The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Resurrected

Posted by Matt on November 12, 2009

I wrote this near the end of last month, but we couldn’t fit it into the issue. Since it’s no longer even remotely timely, I’m not going to try to get it published again. So here it is, my dead editorial about a story that no one cares about anymore:

******

The latest big story hitting all their major sources a few weeks ago: something might have happened, but actually didn’t! This warranted up-to-the-minute reporting on all the major American networks, front page updates on all the news sites, and follow-ups on the story even after it turned out that nothing really happened.
That, in capsule, was the saga of the Colorado Balloon Boy, who was not in fact floating away in a loose weather balloon, but was instead hiding in the attic. Before that was discovered, however, CNN breathlessly followed the balloon that might have been carrying the kid but was not. All cameras were pointed at the skies of Colorado, watching that silvery craft slowly make its way across the wild blue yonder. And the people wondered: was he in there? Was he okay? Did we just see him fall out? And then the balloon landed, and they found nothing in it. And then they found him in the attic. Riveting.
This of course led to more questions and more coverage. What were the child’s parents doing? Was it a hoax? Should this family be prosecuted? All the while one important question seems to be lost in the shuffle: who cares?
The Winnipeg Free Press article about it the next day (which, to their credit, was not on the front page) provides some good insight: “One minute, President Obama was on the television, speaking about the rebirth of New Orleans, the usual array of citizenry behind him. In the next, he had been shoved aside by a live breaking Grimm’s fairy tale”. The rest of the article went on with that fairytale reasoning, but the lede is of more importance. This is what the news was about that day. This is what resources and airtime was spent covering.
Why does something that would fit better in one of those ‘Oh, how delightfully strange!’ filler articles that might appear in the middle of the paper (or, at best, the front page of the local paper of the kid’s hometown) suddenly become a breaking story? Was it because the family had appeared on that cultural touchstone Wife Swap? Was it because it was a slow news day? Or has the whole news business simply gone off its rocker? I can tell you one thing: it wasn’t the second reason.

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