How getting informed has changed my world

Emmet Jamieson; Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania—

I’ve been writing news articles for over two years now. I wrote for my high school paper as a junior and senior, contributed articles to my town’s newspaper and magazine and spent the summer before senior year attending a journalism program at Northwestern University. I love writing news so much that I’m majoring in journalism in college and planning to join the campus radio station and newspaper, where I want to—you guessed it—write news.

Until recently, though, I rarely read news. I called myself a journalist, and I aspired to join a news organization filled with experts, but I never took time to read the work those experts were producing. Why? Oh, lots of reasons, I told myself: I was busy. It cost money. It didn’t affect me. Sometimes I’d scroll through the Google News app while I ate breakfast, but this was only when I remembered. And that wasn’t often, as I usually ate breakfast worrying about upcoming tests or track meets. My personal life felt much more important.

But the coronavirus, as it has for all of us, disrupted my complacent way of life. In mid-March, my state’s governor shut down schools, and suddenly I had lots of time on my hands, nothing to do and a deadly virus looming over my head. Everything felt uncertain and scary, and I felt compelled to know more about what was happening.

I didn’t immediately start reading the news, though. I still had schoolwork to do, and I felt I didn’t have much time to waste. But I checked the governor’s website to see if he was considering reopening schools soon, and reviewed the Pennsylvania government’s COVID-19 tracker to monitor how the virus was affecting my state. I held out hope that my senior track season might still happen and that I’d still have those last few months with my friends. I wasn’t fully informed yet, but this was a start.

March, April, and May dragged on. The governor cancelled the rest of the school year, and the coronavirus made its way through Pennsylvania, eventually reaching my rural county. I was disappointed and worried, but it felt good to know what was going on, even though it was bad news. For the rest of May, I casually followed the news. Thanks to the coronavirus engaging me with current events, I was a little more engaged than I had been a few months prior. I kept checking the Pennsylvania coronavirus tracker (although my interest started waning after the pandemic hit my county—that was the big thing I was watching out for), and I read any interesting stories that popped up as notifications on Google News. 

But it wasn’t until the last few days of the month that I started consuming news religiously.

May 25, 2020, will always haunt me. That day, a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin killed a Black man named George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd had allegedly paid for groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill bill and was walking the streets inebriated—not actions punishable by death by any means. Floyd was handcuffed and compliant, but Chauvin still took it upon himself to suffocate Floyd right there on the street. When I watched the video of Floyd’s death, I felt burning anger like I’ve never felt. I couldn’t believe someone could be as despicable as that officer.

During the following days, I watched videos of protests erupting across the country. I saw police fire rubber bullets and tear gas at nonviolent protestors, I saw rioters burn and loot businesses and I saw reporters and demonstrators arrested for no good reason. The viscerality of these videos cut deep. My anger at the police and government grew, and I realized how ignorant I was for never having felt this angry before. I knew this wasn’t the first time police had killed an innocent person, so why had I never cared this much before? 

I started to wonder about a lot of things: How did we get here? Why are police slaughtering innocent people, disproportionately those who are Black? Why did some people feel so strongly about this that they were causing so much destruction instead of just peacefully protesting? Why was the president so focused on quashing the protest movement rather than listening to what people had to say? And above all, why did I ever think my own worries about school or sports were more important than what was happening in the news? The news showed the real issues that were affecting real people in real time, and I was shunning that in favor of my own petty problems. I felt disgusted that I’d never cared about injustice so much before.

Of course not being informed before was my fault, but I attribute part of it to the echo chamber I grew up in. My town is majority white, straight and conservative, and that means that I didn’t grow up having conversations about these tough issues or experiencing these injustices myself. My white privilege and economically cushy upbringing meant that I could devote my thoughts to my grades, friends and athletic performances and not give a second thought to what was happening to people elsewhere. I knew the world was unfair, but I wasn’t forced to confront that every day like so many other Americans do.

The appalling nature of George Floyd’s death and the scale of the protests that followed laid bare to me that there is a big world out there. I realized that if I wanted to become a journalist — or, in fact, if I wanted to become a productive and engaged citizen of this country — I needed to know what was happening around me. I couldn’t just live with my eyes shut in my blissful wonderland. No, I needed to open them wide and look beyond myself.

Since then, I’ve kept up with the news every single day. When I go for my run in the morning, I listen to podcasts like NPR’s “Up First” and the New York Times’s “The Daily.” I also listen to NPR’s politics podcast and news analysis podcasts, and I read stories on NPR and the Times’s mobile apps. I’ve also read about  racial injustice and government wrongdoings. I do this every day, and I don’t plan to stop.

Just from this month and a half of staying informed, I’ve noticed a change in how I perceive the world. I’m no longer thinking through the lens of my homogenous hometown—I try to look through the lenses of people whose life experiences are drastically different than mine. I want to hear knowledgeable people discuss opinions that I share as well as opinions I never considered or even vehemently disagree with. I’m trying my best to keep up with what the president does and says, how the pandemic is affecting people in places I’ve never been and how the government is reckoning with the unique moment we find ourselves in. This is a big world, and I intend to do everything I can to understand it. I don’t want to be uninformed anymore.

In my opinion, setting out to understand the world was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I realize that I’m never going to comprehend everything, but the pursuit of knowledge has led me to wonderful places and done wonderful things for me. I have never felt more confident, content, empowered or knowledgeable. I’ve learned the importance of getting politically involved, fighting against injustice and questioning what authority tells me. I am filled with so much hope for the future, as I now know how important the job of a journalist is. I can’t wait to use my writing to empower others just like other journalists’ writing has done for me.

I only have one regret: I didn’t start keeping up with the news sooner.

Feature photo labeled for reuse.

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