At the recent journalism panel Amherst hosted discussing the 2016 presidential campaign trail, one of the speakers mentioned the ways in which our consumption of media is predetermined by algorithms programmed to show us content that aligns with our own opinions. For instance, a left-leaning person’s Facebook feed would mostly include articles that align with the political left. The knowledge that this type of invisible system exists, a system that extends far beyond the methods of Facebook algorithms alone, implores us to think critically about how we consume our media.
This political season, it is certainly true that subsets of the media have given unequal coverage to candidates. However, the situation is not so simple that it can be reduced to blaming journalists and publications. What does the public demand to read? How do we support the work of journalists? Do we read often enough, moving beyond Buzzfeed listicles of bad photos of Donald Trump? The public’s consumption habits have changed. Looking at Amherst as a case study: It is rare to spot a student reading a newspaper anywhere on campus. Perhaps we read articles here and there online, or pick up a copy of a paper on the way into Val, but how many people read the newspaper fully and regularly? As college students, perhaps time and convenience are determining factors for why the print newspaper is inconvenient and left by the wayside. But accepting this argument doesn’t change the consequence at the end of the road: If we refuse to consume print news and full-length articles and do not seek out the same quality of content through other means, we cannot expect for the news industry to be sustained and certainly cannot expect to have the same awareness of current affairs. Perhaps journalists do need to shoulder some of the blame, but who reads the paper regularly enough to absolve themselves of responsibility for how journalism (in the broadest sense of the industry) has become commercialized and driven by profit? How can anyone expect journalists to produce good content when the majority of the public no longer demands it?
The Amherst Student can be analyzed as a microcosm of global journalism. Granted, it is a privileged publication in that its continuation is essentially considered to be “inevitable”; the college may not support this publication by monetary means, but the existence of a school newspaper is considered necessary by most academic institutions so it seems unlikely that The Student would ever go out of print. Despite the certainty that this publication will persist, it is unfortunately not widely-read by students. And yet, critical articles are written every week by passionate student writers — their stories often only get exposure if shared enough by themselves on Facebook or other online platforms. Students are forced to shoulder the weight of advocating for themselves and their voices. It is hard to express the importance of our campus newspaper without coming off as driven only by self-interest — the desire to be read and recognized. But this desire for recognition is not selfish. It is rooted in a desire to uplift true stories about individuals, and by extension, true stories about the community that we occupy. Articles are usually written by individuals and they might concern an individual’s specific experience, but they often represent broader narratives that apply to many people at our college in some shape or form. Small publications like campus newspapers can give space to critical voices of dissent and activism, whereas larger publications often come in as outsiders and time and time again fail to understand the true feelings of the story they seek to unfold. Furthermore, other small, local newspapers are also the source material for information for papers up the food chain. The decline of public support for small newspapers, and the subsequent decline of content and information, is a critical loss that has cascading effects.
Clearly, there rests a lingering need for campus voices and space for activism. From something as subtle as Amherst Awkward to serious topics such as the culture of sexual assault, many of this campus’s issues arise from the lack of communication among its students. We complain about loneliness and division at Amherst but do not care to understand the perspectives of those around us. It’s evident that how we follow campus news is not so different from the way we follow national issues like the presidential race — passingly — despite the fact that both these environments are nuanced, constantly evolving in complex ways and involving various political and social phenomena. We consistently respond as reactionaries, and even then, often fail to truly listen. The Editorial Board urges improved literacy, exploration and understanding of the community in which we all exist.