled, I did not wish to delve into them in this essay. This is because there are appropriate and inappropriate times to engage in political discussions, and human lives should not be politicized. During times of extreme tragedy, such as the loss of innocent lives or mass displacement, the media should refrain from manipulating these incidents to influence our political preferences, loyalties, or views of entire nations and populations. Moreover, when ordinary individuals face the threat of losing their lives and families, our loyalty should lie with humanity itself, rather than seeking justification to support a particular side, whether it pertains to politics or any other matter.

    Imagine a world where tragic events unite us in bringing about change for those in need and suffering, rather than dividing us based on differing opinions. It is crucial to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to every problem. While I may not have all the answers or solutions to achieve world peace, one thing is clear: ceaseless quarreling and subtly biased news coverage of tragic events are ineffective means of taking action. During these challenging times, when our hearts ache for the loss of innocent lives, we must not allow ourselves to be further divided by news reports that seek to manipulate our opinions by including irrelevant details or subject the viewer to possible false information. Regardless of the topic at hand, whether it be immigration or war, we must remember that many of the individuals affected by these events do not care about our political party affiliation or where we stand on a particular nation. What they truly require is immediate assistance and the acknowledgment that they are human beings and not numbers or pawns. This is the path through which we can genuinely bring about change in the world. This is the path towards peace.

    The Power of the News - By Maria (Mia) Lysfjord is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mia Lysfjord at Pima Community College.