Amid mistrust, look to journalism, libraries and college

Every day, we must make decisions about the veracity of the news we consume. And, increasingly, this task has grown more emotionally taxing.

According to a recent poll of Americans conducted by the Columbia Journalism Review, half of respondents reported having “hardly any confidence at all” in news outlets. The American public has made an inevitable shift from generic skepticism to unmitigated mistrust of the media.

Daily, we are awash in a tempestuous sea of information and opinions. Civil discourse would seem to be in short supply. It is little wonder that many feel frustrated – even powerless – at the enormity of the task before us in the next election cycle: how to make sense of the tidal waves of news and information crashing through our devices, our televisions, our newspapers.

In an era of such mistrust, our natural inclination might be to shutter our windows against the crashing waves. Nevertheless, this is the time when we most need to pull up our ship’s anchor and unfurl her sails. Few other points in our nation’s history have commanded such a challenge to individual passivity.

But what can we do in the face of such chaos? How can we navigate these treacherous waters? The answers lay in our own backyards.

Support local journalism

Newspapers across the nation are laying off local journalists. Although disappointing, this phenomenon is hardly surprising as newspapers are struggling to remain relevant, accessible and financially solvent.

But this does a great disservice to the community. Experienced local journalists carry with them a great deal of institutional knowledge. Their journalistic training and seasoned political perspective allow them to interpret the current political landscape in a way that few others can, thus serving as a beacon for readers trying to navigate the stormy waters of current events. These journalists’ departure is a stark loss not only to devoted readers of that particular outlet, but also to the community at large. When we support local journalism, we keep the fires in that lighthouse burning and the public better informed.

Support your local library

In addition to checking out materials (you do have a library card, right??), attend library events and engage with the staff. Public libraries are a safe space to explore, share and make sense of the perspectives of others by engaging the community in a larger conversation. And the best part is that librarians are highly trained to help with this. The terminal degree in the library profession is a master’s degree in Library and Information Science, which means your local librarian is an expert at finding and evaluating information that can help you ride that wave of information like a pro surfer. So, don’t just partake of our materials. Partake of the well-informed people sitting behind those desks and roaming the stacks.

Support higher education

College exposes students to a rich palette of diverse experiences. Whether attending a community college or a research university, students will engage with others who bring a variety of life experiences and perspectives. To the new and uninitiated, this can feel like a vast, uncharted ocean. But with the guidance of dedicated faculty and staff, their maiden voyage can become a life-changing journey. Just as public libraries can serve as a hub for the exchange of ideas, academic libraries can and should play an integral role in this journey of discovery.

College is not just about acquiring a degree to get a good job, although that is indeed important. Rather, higher education is about learning to be part of society’s great conversation, whether it takes place at the dinner table, a community event or at work. This conversation is what defines a democracy. When we support higher education, we are outwardly espousing our values as a democratic society.

Engaging journalism, thriving libraries and well-supported higher education are the banners of a true democracy. When we support these, we enable all to fully participate in society’s great conversation.

Sarah Hood is a reference and instruction librarian, and teaches information literacy at Santa Fe Community College Santa Fe

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