A well-informed public starts with following the news


By Matt Pasquini

Winston Churchill was famously quoted saying, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” 

He’s implying that, ideally, a well-informed citizenry is one that contributes to a strong and functioning democracy. It’s a sentiment that I think most people would agree with, but it’s contrary to reality. In a study published by the Pew Research Center in September of 2013, a majority of Americans were able to answer only five out of 13 questions related to current affairs. To me, that is not a reassuring statistic about public knowledge. 

I’m a proud news junkie. I start my days by quickly glancing through my Twitter feed, which is dominated by the accounts of news organizations such as the New York Times and NPR, and read through the articles that I feel will give me a good sense of what’s going on in the world around me. I feel like I have a fairly good grasp of current affairs, and to test myself I took the aforementioned quiz and scored 13 out of 13.

I’m a firm believer in citizens of democracies fulfilling their civic duties — and I don’t mean specifically just voting in elections. I’m looking at the bigger picture. Not only should we be voting, but we should be able to identify and address all issues of public concern, and one way to do that is to become engaged with the news.  

We live in an incredible time. Our ability to access information has never been easier, and the amount of information we can access is unlimited. Now is the time to immerse oneself in this information.

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Admittedly, I’m a snob when it comes to knowing the news. When reading reports like the one published by the Pew Research Center, I get frustrated, and when I ask a friend if they’ve heard about items X, Y and Z going on in the world, and they say no, it makes me want to buy them a subscription to the New York Times.

But then I find myself having to put things into perspective.

I didn’t start immersing myself in the news until my senior year of high school, and gaining knowledge of issues presented in the news was a difficult process. Throwing myself in the middle of the news cycle was incredibly discouraging and filled me with anxiety because unless you follow a story from the moment it breaks, nothing you read or hear will make sense.

And this shouldn’t be analyzed as a critique of the reporting that goes on in the world today. The reporters of news organization like the New York Times and NPR do amazing work. But the issues they cover are very complex and they sometimes write their stories as if their readers already have the background and context necessary to understand what they’re writing about.

There were times when I couldn’t help but feel like I was too dumb to know what was going on. Catching up with the news cycles take a lot of time and effort, and that is the problem with how our news today is presented, but it is still our job to be well-informed citizens. Becoming acquainted with the news and trying to understand it shouldn’t take days and weeks of research.

Because of one journalist, however, catching up with the news is becoming incredibly simplified.

I’d like to introduce you to Ezra Klein. He is currently the editor-in-chief for a news website called Vox, and has dedicated himself to explanatory reporting — the process of simplifying complex issues and making them easier to understand.

Vox is arguably the best website to turn to when you’re in the process of gaining an understanding of what’s going on in the news. It’s an incredible website for a few reasons, but mainly due to the way it dissects and presents the news to its readers.

It highlights the complex passages of articles and clicking on them brings up “card stacks” that provide context and clarity so the passage is easier to understand. They also dedicate entire articles to providing background. Some examples are “7 facts you should know about the Ebola outbreak” and “9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask” 

Vox, though, is just the beginning. It’s a news source that I will continue to follow because it has served as a strong supplement to understanding the strong in-depth reporting done by the major news organizations (the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, etc.).

I dream of a day where Churchill’s quote will become inapplicable to the world we live in. An informed citizenry would be a valuable asset to American democracy. Informed citizens can lead to informed votes in elections, and informed votes in elections can lead to a more functioning political system. All it takes is a little bit of effort.

Matt is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewPasquini.