Scandals Keep Voters Apathetic, Local News Spurs Action

By Wittika Chaplet

One of the greatest challenges in today’s U.S. politics is an apathetic voting population. According to Penn State, only 58.1 percent of the voting-eligible population voted in the 2016 presidential election. Of course, many factors led to this embarrassing statistic, including voter registration laws and gerrymandering. But one of the problems is the media apparatus’s decline and inability to rouse the public into caring or believing they can have an impact on politics.

The journalism industry has been facing fundamental problems for the past decade, even before the advent of the “fake news” saga. The problems rise from many places, ranging from the difficulties of monetizing online information to the persecution of whistle-blowers under Bush, Obama and Trump. 

In order to renew interest, many reputable news organizations use scandals to appeal to the broader population. The bigger, the more outrageous the scandal, the more people will pay attention. And perhaps they’re right. Perhaps scandals do keep people clicking for more. After all, many pin Trump’s success on his understanding of reality TV. He is a master of getting people to pay attention to him. But over time, scandals lose their appeal, and people need increasingly ground-breaking news to continue being surprised and interested. 

More than that, why does news exist in the first place? Is the sole goal an informed populace? Or does it also include an active populace, one that holds its representatives accountable? I hope the latter. Geopolitical scandals do not help people to understand their own place or role in the world.

It is easy for people to tire out, to feel like their vote doesn’t matter, like nothing they do will make an impact. This is because the news and our politicians are obsessed with macroscale problems that feel completely out of our hands. What we can have a real, meaningful impact on are local issues and politics. We have to understand that these local issues represent the first and perhaps one of the more important frontiers in the fight for change. Local issues are often reflections of greater issues affecting the country and even the world. What are you going to do about climate change or the president or institutional racism if you don’t even know how to take steps to combat those very issues in your backyard? 

The role of the press is not to start with global conundrums and try to make them relevant to people’s lives. It is to take local issues that clearly affect everyday citizens and relate those to wider national and global issues. 

People like Trump run on the idea that Washington and the press have forgotten “the little guys.” And in a sense, he’s right (although I’m not sure Washington ever paid enough attention to the little guys). The consensus seems to be that we should combat this by proving that global issues are more important than everyday, individual citizens. The truth is we cannot have one without the other. We cannot have national politics without local politics. We cannot have global change without first having local change. 

Let’s stop relating the news to people’s lives and start relating people’s lives to the news. 

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