In today’s apathetic world, taking an active part in current events can seem purposeless. Even reading the news has become an insurmountable slog through twisted words, dual meanings and unreliable sources. However, reading and discussing the news has always been a key American pastime and it cannot end now.
Since its inception, American media has always been a powerful weapon for social change. Newspapers felt the full brunt of the 1765 Stamp Act, which caused rebellious printers like Benjamin Franklin to embrace the Patriot cause and struggle for freedom from British tyranny. In the mid-1800s, abolitionist newspapers sprung up across the United States and journalists such as William Lloyd Garrison brought the issues of slavery to light and pushed for equal rights. In the 1900s, female journalists and activists turned women’s rights into a national movement.
Despite their issues and biases, all of these journalistic movements resulted in positive institutional developments.
Today, we see the media playing an enormous role in the social change of our society. Its coverage of current issues like LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement has helped to raise awareness about the flaws of America. As it has always done, media is bringing movements out into the open and providing a platform to begin the difficult work of reform.
“Fake news” is not a modern phenomenon. The creation of the Federalist and Democratic Republican political parties in the 1780-90s led to the use of many major newspapers as party organs who were tightly affiliated with their parties’ political slants. The rise of yellow journalism in the 1800s increased the use of the media as an outlet for political sensationalism and misreported ideas instead of objective facts and data. The media has often become an outlet for political propaganda during wartime, as seen in the Office of War Information’s dissemination of anti-German stories during World War II.
While there has always been bias in American media, it has always also served as a space for political discourse and the exchange of ideas. Party organ papers debated both sides of the issue, yellow journalism inspired people to take a critical look at government, and wartime propaganda always had its pacifist opponents.
Modern media creates political debate over issues like national and state rights and free speech laws and regulations. It gives us the chance to take the process of government out of Washington D.C. and spread it across the country to the American people.
“Bias” doesn’t always have to be a bad word. Our biases, from political affiliations to social beliefs, make up the foundation of our lives. With recognition of the biases in modern media and a willingness to understand and account for this subjectivity, we can utilize media for its true purpose.
It is difficult to push through the inanity and falsehoods that fill modern media. But it has always been this way, and deciding to abstain from participation born of journalism is not the solution. Instead of shying away from the hard work and dedication that it takes to be a full member of society, we should embrace it.
Our duty as citizens is to be informed and take part in the events and movements shaping our country. We must face-check, read differing ideas and opinions, and debate every aspect of modern life. We cannot let a fear of the mindsets that have always influenced our society prevent us from fulfilling this duty.
The media can be a catalyst to create a better world. Bias and subjectivity will always exist. Let’s use it as a tool to see both sides of the debate and work toward a more united, just and free country for all.