For the last few days, my WhatsApp family group chat has been constantly pinging. My relatives sent various videos from protests across the ocean in Lebanon, conveying personal details about what it was like to be there. Last Saturday, when I searched online for the protests that had been raging for several days, I realized that very few major news outlets had covered it. If I had not read an article from a Lebanese news source or had a personal connection to the region, I probably would not have known anything about the protests. I would not have known that the government had recently attempted to tax its people unfairly, feeding current governmental mismanagement and inefficacy.
The limited coverage in major American media outlets is all too often skewed towards American audiences and misses the experiences of people living on the ground. We must demand more.
Reading the New York Times’ Morning Briefings this past week, I was not surprised to see the same phenomenon regarding another country that is part of my heritage. I read story after story about the United States pulling out of Syria, and Trump disregarding the Kurds. Even though many news sources admonish Trump’s behavior, they seem to only care about what it means for the United States, making large sweeping claims and oversimplifying the many factors at play.
We’re losing context. We’re losing nuance. The focus is only on what the Unites States pulling out of Syria means for Americans. Well, what does it mean for Syrians? For the Kurds? Or for the region at large? Adapting news stories to American audiences should not exclude the voices of those who are actually living these experiences. As a Lebanese and Syrian American, I feel this acutely.
There is an endless focus on what Western powers have to say on certain conflicts. More headlines have focused on Trump’s tweets than on the perspectives of people in the region, who are the ones who will really be affected. I am, of course, livid at the constant immature behavior of our president. But I also think his inflammatory tweets are not all there is to talk about. Considering the United States had been involved in Syria long before Trump, why aren’t we contextualizing the reasons we were there in the first place?
Moreover, I get upset at the way that news outlets portray Syria. When the people do get coverage, it’s always about the absolutely devastating conditions. About the horrible photos and videos of suffering. About the people we should pity, but not listen to. And not much else.
What use is empathy if we don’t change the way we act? In one of my classes, we discussed the ethics of looking at gruesome images. Am I dehumanizing someone by reducing them to a lifeless body, a person only capable of suffering? The answer is yes, if we forget that they are full people, too, with deep, complicated and meaningful lives that no one seems to think or care about.
At Yale, we can change the way we consume media and the way we discuss conflict, despite the fact that we may not be on a major news outlet’s editorial board. First, we could take more diverse classes — may I suggest an Ethnicity, Race & Migration class instead of only Global Affairs classes? Take history, even if you’re a pre-med. Then, reimagine and reflect upon the way you think about certain conflicts and crises. Ask yourself, what would I do if I was there? How would I respond? Professors, be more intentional about making your syllabi diverse. Include more voices from different regions and backgrounds — not just prominent political philosophers from the Directed Studies curriculum.
I hear people complaining that they just don’t have time to read about current events in the tumult of student life. These are intelligent people who want to learn about issues they hope to solve. But being informed 15 years from now is not enough. We must be informed today, too. If we are to build up a full base of knowledge and understanding, we need to have begun yesterday.
So, make time. Instead of scrolling through Instagram before class, scroll through your news apps. Spend a second during breakfast to read — and maybe pick up a newspaper if you’re feeling old school. Five more minutes every day adds up, and could really make all the difference. Because the problems with mainstream media have become so deep, we need to be the ones who take on the responsibility to educate ourselves, stay engaged and remain global citizens.
We must do a better job at being media consumers. It’s our responsibility to read more than the New York Times and the Yale Daily News every day. Read local and regional news. Be intentional about your subscriptions. We have more power than we think.
Hala El Solh is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .