I am not sure what I expected our country to look like in 2021, but I certainly did not expect it to be so fractured and bogged down in hate. My oldest son was a year old on Sept. 11, 2001. The wave of patriotism following that day gave me hope for the America that my kids would inherit.

Fast forward 20 years and that hope has been overtaken by fear. Fear that our country has become so polarized on every issue that it may not survive. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Never in America’s history has this quote been truer. In 1858, Lincoln spoke about the divide between free states and slave states. In 2021, America is divided on a multitude of issues, and most of our society is determined to expand that divide rather than close the gap. These concerns are a driving force behind the theme of National Newspaper Week — "The Community Forum," newspapers as the foundation of our communities.

We are polarized on every issue because of the information that we consume every day. We have completely lost our ability to see another point of view. We no longer accept differences of opinion, debate, disagreement, or dissent. Any division in thought is met with anger and hatred.

America was founded on the ideals of freedom, tolerance and acceptance. All men were created equal with fundamental rights. People of diverse backgrounds and beliefs worked together to frame these ideas into a new country with liberty and justice for all. They compromised for the betterment of everyone.

The 1980s gave birth to the 24-hour news networks. These “news” networks have become entertainment TV programming with multiple networks now fighting for viewers, ratings and advertising dollars. They each appeal to a subset of viewers with a distinct political leaning. Their programming has little reporting of the actual news, focused mostly on commentary, feeding their viewers what they want to see and hear. These networks have become 100% entertainment losing all their journalistic integrity. They feed us the information that they want us to have, and most of us are unaware that we are consuming propaganda rather than facts.

The 2000s saw the advent of social media networks, heralded as a breakthrough in human interaction and communication. This modern technology has changed how we live and communicate. Unfortunately, it is being used to further the divide of the American public. Social networks work on algorithms designed to show you things in which you are interested, which explains why they are so entertaining and addicting.

Social Media has moved beyond connecting people to the single most polarizing platform in this country. Think about the negativity, hate, fear and bullying in your feed. No matter the subject, people are attacking each other in the most vile, evil ways. There is no discussion or civil discord, just polarized ideas of right and wrong.

We need to get back to being civil with one another, treating each other with dignity. We need to listen to others' viewpoint.

The first step is in our own mind. We must look at the media and propaganda we are consuming. Our minds are consuming these ideas of hatred and polarization. We need to move toward civil discussion and treating everyone with respect.

We need a "community forum" for news, entertainment, and connection with our community. Every night, Walter Cronkite told you what had happened that day. He did not give you his opinion, he gave you facts. We need the facts about what is going on in our community, and we can only get that in our local newspaper. Newspapers are embedded in the community. Local news has a much bigger impact in your day-to-day life than national/regional news. City council, zoning, school board, local elections all have a profound effect on our daily life. Engaging with our local newspaper makes our community better. Attend town halls and community events. Help hold our local elected officials accountable.

Local Newspapers are the original community forum, disseminating essential information, holding government accountable and engaging the community in civil discourse.

We can ignite a wave of change, but we must start local. Our government and leaders reflect our values. If we want them to change, we must change. Be part of the "community forum." Subscribe to your local newspaper today, in print or online. Support Local Journalism, engage in activities that build up your communities.

Brian J. Allfrey serves as executive director of the Utah Press Association/New York Press Service. He has over 20 years in the newspaper industry and almost 11 years in his current executive director role.