For many people, the news is simply background noise. Current affairs, world politics, and international relations all take a back seat to the everyday drama of normal life, getting carried along in the whirlwind of considerations jostling for people’s attention.
This is an understandable position. After all, for most of us, whether the British government loses confidence in Theresa May, or Macron’s French government responds to threats from protesters, has little bearing on our actual lives. As such, for many, keeping up with the news can be a fun hobby, but nothing of any genuine consequence – a passing fascination, with no lasting impact, as frivolous and enjoyable as reading a novel or going to the theatre.
But for others, the news has a direct relation to their lives. For people living in border counties in Northern Ireland, parliamentary response to May’s Brexit deal is of paramount importance, and for those living in central Paris, the potential for the current protests to turn violent is a major concern. In such circumstances, the idea that the news could seem frivolous is laughable, if not grossly insensitive.
It’s telling that a man who made it into the news earlier this year for going to great lengths to avoid the news was a former executive for Nike
The truth is that ignoring the news is a privilege, not a right. For those who are directly affected by it, the news is more than just a sideshow. It is central to the operation of their everyday lives. Much more than a simple fascination, keeping up with the news is a necessity.
Privilege tends to move in packs, and the privilege of ignoring the news is, as a general rule, attached to other forms of advantage. The kinds of people who are unfamiliar with oppression, discrimination, or societal rejection, are often the same kind of people who, when faced with a hot-button news story, wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s telling that Erik Hagerman, the man who made it into the news earlier this year for going to great lengths to avoid absorbing any major news stories, was a former executive for Nike.
Nowhere is this more true than in higher education. Often, news stories about third-level education can seem dull and irrelevant to those for whom college is a given, but for those whose ability to attend their university of choice is dependent on government policy, nothing could be more important.
Government response to the now long-discussed Cassells report, funding for the Trinity Access Programme, the availability of affordable student housing: all of these issues could decided whether someone can afford to attend university or not. A students’ union’s response to social issues, meanwhile, could mean the difference between students feeling accepted or alienated on campus. What may seem like dry, procedural issues can have immediate, tangible, and severe impacts on those who lack the privilege to ignore them.
What may seem like dry, procedural issues can have immediate, tangible, and severe impacts on those who lack the privilege to ignore them
As a result, any attempts from those on campus to promote awareness of these stories should be celebrated. Quality student journalism, an active students’ union, and student engagement with politics are hugely important, providing a valuable asset to the student community. “Student issues” are exactly that, issues which affect students, often in ways that are just as important as the impact of mainstream news stories.
Ignoring the news can feel easy, even refreshing. But like many such things, it is far from beneficial. For those directly impacted, the news is far from abstract, and has concrete, decisive outcomes. That’s what all the fuss is about.