It’s free. So why aren’t we using it?

Jonas DoerrOpinions Columnist

On the few occasions I’ve eaten fondue, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to stick my head in the fountain and have that warm, gooey chocolate flowing directly into my mouth. But then I realize I’d get chocolate all over my face, choke, and generally look like a doofus. 

Reading the news feels like sticking your head in a fondue fountain. There’s so much of it floating around that it drowns you in information until you’re screaming for a respite from this bleak world you live in and yet again you look like a doofus. But I believe that news ‘chocolate’ is worth slurping up anyways.

Many Gustavus students do not read or listen to the news. It certainly is not difficult; in fact, the Student Senate recently expanded the free access they provide to one of the most respected newspapers in the country, the New York Times. Although they do not track how many students use it, most students I know do not take advantage of this subscription. 

Why not? Some students have other ways of getting the news; for example, Louise Forssell, a student from Stockholm, Sweden, understandably prefers to read a Swedish newspaper instead. She finds the large number of American news sources to be confusing. Others might listen to podcasts or stay updated through social media sources like Twitter.

Yet many others stay away from the news altogether. While they might occasionally read an article or two, for some, reading the news is a sporadic activity. There are several reasons why they might choose this.

Reading the news can be sad. It can be upsetting to hear about wars in Europe, drought in California, and arrested protesters in China. Although there are sometimes happy stories, much of the news is not cheerful.

Plus, a lot of the news can feel inapplicable. How does what’s happening in China or Russia or Qatar affect us thousands of miles away? Even what’s happening in our federal or state governments can seem distant, like it has little impact on our daily lives. 

And reading the news takes valuable time. Many students believe they do enough reading already for class, so why read more? That time could be spent on things like self-care that can get lost in the busyness of a semester.

But I believe the news is worth it for several reasons. It encourages us to be more empathetic, it grants us valuable new perspectives, and makes us more grateful.

Reading the news helps us to become more empathetic by learning of other people’s struggles or successes. While it might only feel spitefully pleasant to hear about the downfall of a celebrity after a poorly considered statement, hearing about what groups like the Uyghurs in China or wartorn Ukrainians go through helps us to understand there are problems greater than a lukewarm latte on a Monday morning. 

When we hear narratives like these, it can inspire us to work for something beyond our own self-interest. Instead of only worrying about our own happiness, thinking about what other people go through can encourage us to work for greater causes. This type of selflessness is what inspires some of the fantastic programs on our campus, like Habitat for Humanity trips or the A Moment of Magic organization.

The varying views one finds in the news can broaden our perspectives. While some news organizations promote mostly one viewpoint, newspapers like the New York Times offer a wide range of creative opinion pieces. Often one can easily find well-reasoned pieces that are liberal, conservative, and moderate listed next to each other. 

Reading pieces like these not only help us to think about our society’s most pressing issues more often, but also in more exciting ways. The writers for the New York Times are at the top of their field, and their arguments are cohesive and innovative. Instead of offering a one-dimensional picture of a worldview like many social media posts, articles like these can help us develop a more complex understanding of what others believe.

Lastly, reading the news can make us more grateful. Few things are more vital to enjoying life than a healthy sense of gratitude – even when rough times come, focusing on the blessings one does have makes everything seem rosier. The news can help cultivate that.

When we read about the wide swath of experiences portrayed in the news, it’s impossible not to compare it to our own life. We begin to appreciate what we have more: our free speech, safe environments, relatively stable governments, food security, and many other things. Realizing these things can make us generally happier.

And, of course, one could read the news just to sound smarter. It does sound rather intellectual to be able to spout facts about current events, but your friends might not appreciate it if you decide to be a newsciance like that. You might be better off reading Shakespeare and learning his most pithy insults, like “Come, come, you froward and unable worms!”

You don’t need to read the news. But I encourage you to try it and see if it really does help you become more empathetic and grateful. After all, lest you forget, your Student Senate fee is funding these readership programs. Better make it worth it!