Thursday, July 2, 2009

Diversion to Neverland

A full account of what I saw and learned during yesterday's amazing Zeppelin ride, which I mentioned earlier this week, is still in the works. But I did want to share a timely anecdote from the trip. The story does not say much about my beat -- the future -- but it does reveal a little about how my business, journalism, is deploying limited resources at a time of increased competition, dwindling audience and limited resources.

Brian Hall, president and co-founder of U.S. Zeppelin operator Airship Ventures, was on board serving as "flight attendant" for the five passengers, but he also had other business to attend to. For the first half of the trip, Hall and his colleague David Knight were in negotiations with TV networks about whether their airship, Eureka, could be used the next day to follow a motorcade that was expected to take Michael Jackson's body from L.A. to his former home at the Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County. While the 246-foot-long German-made airship is huge -- longer than a Boeing 747 -- the helium-filled vehicle's ability to travel slowly and hover in place for long stretches of time makes it an ideal platform for many media assignments -- better than a helicopter in a lot of ways.

The transit flight down the coast gave the Airship Ventures team a chance to plot the route and location. But by the time we arrived over the ranch, north of Los Olivos at 3 p.m. PT, the plans for the motorcade were off, and Eureka's services in the Michael Jackson media circus were no longer needed.

We did a few quick orbits over the property and the amazingly long line of TV trucks and other media vehicles along the road in front of the ranch. Then we continued along our way. "Hopefully we scored some air time," said Hall, whose company began offering aerial tours in the Bay Area last fall.

Here's one shot I took as we passed over the property. The building in the bottom left corner is a train station with a large floral clock out front. Jackson's famed amusement park rides are long gone....

And here's the roadside press encampment. Oh, the humanity....

I should note that I was a paying passenger on this trip, which I took on my own time and dime. I also just heard on TV that my erstwhile co-author, CNN's Larry King, is doing a special program on the Neverland Ranch tonight -- in case you want to see more of the place. Personally I think a lot of viewers have seen enough.

1 comment:

writermike said...

Absolutely historical flight, Mark, with GREAT photos. But most props go to you for saying "Oh, the humanity" while IN that thing.