Into the Woods

How should the media be covering the car crash heard 'round the world?

Tiger Woods, you may have heard, got himself into a little fender-bender late last week. Since then, we’ve been greeted with the predictable flurry of Woods stories, from the relatively straightforward to the sensational to the thoughtful to the tangential-at-best. Some media-watchers have argued that, since Tiger is a private citizen, we should leave him alone; others have argued that, since he is a celebrity, he is fair game for coverage.

There is clearly a public appetite for information about the Woods story—or, more specifically, for coverage of the Woods story. Indeed, “whenever a story like the Woods story emerges,” Time magazine’s James Poniewozik wrote in a blog post yesterday,

one of the most entertaining aspects is watching the contortions the respectable media go through to put a sufficiently meta spin on it, to justify covering the hot topic (and not passing up all those free eyeballs), while appearing to be serious-minded, and not like all those other outlets just trying to pry into Tiger Woods’ personal life.

Like so many things that the trapped-in-between mainstream media does nowadays, though, this probably does it little good in the long run…. What these half-measures do, more than anything, is convey the sense that the mainstream media is phony, inauthentic, that it lacks the courage of its convictions either to go all in and give the public what it wants, or take a bullet and stick to its principles. Trying to please everyone, it pleases no one.

That said, hope springs eternal in the mainstream media that there is a way of properly threading the needle when it comes to juicy stories like this oneā€”that if they are simply self-aware and meta-referential enough, acknowledging these contortions will make the contortions somehow more acceptable.

With that in mind: is it, indeed, possible for the media to ‘thread the needle’ in this case? Can members of the press satisfy the appetite for news about Woods without sacrificing their principles? If you were an editor, what approach would you take to the Woods story?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.