Newsworthy issues too easily forgotten


By Boswell Hutson

The past month has been full of high-profile events, both abroad and domestic. While we’ve seen international conflicts with Israel, Hamas, ISIS, Russia, the Ukraine and many other groups and countries, we’ve also witnessed an exceptional number of domestic issues — most recently in Ferguson, Missouri, and even here on our campus with the termination of Steven Salaita’s job offer.

It’s rare for major news sources to pick up a story from Champaign-Urbana. And while student interest has been fairly large, I fear the Salaita issue will follow the trend of those mentioned in the previous paragraph. They were each very popular for a time and then, probably far too soon, the issues left our collective memory in favor of the next controversial event. Sustaining interest in issues until actual changes are made is something most of us seem to have a hard time with. 

Last week, students were protesting academic freedom and the influence of money in the public higher-education system in response to the Salaita situation. Next week, as cynical as this sounds, we’ll probably see nothing (or very little) on the subject. The Facebook groups will become quieter with time until they fall silent. Eventually, the issue will only be accessible in archives and our memories. 

While this is natural, it also signals a sizable problem. If we get fired up over these issues only when they’re popular, how can we expect our voices to be heard and our sentiments to be remembered?

I speak for most, if not all, students when I say this: We were raised on the Internet. Our insatiable desire for instant information is something that is inherent to our generation. One needs to look no further than Twitter, which operates at a limit of 140 characters, to see that news is making a shift toward instant delivery. 

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While there are a plethora of positives from this shift, I can’t help but think that it contributes, at least somewhat, to the capricious nature of our generation’s average news consumer. 

News is fleeting and social now, and it becomes hard to differentiate the importance of a given issue when an article on something that’s important pops up right below your friend’s Instagram photo of a super fancy hot fudge sundae. It’s difficult to assess the gravity of a story or an issue because it is increasingly lumped in with frivolous information we are trained to look at once and then disregard.

Just over a month ago, Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His story prompted outrage across the nation and sparked massive debate about race relations in America, police militarization and other topics. Protests continued, the population’s interest was at a peak and the story graced nearly every reputable publication in the developed world. 

Just a month removed, however, and the Facebook posts, tweets and news coverage have reduced dramatically. Brown is still dead, and the issues surrounding this case haven’t been fully resolved, but the population has seemingly become distracted by the next major cause — as is usually the case.

I’m not saying these issues should remain on the front page of the paper until they’re entirely resolved; that’s illogical. Of course new events will unfold, the population’s interest will shift and headlines will change — there’s nothing wrong with that. It seems, however, that these stories come and go with so much fluidity that people forget the importance of the issue at hand before being occupied by something else at the top of the news totem pole.  

The pressure is on us as individuals to remember these issues once they fade from the front page. We can still get caught up in dumping ice on our heads (in fairness, that was a cool marketing idea for a great cause) and the next big international crisis, but we must be careful to learn from the past as well.

Change will not come in any of these instances unless the population is persistent in their demands. If we forget the major issues before they’re resolved, how can we truly make a change? We can’t just disregard controversies after they become unpopular. It’s kind of like that cliché quote from George Santayana your history teacher always loved: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  

If events like the rise of extremism with ISIS, police brutality with Michael Brown and threatened academic freedom with Steven Salaita are rapidly forgotten, there’s little chance we can ever learn from them. 

Perhaps that means we just have to pay more attention, but I’d settle for sustained coverage until the voice of the people is truly heard. In order to do that, we need to stop disregarding issues so hastily.

Boswell is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].