I was away from my desk at a couple of back-to-back meetings this afternoon (just for a change) and returned to find all the Twitterverse abuzz with news about some boy trapped in a balloon. Wait, what?
I managed to piece things together from the tweets that crossed my deck, but it wasn’t until I got home that I got a visual of the story that you have no doubt heard all about by now: A six-year-old boy (named Falcon, no less) was reported to be flying across the Colorado skies on some kind of platform attached to a large helium balloon. Hours later, it was discovered that young Falcon was not in mortal danger but was in fact hiding in a box in the attic. He is, I hope, severely grounded — in more than one sense of the word.
And just like that, “balloonboy” was a trending topic on Twitter, Falcon T-shirts were available for purchase, and Balloon Boy Halloween costumes were in the works.
The 24-hour news networks of course lost their collective minds over this story, cutting away live for hours of balloon boy action. Why? What were they hoping to catch? Live footage of a young boy crashing to his death? And if they weren’t sure of the facts of the story — which they obviously weren’t, given its anti-climactic end — why go live in the first place?
The media are like those dogs in the similarly balloon-themed movie Up, easily distracted by whatever shiny new — SQUIRREL!! — crosses their path. I should be more annoyed at the mainstream media about this than I am. After all, Balloon Boy spawned a great deal of social media silliness that I admit I’ve gotten more than one chuckle out of.
Still, does everything have to be given over to instant gratification silliness now? With newspapers folding — for good, not just in half — and television news turning toward entertainment and personality pundits, where do we go for serious, well-reported journalism? Do we all have to start reading The Economist?
And just to round off the Up parallels, #flyingsquirells was also a trending topic on Twitter at the same time as #balloonboy. I have no idea why. Perhaps a flying squirrel was trapped in a balloon somewhere. Now that’s a story!
UPDATE: The media coverage has now shifted to covering … the media coverage of the story. Hands off, mainstream media! That’s the bloggers’ job.