'Balloon Boy' saga raises questions about parents -- and news media
The balloon drama originally was a gripping because it involved a child, touched emotions, was bizarre and unfolded in public view. Look for any other news topic with wide appeal and list the elements that create interest.
Look at today's issue or website as though you were an editor. Why do you agree or disagree with the selection of news and feature topics given prominent display?
Stories and photos about youngsters appear regularly. Can you spot any?
A globally televised drama that seemed too shocking to be true -- and indeed turns out to have been a wacky publicity stunt -- sparks familiar questions about news judgments, live coverage and what grabs public attention. The offbeat story began with airborne footage of a UFO-like experimental balloon being blown over Colorado for two hours after reportedly breaking loose from its inventor's backyard -- possibly with his son, 6-year-old Falcon Heene, aboard a small basket compartment. Two Colorado Army National Guard helicopters chased the silvery craft it for a possible rescue.
Millions of viewers, online readers and Twitter followers later learned the youngster never was aboard. By nightfall, Falcon and his family were on CNN -- where the plot twisted. Asked why he didn't come out while hearing searchers' shouts, the boy looked at his dad and declared: "You guys said that, um, we did this for the show." The county sheriff now indicates charges will be filed against both parents for filing a false police report and other alleged felonies. The parents are former actors who had been on a reality TV show and tried to develop a new one about their family. The parents called a local news station before police and conveniently had tape of the storm-chasing balloon coming loose.
Troubling questions also arose for cable networks and news websites that made the runaway balloon a top story for hours, even breaking away from coverage of President Obama visiting Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. "The networks made the mistake of reporting something they believed might be true as if it were confirmed fact, instead of sticking to what they knew for a certainty," Time magazine commentator James Poniewozik wrote the next day.
The intensity of continued attention also irritated some observers. "I understand why the story was covered initially, but why are we still talking about it? The boy is safe now -- on with it," prominent blog founder Arianna Huffington said that evening on a MSNBC show, where she had expected to discuss another topic. "Why are you still covering it?"
Boy's dad says: "This thing has become so convoluted." -- Richard Heene on Monday
Blogger says: "Does anybody really wonder why old media is becoming more irrelevant?" -- Judith Ellis, Huffington Post contributor
Educator says: "Those on air at CNN and MSNBC and others should have been more reporters and less voyeurs. I suspect asking those questions would have led to fewer viewers if it was made clear at any point that the boy likely was not there." -- Nancy Hanus, Michigan Statue University journalism instructor in Facebook post
Front Page Talking Points is written by
Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2013
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