Rob Douglas: A paper a day keeps ignorance away
June 6, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Congratulations! If you’re reading this column, you’re probably better informed than most Americans.
Not because this column contains pearls of wisdom guaranteed to give you greater insight into the issues of the day. No, if you’re reading this commentary you’re probably a well-informed member of society for a very simple reason: because you’re taking the time to read a newspaper.
The mere fact that you picked up a paper that covers local, state, regional, national and international news indicates you have intellectual curiosity about the world around you. That thirst for knowledge sets you apart from a substantial portion of Americans who spend little time consuming news. Or, more specifically, it sets you apart from a substantial portion of Americans who spend little time consuming news in a meaningful way – with the emphasis on meaningful.
Sure, many Americans think they’re well informed and up to speed on current affairs, but are they really? Two trends argue they probably are not.
The first is the increasing number of people who consume very little news at all. They go through life intentionally unaware of matters that impact them from near and far. Yet, these are often the same people who loudly insist they have the answers to all the world’s problems but seemingly wear blinders to avoid the obvious cracks in their reasoning.
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The second trend is the growing use of personally tailored news – most often obtained via television and the Internet – where sources are chosen based on whether they reinforce the already cemented viewpoint of the viewer.
We all know folks who’ll mainline conservative Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel, but not liberal Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, because they want a constant rhetorical fix that reinforces their political beliefs. Or, if they inhabit the other side of the spectrum, will spend hours getting their “news” on liberal Web sites such as The Huffington Post but wouldn’t be caught dead reading articles on the conservative Townhall.com. But, even with shuttered minds occupying their respective corners, far too many of these news partisans have one thing in common. They wouldn’t read a full-length general newspaper report if it came with a $100 bill attached.
So, sadly, we’re left with fewer and fewer Americans who take an hour each day to sit down and read a newspaper to gain breadth, depth and balance to their understanding of events. And usually it’s not hard to discern the intellectually curious – who invest the time – from the intellectually lazy who won’t.
The intellectually lazy have closed minds when it comes to issues that impact our world. They see life as a simple matter of black and white where any problem can be solved by repeatedly pounding the same old square peg into any new round hole. They see a headline and immediately react with a knee-jerk slogan that fits their narrow view of the world. For them, an unyielding certitude in their answers always trumps any true understanding of the question.
The intellectually curious have open minds and seek to increase their understanding of issues and events near and far. They realize life is a multifaceted puzzle with complex problems rarely solved with one-dimensional solutions. They see a headline and want to read the article from top to bottom in an effort to know more. Life’s questions are as equally important to them as the answers.
Our nation’s declining news habits are more relevant now than ever because of the kick-off this week of the race for the White House. With Barack Obama finally outdistancing Hillary Clinton, the head-to-head battle with John McCain begins in earnest. We’re embarking on a quest for a leader where the world view and substantive policy differences between the candidates are greater than in elections of recent vintage.
Because we’re at a moment in history where our country is deteriorating on many fronts – from education to economic power to international influence – it is incumbent upon us to be an informed electorate. Now more than ever, we should redouble our efforts to gain as much meaningful knowledge as we can about the issues and candidates we’ll be called upon to judge in five months. And I can think of no better way to be informed than to keep doing what you’re doing right now – reading a newspaper.
And here’s a challenge as we enter this election cycle. Let’s all introduce one young person who’ll be voting for the first time to the healthy and mind-expanding habit of reading a newspaper each and every day.
You can reach Rob Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org