The Media’s Effect on Policy

In the weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the international community was in horror. Over over 40 presidents and prime ministers attended a funeral to mourn those who lost their lives. During the same week, Boko Haram killed over 2,000 Nigerians in a rampage through the town of Baja.

It is very likely that this is the first time you are hearing of these attacks, which is not surprising. With all the new technology that allows people to hear about every terrible thing happening in the world, people are, in a way, desensitized to attacks like these. With all the tragedy reported around the world from the Islamic State to Ukraine, it seems as if there is an acceptance that there is little we can do about conflicts in areas like Nigeria, and we, therefore, don’t really need to pay attention to them.

I can not blame anyone for thinking like this. I am guilty of seeing articles about the latest bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan and almost dismissing them as just another tragedy. This is cultural and very hard to fix, however, and our media is changing in ways that perpetuate this cycle.

Increasingly, tragedies like these have been relegated to small news brief in papers. For instance, thousands of lives lost to migrant ships capsizing the only coverage actually explaining the issue was when the European Union decided to act on it.

It’s not like I can blame the media for not covering stories like migrants because sadly, we are consumed with rather trivial pop-culture topics. In USA Today’s list of top ten most clicked on stories it read: 1. Darren Wilson ruling 2. Robin Williams death 3. Russian army trick on jews in Ukraine 4. Super bowl battery comercial 5. Tony Stewart killing another driver 6. Kenny Smith’s open letter to Charles Barkley 7. Misty Copeland 8. Canadian women stopping for ducklings 9. Kim Kardashian’s nude photos 10. Coke’s “put your name on the label,” campaign. The media is giving us what we want: trivial garbage.

This is affecting policy. For instance, if I ask you what percent of the United States budget goes to foreign aid, you would be surprised to find that less than one percent of our four trillion dollar budget goes to helping other nations.

Politicians have no incentive to spend time on issues the public doesn’t care about. To take this closer to home, bills on education and economic reform are the same way. Everyone wants better schools and a better economy, but nobody knows what their elected officials are doing about these issues.

To prove my point, I asked 40 Washington-Lee students what the “Race To The Top” initiative was, and only 2 students were familiar with the policy.“Race To The Top” is Obama’s education reform bill that gives states funding based on certain actions that they take. For instance, a state takes its lowest performing school and improves it if they receive a certain amount of redeemable points for funding. This policy initiative affects students directly, and yet few students are aware it even exists. Perhaps teenagers should redirect our obsession with trivial news over the news that affects us.

The next time you see an article on education reform or the latest bombing in Kabul, remember this: just because it might not be the leading headline or what everyone is talking about right now, that does not mean it is not important.