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Stott: Circumstances shape feelings about news

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

I read an interesting story this week about the effect the sluggish economy is having on recent college graduates. The story said that although grads are experiencing trouble finding jobs, they have an easier time than job searchers with only a high school diploma.

I read this story from my current perspective, as a college graduate seeking an additional degree.

Then I remembered back to the time when I wasn’t sure if I would get my bachelor’s degree. I was one of those job-seekers with just a high school diploma. I read the story again. It felt different to me. I had actively framed the story from a different perspective, one I had once had. The information seemed to tell me something else.

When I had read the story from the perspective of a college graduate, it made me feel hopeful and secure.

When I read it again, pretending to be a high school graduate, it made me feel worried and defensive. As if I had made a bad decision.

It is interesting the way information can make different people feel.

In fact, much of the information presented by the media affects the public disparately. This is an especially common perceived trait in times when news consumers complain that the media promotes nothing but a gloomy outlook.

Did you get a flu shot this season? As waves of reports indicate that this flu season is one of the worst the United States has seen in years, those of us who have gotten the shot are probably feeling confident.

The same news story about the severe flu season that makes the vaccinated feel more confident probably is making those people who didn’t get the shot nervous and worried.

The story is the same; it is just being read by people whose experiences and perspectives help them frame it differently.

Journalists work hard to present news and information effectively to their audience.

Local newspapers typically frame news from a geographic perspective, hoping to appeal to readers in a way that is useful for their coverage area.

A liberal news organization will frame information in a way very different from the way a conservative outlet will.

A story’s angle as determined by the news outlet can make it more interesting, useful and valuable to a reader.

But regardless of how stories are carefully framed by the media, readers also frame the stories using their opinions or experiences.

The story I read about joblessness rates of recent college graduates was in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Although many people reading it probably have college degrees, their experiences can change their perspective, also. Someone with a college degree who is employed probably feels satisfied with his choice to go to college. Another reader, who has a degree but no job, might be feeling remorseful or resentful about the state of his career.

It is important for readers to recognize not just how a story makes them feel, but why it makes them feel that way.

Is there more to be learned about themselves or about the subject?

Not only can we recognize our feelings toward information, we can use our attitudes proactively as a catalyst for positive change.

Don’t like your chances of getting to spring flu-free? Get the vaccine. Concerned that your educational status isn’t helping with your job search? Research college options, or look at alternative ways of improving your employment outlook.

Don’t let what is typically perceived as bad news continue to be a negative. Instead, trade it for a positive change.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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