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Carried Away with Balloon Boy

Posted Oct 15 2009 10:02pm
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This article was published on in my blog “Positively Media.”

The big story today was the six-year old boy who was carried away in the family weather balloon. It was the ONLY story on the news radio channel during my drive home from the post office and I arrived back at my desk to find an interview request about the ‘Boy in the Balloon’ story.

Why do we care so much about this story that we are literally hanging on every word for hours? What creates such appeal?

Weather Balloon

  • When children are in harm’s way, it triggers the nurturing parent in all of us.
  • Most people fundamentally believe in a “just world.”  Bad things aren’t supposed to happen to kids.
  • The live coverage of the balloon, the ongoing dialogue across blogs and Twitter makes this a participatory event. Humans like to engage and be part of the group. We are much more emotionally involved with things we are part of.
  • The lack of resolution (well, until they found the boy hiding in the attic) makes a story more compelling. People like closure and order. It’s how we achieve cognitive comfort.
  • The local color around the event itself contributed to the emotional engagement. This family had been on the reality TV show “Wife Swap.” They were “weather-chasers” and “thrill-seekers.” I mean, really, what normal family has a weather balloon hanging around in the backyard. The balloon even looked like a flying saucer. For a journalist, you can’t get much better than that–the pull of the heart strings plus a little bit of kinky.
  • With the unusual family activities, you can almost hear the mental wheels churning across America–are they bad parents?  All the more reason for us to watch and make sure the boy’s okay.

It’s relevant, or course, that it was a very slow news day. Even so, it may be that worrying about one child in one family in one balloon, however wacky, is easier than worrying about jobs, mortgages, banks, terrorists, and recessions.

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