Friday, 16 October 2009

Balloon boy

Kudos to the Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg Suns for getting it right today in that heart-stopping story about a wayward UFO balloon and the six-year-old boy thought to be inside.

The three tabloids had front page photos of the helium-filled balloon in flight over Colorado and the boy, with Page 3 stories.

Friday's Toronto Sun?

Another front page photo of the losing Toronto Maple Leafs. Yawn. The widely talked about balloon chase story? Five paragraphs by Thane Burnett on Page 36.

The losing Leafs vs the balloon story? Another example of poor tabloid news judgment at 333.

The heart-stopping story that kept people glued to their television sets, computers and radios was tabloid fare from the start and the story continued to unfold today.

We're certain Thane did the story justice yesterday before his work was chopped and squeezed into a small news hole at 333.

It is the latest of several major tabloid stories lost on the layout editors.

Want to talk "churn?" Start with the loss of editors who once blessed the Toronto Sun newsroom with their front page tabloid layout magic.

Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg left the flagship Sun at the starting gate in recognizing the balloon boy as obvious front page fare. Well done.

Ottawa? A hockey front - but for the Senators, a winning team.


  1. The Toronto Sun gave the balloon story exactly what it deserved, a few inside paragraphs. The balloon story was (and still is), uh, over-inflated by all other media. The Toronto Sun was smart enough to burst the bubble.

    There is a huge difference between "important" and "urgent". Covering a story because everyone else is covering it, is not news. Fools fail to differ.

    Noise is not news. Putting something on your front page is akin to yelling. Yelling louder does not your make message any more important. Yelling does not replace analysis.

    However, blowing things out of proportion and USING ALL CAPS TO MAKE THINGS SEEM IMPORTANT is the Sun's way. So this was the perfect Sun story: lots of hot air, no real substance, a shiny object, family involved in "wife-swapping", and in the end, it turned out to have wrong information. If only the wife wore a bikini during their photo op.

    Just because video exists does not make the event any more important or any more newsworthy. The media has now become Youtube, where any video is important video, and that means news value. Newspapers now link to all sorts of stupid Youtube videos in the name of news. Voyeurism is not news.

    Too bad those 8 children killed in a bus crash in Malaysia weren't lucky enough to be caught on video. Otherwise, they'd be in the news.

  2. Agreed, but yet another Leafs front. I've heard Toronto is a big city. Isn't there anything else going on?

  3. Too bad the family didn’t have a sponsor for their over inflated stunt.....such as splattered all over it.

  4. First lesson in tabloid journalism: If everyone's talking about a story they've been following all afternoon and kept millions of people on edge... IT'S ... A ... STORY ... The fact that it turned out to be a hoax MAKES IT AN EVEN BETTER STORY.

    Methinks the lone defender of the Sun's idiotic news call protests too much ...

  5. The first poster here obviously doesn't know Jack about the news business. What silly rationalization for burying the story of the day (and those that followed).

  6. The first poster is stupid beyond belief. This is the kind of dimwit who would dismiss Clifford Irving's hoax because he really didn't write a book about Howard Hughes.
    It's this kind of provincial thinking that has sent Sun circulation dipping over the horizon.
    Sure the story was fake, but not the millions of eyes, both American and Canadian, that were glued to the unfolding drama, real or not.
    The Denver airport was closed; millions of dollars were spent on policing; every parent on the continent held his or her breath as the story played out.
    And played out it did.
    The story had legs — good and bad — and the decision to bury it was nothing short of moronic.

    Lew (what in hell are you guys smoking?) Fournier

    By the way, how are the Leafs doing?

  7. The first lesson of tabloid journalism is to *not* parrot what people were talking about *yesterday*.

    By the time newspapers hit the streets, the balloon story and it's hoax conclusion were ~13 hours old, and it had been beaten to death by TV and the web. The papers added nothing new. The excitement and suspense were long gone. It was commodity news; exactly what is to be avoided or at least minimized.

    The magic and purpose of a tabloid is to *start* people talking. There is no point and no value in repeating exactly what the public was talking about yesterday.

    Remember when the Toronto Sun used to be able to *start* tongues a waggin'? Remember how that made papers disappear from news boxes? Commodity coverage of old news never sells papers, no matter how big the headline font. The exception would have been if (a) the hoax came to light later in the evening, and/or (b) the child was found dead (sorry to point that out).

    Also, check the TV ratings for that day. You'll see that the balloon story did *not* keep the world, the continent, or even a sizable US population "on edge". Surely, you don't believe what you hear on TV or read in the papers?

    US numbers did show a noticeable viewer increase for the news channels in the *afternoon only*, and their total viewership peaked at less than 1.7% of the US population. To put that into perspective, that's about the same number of people who live in the greater Toronto area. Or, it's slightly more than the number of people who watch an average Letterman show. After the balloon landed, the TV news numbers dropped -> public interest gone.

    All of this was/is predictable, assuming you pay attention to things like TV news channel patterns, online news habits and newspaper readership trends. Should newspaper coverage be based on TV ratings from the day before?

    How should a local tabloid paper cover a wacky foreign story based only on wire copy? Don't need your thinking caps for this one, unless you're not an experienced tabloid journalist. Oh wait, all those folks were laid off.

    "Paging Dr Pyette. Paging Dr Brewster. You're needed in the O.R. Patient is comatose."

    Yes, this was, or at least could have been, a perfect tabloid story. But the Toronto Sun dropped the balloon and the other Suns went with the easy, predictable same-old. All were wrong. Nothing about the Sun's coverage was "Sun-style". There was no need to call Martha.

    Also, just to point out, the news media was fooled again today with a fake press conference in Washington DC. Remember when fact-checking used to exist? Remember when stories used to require balance and not just one-sided, single-sourced information? Remember when quality journalism was more important than being first to Tweet? But who cares, just delete those wrong web pages and lay off more people.

  8. The TV ratings would be explained by the fact that it happened mid-afternoon when most people aren't home to watch TV.
    And then there's the fact everyone was talking about it the next morning.
    And anyone who gets out of the house once and a while knows that.
    No question, it didn't need to be on the front. But it deserved a lot more space than a few paragraphs on Page 36.
    That was the true embarassment.

  9. "By the time newspapers hit the streets, the balloon story and it's hoax conclusion were were ~13 hours old"

    - uh, the story lasted for days.Not to mention the big question of whether the parents should be criminally charged. The conclusion which was just reached today (nov. 11) TWO WEEKS after the incident