Before I start my rant, let me point to a copy of the YouTube video featuring Falcon “Balloon Boy” Heene and family (as seen on Wifeswap). I suspect you may be seeking that.
In my opinion, today Twitter became CNN (in the same way CNN’s coverage of Jessica McClure put it on the map). In fairness, I became a bit obsessed with the “kid in weather balloon” story when I saw it live via CNN on a lobby television at the hotel where I was speaking… ironically speaking on the topic of real-time search, wisdom of crowds, and changes with search. Alas, the definitive case study for these three topics would surface just an hour after I spoke. I started tweeting with hash-tag #saveballoonboy, and it became one of the “hottest” Twitter trends.
Falcon Heene was thought to be flying inside his dad’s UFO-like weather balloon. CNN showed live helicopter footage of the balloon swirling 25-50 mph, which made this a remarkable news story — especially to those who learned about it before Falcon was recovered.
But CNN was slow with the seemingly obvious fact… As I should have known (from my helium experiments setting a FlipCam to the sky) the weather balloon could not have easily carried a 6-year-old child away… although the parents and authorities must have thought it a possibility. And when the child was MIA, rumors started that he’d fallen off to his death… that witnesses had seen something drop. His brother saw him sail away (in fact he had simply heard Falcon planning to climb into the basket/compartment.
CNN got Jessica McLure right, but left most of us frustrated and demanding more today. Others made it a top-trending keyword today, as we shared what news we had… like a post apocalypse scenario with CD-Radios.
This evening at 5:00 EST, I called my sister (who is a prodcuer at a major network) and asked her what she had… little more than already had been reported (although she had a lot of background already on the family). I begged her to call a neighbor of Heene, and see if she could circumvent the poor communication between rescuers (who clearly knew the balloon was empty) and the news media.
Want to know who broke the story for me? A stranger named Kelley Vinson (KelleySaidThis) using an iPhone police radio app (assuming she wasn’t kidding she wins $50 for the scoop… I promised). Moments later, I called my sister (who works at a major network) and she finally told me her network had announces the child was safe. A YouTube friend sent me a message via Twitter that confirmed CNN was confirming he was safe.
Frankly, the few hours felt exponentially longer than the 58 hours Jessica was in a well. And the coverage was slow, speculative and not fast enough for a just-in-time search-fueled audience.
Today’s lesson? Google, radio, television and other media are not serving us in a crisis or breaking news story. It’s just not fast enough. Clearly we want a credible medium, and I was hungry for sources (since there was plenty of hoax and rumors, or endless reverberations of the previous news).
Folks the field is wide open here. Citizen journalists now have Twitter, and we need ways to credential sources (maybe an earned badge based on previous reliability like eBay). We need real-time news. We need to find a way to help advance the story, like a way that local witnesses can provide input.
Like during the Michael Jackson trial, TMZ scooped the story, but Twitter propogated it.
As I type (and after I shot this video), CNN has excellent coverage… with an interview with the family that’s playing in the background. Wolf Blitzer gets “thumbs down” for asking children yes/no questions, but surprisingly was the first to tell Falcoln’s father that the balloon was recovered with the door shut… nobody had given him that amazingly encouraging piece of information. Still- when we were begging for new facts, the anchors were left with little more than the obvious… and Twitter had more.
Here’s an 8-minute reflective with my kids (5 and 7). About 7 minutes too long. Fly, Falcon, Fly.