Seán Moncrieff: The news is always grim, but it’s still necessary reading

Increasingly, I don’t want to know the injustice in the world; I also don’t want not to know

‘I can have breakfast without thinking much about it. For others, breakfast is the first problem of the day. Those bad headlines tell us how very lucky we are.’ Photograph: iStock

The morning routine usually starts at some ungodly hour, with Daughter Number Four bouncing into the room to announce that she’s had a big sleep. I stagger down the stairs, whereupon she demands breakfast. Disturbingly, she calls it Brexit. I have asked, and she prefers a hard Brexit. Every time.

She gets Brexit and eats it while watching one of her unspeakable kids' shows. At the moment, it's Paw Patrol: a militaristic group of English talking puppies equipped with billions of pounds worth of hi-tech equipment. There's no explanation of who is funding all of this, or why. I miss Peppa Pig, despite the misandry.

While she eats, I opt for a soft Brexit and scan the news websites. It’s rarely jolly. From just one day a couple of weeks ago, here’s a selection of headlines from the Guardian:

  • Civilian death tool in Yemen war reaches 100,000
  • Sex attacker admits drugging four more women
  • Fears rise as shoppers rein in spending again
  • Crew member stabbed on set at Harry Potter film studio
  • Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labour?

This is far from untypical. Perhaps as a hat-tip to all the grimness, there was also a storied headlined: Don’t Give Up! How to stay healthy, happy and combative in impossible political times.


It was the only article I fully read that morning, and it didn’t really help. It was full of advice like visit nature or eat more vegetables or stay angry: none of which I wanted to do. Increasingly, I feel I don’t want to know about all the misery and injustice in the world; yet I also don’t want not to know. I’d like to take a holiday from all the bad news, yet I also feel guilty about wanting to do so. Somehow, that would feel derelict.

Destroy the planet

It’s impossible to tell how the era we live in now might be viewed in the future. Will we destroy the planet or save it? Will we spark more wars? Will prejudice become our cultural norm, or will we rediscover kindness? Are we heading towards a new fascism?

If there's a war that you don't know about, people will still die

In the future, historians may conclude that things weren’t nearly as bad as everyone thought. Or they may conclude that things were actually worse. Right now, it doesn’t feel good, like the atmospheric build-up before a thunderstorm. Everything we do to wring some joy from life – eat, travel, meet friends – now comes with political ramifications. My house move recently was a reminder of just how much crap we accumulate, of how much waste even small house modifications can create; of how customer “helplines” are primarily aimed at extinguishing human contact.

There’s an abundance of rather self-satisfied articles by people who performed a news “detox”, all of which seem predicated on the assumption that it was the media that was the problem, not the events the media is reporting on. If there’s a war that you don’t know about, people will still die. It may make for better mental health, but it’s still wilful ignorance.

Yet being constantly aware of wars and famines and our moral decrepitude doesn’t change much either. If anything, it’s a reminder of how little we can do, other than vote and be mindful of where we spend our money. Most people don’t have the time or energy or resources to do much else.

Yes, this is liberal hand-wringing. Boohoo. I have to read about what others must endure. But I’d rather feel guilty than ignorant. Because those future historians may well conclude that in the developed world, we lived in a golden age; one we did little to deserve. Daughter Number Four and I can have breakfast without thinking much about it. For others, breakfast is the first problem of the day. Those bad headlines tell us how very lucky we are.