Balloon Boy Is What's Wrong With Cable News

Popular stories don't need to take up 100% of channels' airtime
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2009 1:50 PM CDT
Six-year-old Falcon Heene sits cross-legged on the roof of his family's van outside his home in Fort Collins, Colo., after the little boy was found hiding in a box on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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(Newser) – The "balloon boy" non-story was just the latest example of how ridiculous cable news has become, writes Alan Sepinwall. With a war raging in Afghanistan, a jobless “recovery,” and a complex ongoing health care debate, the "news" networks spend hours on nothing at all. The problem is in the model: Producers have tons of airtime to fill and are so desperate to keep viewers tuned in they don’t dare deviate from the day’s big story, even when there’s nothing to talk about.

So in the natural gaps as the story developed, we got reports on bizarre details in the balloon family's life: their appearance on Wife Swap, their loony science experiments. "Here's an idea,” Sepinwall proposes in the Star-Ledger: “When you're covering a news story and there are, for the moment, no new pieces of information to discuss, stop covering the story for a little while.”