Is the news so awful that we should just ignore it?

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I started writing an opinion column for the daily newspaper in Mobile, Alabama. It appeared on Sundays.

At the same time, I was also a news reporter whose beats included the beach resort city of Gulf Shores.

A few weeks after the column began running, one of the City Council members came up to me after a meeting and said, “Someone showed me your column from last Sunday. It was very good.”

He added, “I don’t subscribe to the paper myself. There’s just too much bad news in it.”

I’m one to take compliments where I can get them, so I just smiled and nodded and thanked him.

A few weeks after that, after another council meeting, he stopped me again. “Boy, that was a really good column this past Sunday,” he said. “I may have to start subscribing to the paper again.” (Not coincidentally, the two columns had cast Gulf Shores in a flattering light.)

Again, several more weeks later, he came up and said, “OK, I’m a subscriber now. I got tired of people asking me if I’d read your column. But there’s still too much bad news in the paper.”

And again, I smiled and nodded. I appreciated his vote of confidence, even if I didn’t understand why he kept complaining about all the “bad news in the paper.” Frankly, although he was a pleasant person, he came across as a whiny and unrealistic old man.

Of course there’s a lot of bad news in the paper, I wanted to say. If there was only good news in it, we’d call it Guideposts magazine instead of the Mobile Press-Register. How can you not get that?

In retrospect, I get what he was saying — in large part because I’m now older than he was at the time, and I understand how years and years of hearing and reading about wars, famines, cruelty, brutal crimes, wicked leaders and desperate poverty can wear a person down.

When I was listening to the councilman, I had not been worn down by the world. Now I can hardly stand to read or hear the morning news. And the thought of repeating the 2020 national election, with all its lies and nastiness, is sickening.

I used to read two or three newspapers before noon and watch CNN throughout the day. All I can bear to do now is open a few websites and read their headlines. I may click on a story or two, but that’s all.

The guy who had cancelled his newspaper subscription was proud of his decision to avoid reading the paper. And there’s the difference between the two of us.

I am not proud of what I’m doing.

Yes, I’m trying to protect my sanity. I imagine many of you are trying to do the same thing.

But at what cost? How can we make thoughtful decisions, especially on Election Day, if we don’t keep abreast of current events? If we don’t understand what’s really going on with the economy, with our role in global politics and with our fellow men, women and children, then we are vulnerable to the lies and misrepresentations that swirl around us.

Worse, if we don’t make an effort to get facts, then we may get what we think is news from posts on social media, from websites that aren’t accountable to anyone, from conspiracy theorists, and from unhinged commentators who spread more misinformation than truth.

The councilman in Gulf Shores got it right when he finally acknowledged that he needed to subscribe to a newspaper. The world of journalism is vastly different now, of course, with fewer newspapers and trained journalists, but the truth is out there for him, for you and for me.

It may be harder to find, thanks to the proliferation of websites, platforms and artificial intelligence. And yes, sometimes the news is very bad indeed.

Still, we owe to ourselves and our country — not to mention our children and grandchildren — to not give up. No matter what galaxy we’re in, burying our heads in the sand never solves anything.

Frances Coleman is a former editorial page editor of the Mobile Press-Register. Email her at [email protected] and “like” her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prfrances.

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