Internet and Media Attention of Balloon Boy

Millions of people around the world watched the fate of Falcon Heene, better known as “balloon boy,” who was thought to have taken off from his Colorado home in a helium balloon, last Thursday, only to be found safe hours later.

Speculation soon grew that the incident was just a hoax and publicity stunt engineered by the boy’s father, Richard Heene. Falcon, when questioned in an interview about why he had hid in his house during the chaos replied to his father, “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.” The family is now being accused of being publicity hungry and just wanting to be reality TV stars.

So how could the major news networks feed the publicity hungry when we have more pressing matters and timely causes to be informed of? “Easily,” wrote Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher. “The press and news agencies reported for over an hour that a boy was in the balloon, without any qualifiers, even though the only witness was a sibling who saw him climb inside,” Mitchell wrote. “Only after the crash did TV hosts stress that reports of a boy in it were unverified and raised the possibility of a hoax. Few had raised the issue of whether such a balloon could even lift off with a 50-pound kid inside, and then float the way it did.”

“Balloon boy” became the No. 1 search on Google within hours of the event and it was closely followed in blogs and social networking sites, with Twitter taking the lead.

We are always taught in our public relation and news writing classes the importance of making sure press releases are “news worthy.” In my opinion, this story has gotten far more attention than it really deserves, especially now that we know the boy is safe and that it was all a hoax and mere attempt at notoriety.

What do you think? Did this incident deserve the coverage it received? Is the media at fault for letting the story get out of hand?

This guest blog was written by PRowl Public Relations staff member, Trish Wyatt.

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