You may have read in any of the 30,000 think pieces published in 2016 that the media landscape is changing. We – as readers, consumers, and citizens – have changed along with it. Compulsively trying keep up with current events in a tense climate can come at a cost. I wake up and refresh local and national news apps, listen to one of 20 or so podcasts in my rotation on the train to work, and receive long-form recommendations daily from friends that I then plan to read later. By the time the weekend edition of the paper arrives I’m in a daze from tweetstorms and clapbacks, fake news and the people who fake it.
Being constantly plugged into the Matrix leaves me at times feeling like my brain is burnt and others that I remain woefully under-informed. As I’m sure is true for many who don’t work in journalism, social media was a prominent factor in spurring my interest in the news over the last few years. But in the current climate, the volatile mixture of online activism, fake news, and hostile comment threads makes me wary of what I share. In spite of this, I think that learning how to navigate the personal and political in a time of great divide should be at the forefront of our lives. It’s impossible to keep up with it all, but in a time of alternative facts, I hope to stay vigilant.
I decided to examine my relationship with the media and how I use it as a source of information, reflection, and connection. The following points are the ways I’ve found to try to keep myself awake, in check, and inspired.
1. Hold yourself accountable.
In uncertain times, I like to remind myself that I’m in control of the information I take in and put out. Sometimes it’s all too easy to paraphrase and misremember statistics and while acknowledging your sources is important, it isn’t always enough. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow urged being a critical reader of the media on the post-election episode of their podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” (full episode here):
“Ask questions as you’re reading something. Even from [the most reputable] news sources, you can say ‘Who am I not hearing from in this article?’ ‘So this is ostensibly about how people are feeling after the election – but who’s really quoted here? What sorts of ‘experts’ am I hearing from? Is this news source trading access to give people anonymity?’ There is a whole skill set of being a critical reader and thinking about how the news that gets to you is constructed. A good tell is: did this writer call people? Did this writer go somewhere? Or is this piggy-backing off something else?”
2. Focus on lived experiences of others.
Studies and statistics are important, but they shouldn’t completely discount people’s varied personal experiences. A recent New Inquiry piece from David A. Banks explores the tendency of some of the most popular podcasts to gloss over sociology for more abstract neurological phenomena, leading to “a sense of obnoxious explainerism.” This is particularly helpful to remember as someone who all too often responds to an anecdote with, “You know, I just heard on…”
3. Broaden your scope.
News and politics are so much more than the day to day, but the immediate often takes precedence over all else. Instead of sharing every breaking news item or those pieces that reinforce your point of view into the echo chamber, I find it’s helpful to reach out individually to the people close to you who may think differently than you do. Sharing art, movies, books, podcasts, or articles that you think they might like may lead to common ground in other areas. Not everything has to be political, and that makes it political.
4. Find the sweet spot.
The most powerful movements combine symbolism with action. This was embodied by the viral push to donate to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name. As highlighted in this New York Magazine piece by Lisa Ryan, the campaign was both brilliant and effective: of the over 315,000 donations the organization has received since the election, 82,000 were made in Pence’s name.
One of the first pieces of media that brought me out of my post-election stupor was an episode of “This American Life” entitled The Sun Comes Up, which laid out conversations between people in the days after November 8th. The dialogue spanned mothers and children, recent and long-naturalized immigrants, police officers and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. To me these offered solace in the reminder that America will always be home to vastly different ideologies, regardless of how helpless I feel in mine at any given moment.
6. Do the damn thing.
While making your voice heard is vital to broad cultural shifts, sometimes just the smallest action is what it takes to chip away at the despair that crops up from one too many deep-dives on Google. I can rant as many times as I want about Betsy Devos’ terrifying lack of experience in public education, but it makes more sense to volunteer at READ 718 instead. There, I spend a few hours a week reading with one of my many fourth-grade friends, covertly indoctrinating him with feminism and witchcraft. Also, when you tell people you volunteer they automatically feel inferior to you, so, bonus!
7. Write your own story.
The first thing I did on November 9th was sit down with my friends and plan
the revolution this newsletter. Meeting, organizing, scheming, and dreaming has absorbed so much of my dread and focused my rage into art, community, and laughter. No one else can create what you do, so get started. And don’t forget to sign your friends up for our newsletter!