Sharing yam wedges and tamarind aioli with a friend the other day, I became aware that I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. The reason was the two big TV screens hanging over his left shoulder. It’s hard to have a thoughtful conversation when there is constant distraction from something big and loud and fast-moving in one’s field of vision.
I thought that was bad enough, but the programming on the left-most screen appeared to be all news — and the more violent the better.
The first image was of a burning tanker truck, overturned on a highway. There were leaping flames and a plume of black smoke. The second was of a woman’s face, with a transcript of the 911 conversation in which she tells the operator she has killed her children running across the screen below. The third was of men wearing dusty army fatigues and carrying machine guns kicking in a door. I felt my brain had been invaded by disturbing images that I hadn’t been prepared to watch .
It was HLN, which I later discovered to be CNN Headline News. The format is the ultra-condensed version of the news, the television equivalent of the USA Today newspaper.
Due to the network’s tradition of rolling news coverage, the network has become popular with people who may not have time to watch lengthy news reports, in addition to places where a high demand for “get to the point” news exists, such as airports, bars, and many other places.
I read newspapers with a modest amount of in-depth content and I occasionally check breaking news online, but that’s initiated by me. Having news and entertainment pushed at me is a reason why I tend to stay away from certain kinds of bars and restaurants. I yearn for the old-style British neighbourhood pub, where you could sit in a corner with friends, drink real beer, and set the world to rights through talking about it.