Freedom of the press is critical to our democracy or, in better words, a government with a responsibility for the people. Initially, free media gave citizens a platform to criticize and modify our government or spread vital information to the population; without it, freedom and liberty would have no mode of citizen expression. However, in a digital world of instant information, news has transformed from major, credible, unbiased sources, to millions of clickbait and disinformation on unreliable sites. That being said, being an informed citizen, especially a student, is increasingly important, since we are currently dealing with dire social issues that require an educated population to enact change. So, where does this put us, a culture overwhelmed with humanitarian issues, but no clear media outlets that accurately cover these issues? Not exactly; so to combat the excessive output of information, we must understand why convenient news is so damaging and where we should be getting our information. To do so I turned to the most esteemed and tenured staff at Berkley (Michigan) High School (Mr. Cierpial, Mr. Meloche, and Mr. Fadoir) on how they get their news and their advice to students on managing media consumption.
Each teacher heightened the significance of the news, making their own claims for its relevance. Mr. Cierpial urges that “You owe it to yourself as a person to be thoughtful and a whole person, to do the job of being thoughtful because you are worth it and democracy are worth it.” Mr. Fadoir affirms that “the government has power with the consent of the governed, so we need to give that consent, and it should be informed consent.” Their thoughts briefly encapsulate the importance of a well-informed student body: it is one part of an individual's larger contribution to society.
Despite their thoughts, according to an Instagram poll, 79% of Berkley students get their news from social media sites, 56% of that being on TikTok. As of February 2022, 45% of 18-34 years old consume daily news via social media. In corroboration with this data, it is clear that Berkley students follow the same pattern as younger generations. Not only are these apps not reliable sources, but often they feature tidbits of issues that only partially cover the complexity of the topic. Adding on, many topics the apps cover heighten the immediateness of the issue. For instance, last year, a TikTok trend spread, covering the fatality of the upcoming killer bee epidemic. As time played out, this threat proved minimal. Constantly seeing or reading threatening events creates a culture of intensity, that everything is going wrong, everywhere. Not only does this dilute the conversations of importance, but it's not news, it's everyday occurrences that are dramatized to increase viewership. This calls into question another motive of quick and accessible news, monetization; these platforms design content to attract clicks, not accuracy, and not even readership.
Even though most students know current events or updates are not reliable on social media, they continue to use them. Interestingly, Senior Riley Shafritz boasts about the Rap Instagram account as his primary informant but admits, “I feel like everyone can agree that Rap is informing on the most random news, not even pop culture, like monkeypox”, referring to another viral hoax, this one about a second, more fatal, pandemic. Similarly, Junior Seth Davidson cites TikTok and Instagram as his news sources and admits “there’s false news on social media but it can sometimes be accurate.” He continues to explain that “it can give accurate political situations, but it's very bias.” In all, he rationalizes that using the platforms “does not make me feel like an informed citizen.”
Some students do break this pattern, for instance, Sophomore Christopher Griffin watches CNN or Fox News once or twice a week. As compared to the major events he learns from that practice, such as their coverage of the war in Ukraine, he has observed that on TikTok the content is “bad stuff that goes on that is not really important.”
Understanding the inaccuracy of social media, we can use our credited teachers and advisors on how they stay informed. The major topics they addressed were their relationship with news, advice to students, and managing credibility or bias. Mr. Cierpial reads the news for about 30 minutes a day and his “go-to” is the NY Times. On top of that, he reads several newspapers, and especially when larger events are happening he uses Fox or Washington Times to see further-right positions. This way Cierpial assures, he “know[s] what the other people who live in this country are receiving” because it “is the way we should understand whatever event is going on at the time.” Continuously Cierpial urges students to “know about what other folks think.”
Similarly, Mr. Meloche and Fadoir also favor the NY Times; they both also read the Washington Post. Mr. Meloche also reads BBC and the Huffington Post, while Mr. Fadoir receives the Detroit Free Press at his house and accesses the Wall Street Journal online on Saturdays.
In terms of students' use of social media for news, Mr. Cierpial shares “I would avoid any, news feed the phone would send me because those things are more clickbaity than what all online news has become anyway.” On the other hand, Mr. Fadoir feels “you can get news from a trusted news site from social media the question is are [students] actually looking at the source of those articles.” Mr. Meloche reciprocates his point emphasizing to “just vet your sources” and to “maybe hop on the web separately and vet, as long as your vetting the author and writers, understanding it has a slant one way or the other I think it's fine.”
Overall, the three of them participate in the news daily, and maybe that's an indication for students to do the same. In a way we are, but if we continue to consume daily content from social media, we miss out on the objective or real conversations of the world. As Mr. Cierpial puts it “ I am not sure that the promise of the internet has worked out entirely in humanities favor, so I think you have to recognize what the internet and social media can offer and where they come up short and you owe it to yourself as a person to be thoughtful and a [fully informed] person.”
If our principal and these teachers' news platforms don’t seem like the apps for you, Mr. Cierpial suggests a student-friendly, objective, and credible app: Axios. Axios has bulleted summaries of top news stories and gives estimates on in-depth reads, usually around one minute. No matter what, even if you read your news from social media (just vet the source!) or online, it is our job as students, future voters, humanitarians, and considerate citizens to be informed of the news.
As Mr. Cierpial puts it “free is never free. If you're getting something free on the internet you are the product.” This can be seen across social media sites; the content is designed to attract clicks, not accuracy, and not even readership.
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