The way the news hit me this week got me revisiting a thought that I have somewhat regularly. By the news, I don’t mean the news of anything specific, but the news in general. There was a juxtaposition that seemed really rather odd. Let me explain.
I am not one who follows the news terribly well. My commute gets me home after the TV news has occurred and I’m usually on my way out the door to somewhere else shortly after dinner. I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in years, don’t read the copies at work and prefer to use my commute time to listen to music or podcasts. I made the conscious decision a few years ago to not try to keep up with the news. I rationalized that if a story was important to me, I would hear about it anyway.
On the other hand, one of the first things I do each morning is check my Twitter feed and review changes in my RSS readers. These sources of information are filtered to bring me news on topics that are, primarily, related to my professional life. This is not an uncommon strategy in the virtual circles that I fly in.
The two stories that made me reflect on this practice this week were SOPA and the child molestation case at Penn State. Given that potential effects of SOPA and PIPA had a direct impact on my professional life, this news surfaced as a steady stream of articles, tweets and videos over the past week. I probably read more about these proposed legislations in the last week than I have read on any other news story in quite some time. I became somewhat of a local expert and was involved in many discussions with students and colleagues around this story. Many of my colleagues however were blissfully unaware or marginally aware of the issue at all. Simultaneously, I spent one afternoon commute catching up on one of my favourite podcasts, This American Life. The story that was being presented was around the football culture at Penn State U and how it has been effected by the recent story of a football coach being involved with the sexual exploitation of a young boy. I was discussing this podcast with a friend who seemed shocked that I’d not heard the news story when it broke a few weeks ago.
This situation left me in a position of wondering how important it is for me to follow what the media presents as the important news of the day vs my ability to tailor a stream of information that is relevant to my day to day life. I am missing much of the American political campaigns. I am Canadian. Although the views of the President of the US does have an impact on life in Canada as we are so closely allied, I have no control over the outcome of a US election. I am aware of many of the contenders, but have minimal knowledge of their platforms. Many will be weeded out in the coming months and I will be more aware of the platforms of those who are the major contenders as we come closer to an election. Is it a big deal that I am fairly ignorant of this issue? I don’t think so. My ignorance is not going to effect the American presidential election nor is it going to affect my life very much outside of not being able to contribute much to discussions on the topic in the staff room.
More relevant would be news of the current public sector teachers contract negotiations that are going in BC right now. Again, I miss the stories that are presented in the nightly news and likely miss some of the progress in this dispute, but I do follow the key players on Twitter and do talk about the issues with friends who are public school teachers. This issue impacts me directly as my contract in the private school that I teach at is benchmarked on that of the public sector. Simply put, any pay raise or cut that they get will affect what I get paid. Because of my filtered news feeds, I get this information.
Does the story at Penn State effect my life? Not directly. Is it interesting to talk about and think about the implications, certainly. But what is the purpose of following the news? Is it to be better informed? If so, isn’t it better to be informed about what matters to you than being better informed about stories that don’t impact you? Is it so that you have common topics of discussion in the staffroom? Perhaps. The common knowledge of the news certainly can bring people together. Perhaps it’s to be aware of the world around you in all it’s many facets. There is certainly value in knowing something about major, history making events as they do have affect on society as a whole. But it’s hard to avoid stories like that if you have any interaction at all with those around you.
I guess that the way I proceed is to continue to deal with my occasional guilt about missing what others may deem as important stories, look at the front page of the paper a little more often to ensure that I’m “tuned in” to world events, and maybe tweak my feeds to include a bit more of the news. Otherwise, I will continue to focus primarily on what is of use and interest to me.
As always, I am open to thoughts and differing opinions.