Jeanette Rusk Sefcik: Please don’t turn off the news

Being well-informed is important in all levels of civic engagement.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A roll of “I voted” stickers are on hand for those opting to vote in person at the Salt Lake County Government Center during primary Election Day on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

The biggest threat to our democracy is an ignorant citizenry. So please don’t turn off the news. Instead of turning it off, turn to sources that inform — not sources that inflame.

I have become concerned as I’ve heard many of my friends, acquaintances and family members say they are disconnecting from news because it is too negative and upsetting, and, besides, they feel they are impotent to effect change.

This apathy — and sometimes even antipathy — toward politics and civic affairs endangers our democracy more than the extremist and authoritarian leaders who are multiplying in our current world.

Democracy needs an informed and involved citizenry to fend off the slide toward autocracy, which is more likely when people make their civic decisions and vote choices based on partisanship and cultural tribalism instead of factual information and rational-vs.-emotional perspective.

When people tell me they are turning off the news, my first question is: “What is your news source?” Why is it upsetting you?”

I use a variety of sources I trust that tell stories which amuse and inspire me, as well as the distressing, but significant, facts of our global strife. My main news sources are: National Public Radio (NPR), Public Broadcasting System (PBS) — especially the PBS Newshour, British Broadcasting System (BBC) — and a variety of newspapers.

I know I am prejudiced as a retired newspaper reporter and editor, but I do believe citizens were qualitatively better informed when they relied on newspapers, where facts are separated from opinions and reporters are trained in ethics, as well as the mechanics of their profession. I know that newspapers are financially distressed in our current world, and they can’t do the job they once did with their dwindling staff and resources, but I hope they are finding an online space and will continue to be a journalistic haven for truth seekers.

Being well-informed is important in all levels of civic engagement. We need to follow local and state news as well as national and international events. When we are active locally, like attending school board meetings or even writing letters to the editor, we should do our homework and seek out reliable sources of information. Strive to be truth seekers instead of political fans cheering for the team that represents our preexisting views.

My concern about ignorance is especially acute in the realm of voting, and particularly the way it can influence and distort national elections. I think we have a potent example here in Utah. The LDS Church preaches that it is your civic duty to vote, so members feel pressured to go to the polls, even those who are paying little attention to anything outside their church community. So what does this ignorant voter do? He/she just votes a party line, and that is not judicious for our country.

This doesn’t just happen in Utah, or just among Republican voters. Among all of the populace, it’s so easy to go with your team, and it’s hard to seek out information and do the work of evaluating it in order to make educated decisions. So the trend is toward partisanship and reactionary trends.

I do believe people need to engage and vote, but I even more so believe they need to do it as educated participants. Maybe that pin or badge that you wear after voting shouldn’t just say, “I Voted.” Maybe it should boast, “I Prepared, Then Voted.”

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik, Glendale, is a retired newspaper reporter and editor, having worked at newspapers including the Tucson Citizen, Daily Spectrum in St. George, Southern Utah News in Kanab and Lake Powell Chronicle in Page, Ariz. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.