WHAT I DID
I worked as a reporter at the Indiana Statehouse for TheStatehouseFile.com during the month of January. At my college, we have this thing called “Winter Term” during the month of January where students can take a class, work, travel abroad or intern. I chose the latter. I commuted downtown by 9 a.m. and left around 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. I wrote at least one news story a day about Statehouse happenings and maybe a press release. And I’m not much of a photographer, but I even picked up a camera a few times.
WHAT I LEARNED
Coming into this experience, I knew very little about politics. It always seemed to go over my head, so I didn’t keep up with it. I could barely name my governor, couldn’t recall how many members there were in the Senate, and definitely couldn’t tell you what HIP 2.0 is. The answers are Mike Pence, 50, and a state replacement for Medicaid, btw.
But when you’re inside the Statehouse every day, or whenever you’re doing something you’re unfamiliar with, you can’t help but learn. You can’t help but care about what’s happening in your state and who it effects. You learn that budget proposals not only effect big politicians, but they effect you – the money your old high school gets, whether or not your college gets a new science building, if your house’s value goes up or down, and your experience as a citizen in your state. And that’s a bigger deal than I thought it was.
I learned what it’s like working a regular, grown adult job–coming in at 9 a.m., taking a lunch break, working as a team, leaving when your work is done – and what’s it’s like to wear dress pants almost every day (not the best part of the experience). I learned that it takes a lot to not only understand something as complex as public education yourself, but to be understand it enough to write and explain it simple enough to tell it to other people. I learned how to work on a deadline, how to pester someone just enough to get a 10-minute interview, and how many layers to wear when you’re walking in below freezing temperatures.
But most of all, I learned that college kids–I’m talking about myself here, too–should care a little bit more about politics and the news in general. You don’t have to keep up with everything… I mean, how could you keep up with everything? But you need to hit the big points. You need to sit down and read some articles to understand what’s going on in your state and nation whether it effects you or not. And you shouldn’t only read those articles, you should form your own opinions on what’s going on. Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it somewhere in between?
Most of all, you need to be informed. I know politics are scary. There’s a lot going on, a lot of people to keep straight, and stuff changes all the time–but it’s important. According to a study done by Hart Research Associations for The Panetta Institute For Public Policy in 2012, college students paid less attention to the 2012 presidential campaign (66 percent) than they did both 2008 (82 percent) and 2004 (76 percent). Can we change the numbers for the 2016 election?
College students are some of the most valuable people. We are critical thinkers. We aren’t afraid to stand up for what we believe in. And we have to be the leaders on this.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Being a leader is normally easier said than done–but trust me on this one–it’s not that bad. You can get started by following your local TV, radio and newspapers on Twitter. Your state’s Democratic and Republican parties probably have a Twitter account where they tweet out major updates, so look for that too.
As you can image, it’s not uncommon for college students to keep up with the news as it happens online; according to the same study, the percentage of students who rely on Internet news for most of their information about politics continues to increase. In 2012, 59 percent said this was case, up from 54 percent in 2011 and 29 percent in 2001, the first time this was measured.
I’ve found great way to keep up with national and international politics and news online are through only-the-important-stuff apps like Circa. It’s a way to stay on top of the big stories of the day, and it can give you text alerts when something big happens.
I’ve recently gotten into “theSkimm,” a daily email that gives you updates on what you need to know. It has quirky little headlines like “What To Say When The Coffee Shop On Your Block Forgets Your Usual” and “What To Say When Your Boss Gives You Unclear Directions” that relate to big news stories. It keeps you in the loop, and it’s simple to read through on your way to class.
So let’s change the numbers. Let’s keep up with the current event discussions of our poli-sci professors. Let’s know the headlines. Let’s be informed.